Age 29, performing a cumbia, Saskatoon

Age 29, performing a cumbia, Saskatoon

Jessica Alegría


I am an adult now. I have begun untangling culture from trauma. My dad’s angry reactions when I was a child perhaps had to do with his own trauma affecting his ability and desire to raise a child in a healthy way. 

Perhaps my mother would be a different person if she had been given the opportunity to define herself as a person and woman before getting married and having a family. 

Perhaps my siblings and I could have learned to express ourselves better, to be less guarded, and to be more open to new experiences.

Perhaps we can be now. 

Perhaps it’s a simple fear of change that won’t let me but it feels more important than that. Perhaps it would be a betrayal to my parents, to their teachings, to our roots.

Part IV

I have come to understand I’m not responsible for all the intergenerational pain passed down to me.

This trauma has purpose: 

I am the actions, hopes, triumphs, and pain of my ancestors.

I reject the pressure of healing 600 years of suffering in one lifetime. 

My understanding of intergenerational healing is key to my own understanding of culture: if healing is a process then so must be culture.

Part V

When I recognize this as my history, I ask myself “what is my culture? Can it withstand the fluidity of my experiences and identities? What is culture within these physical and psychological borderlands? What are the sacred material objects of a diaspora? Where do we worship? Where is home? Is there culture without one? Is there culture without identity? Are reclaiming culture and claiming my true self mutually exclusive?

Part VI

My culture is knowing the password the coyote gave to my grandmother to hand over my siblings. It’s knowing what detention center my parents were held in when they were caught crossing the desert and learning how love was expressed in that place.

“The men had to wear orange so we would say we love our zanahorias,” my mother recalled the conversations with other women in her ward laughing. 

My culture is learning to pray on the bathroom floor. A culture of faith and ideals rooted deeply in my blood, nerves, hair, bones.

My culture is my mother telling me “no tenga miedo” at the most critical times in my life: mental breakdowns, dropping out of college, burning the masa, and every regular heavy day. “No tenga miedo, you are made of prayers. You are always protected. Dios está siempre con ustedes y cuando yo me vaya los cuido desde allá,” she says. I have always believed her.