Facebook, the enormously popular social networking site, encourages users to display their relationship status. For those who don't quite feel comfortable with "single" or "married," there is a more mysterious option: "It's complicated."
As an American of Mexican heritage, that phrase sums up my relationship with Mexico.
It's complicated. Just how complicated is something I've been thinking about a lot in recent weeks, leading up to Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15).
Meanwhile, Mexicans are going to a bigger party. They're celebrating both the 200th anniversary of Mexico's independence from Spain in 1810 and the 100th anniversary of the beginning, in 1910, of the Mexican revolution that ousted dictator Porfirio Diaz.
All this is happening against the backdrop of what has become the nation's most unpleasant export: a continuing stream of horrible stories about wanton violence linked to President Felipe Calderon's attempts to eradicate powerful and ruthless drug cartels. With more than 28,000 people dead and the loss of billions of tourism and foreign investment dollars, and with Mexicans so desperate for a truce in the drug war that they might actually turn out Calderon's National Action Party and return the discredited Institutional Revolutionary Party to power, it's clear that Mexico is undergoing yet another defining moment in its history.
And, on this side of the border, the question for Mexican-Americans like me is how much should we care about all this? For more than 150 years, Mexican-Americans have been considered cultural outliers because they're seen as "Mexican" in the United States and "American" in Mexico - connected to both countries but not accepted in either.
In the last couple of decades, there's been a new breed: Mexican nationals who - as part of the professional class - preserve their citizenship while making their livelihoods in the United States. Popping up in U.S. cities such as Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago, these are people of means and education who were born in Mexico and came to the United States for greater opportunities while remaining loyal to their homeland. These are not outliers. They speak English and Spanish, and feel equally comfortable on either side of the U.S.-Mexico border. They know exactly who they are, and that their homeland is Mexico. It just so happens that they need to live somewhere else to find the kind of work that lets them pay the mortgage, if they can secure the visas to do so - something people with means and education usually have no trouble doing.
I heard from some of these expatriates recently when I criticized Mexicans for overreacting to, of all things, a cartoon about the drug violence.
American cartoonist Daryl Cagle came under fire in Mexico after drawing a Mexican flag with a twist. The flag features an eagle perched on a cactus, devouring a snake. In Cagle's version, a slain eagle is in the center, riddled with bullet holes and lying in a pool of blood.
When I publicly defended the cartoon, and asked why Mexicans weren't less concerned with airing dirty laundry and more concerned with washing it, the critics turned on me. On my Facebook page, Mexicans in the United States called me a "gringo racista" (a white racist) and showered me with pity for not belonging "on either side."
I beg to differ. I belong on this side. Like most Mexican-Americans, my family's story started to get interesting when Grandpa was expelled from Mexico with hundreds of thousands of others during the Mexican revolution. My loyalties are with Team USA.
After all, Mexico is no model of fairness. For the fair-skinned, wealthy and politically connected, the country works fine. Those people usually stay. But for millions of others, it doesn't work at all, and many of those people come north - in my grandfather's case, legally, but, in the case of many others, often illegally. Their descendants can be forgiven for not having the highest regard for a country that cast their parents and grandparents adrift. We're entitled to hold a grudge.
Yet, as I look south to the fiestas celebrating Mexico's bicentennial, I'm reminded once again of the beauty and wonder embodied in the country and people my grandfather left behind. I'm also reminded that this is a strong and resilient country that has endured much over the centuries, and so it is likely to survive its current ordeal as well. Those are qualities that I respect and admire.
And it makes for a complicated relationship.
• Ruben Navarrette's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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