My decision to write in response to Gary Soto's work, "Like Mexicans" was influenced for the most part because of the similarities between myself and Gary Soto, and our families included. Gary Soto is a Mexican American male, who grew up in the San Joaquin Valley in the industrial part of a town called Fresno. His grandparents came to this Great Valley in search of creating a better life for themselves and their families. I am also a Mexican American male who was born and raised in the San Joaquin Valley in a small town called Porterville. My grandparents migrated with their children, my mother, father, and their brothers and sisters in hopes of creating a better life for themselves as well. At the time economic betterment meant working as a hired slave for minimal income and keeping your mouth shut. After all, you were nothing more than a wetback who came to America to reap her benefits.(This ludicrous ideology is still present today) Gary Soto's grandparents and my grandparents, although they may be a generation behind one another, I am sure were exposed to many of the same hardships and or social barriers. It was not uncommon back then as it is not uncommon today for Mexican families with minimal work skills to be forced into the fields to work with their children alongside in hopes of escaping poverty. For the most part such families remained poverty stricken due to unfair and illegal wages and work conditions. However irrelevant this all may sound, facing similar hardships or obstacles will often create a sense of unity among those who are affected by such conditions. In short, I feel that not only do Gary Soto and I share a common ethnic origin, but all that comes with our origin, be it pride, shame, or ideology.
"Like Mexicans" is a short story in which Gary Soto is constantly being reminded that he should marry his own kind. His own kind being one of Mexican descent, and of poverty and refraining from others, especially "Okies" as his grandmother used to always say. Soto ends up marrying a Japanese woman, not a Mexican. But he still has to deal with his internal struggle and acceptance of this choice. One cannot be looked down upon for questioning oneself and the decisions one makes, especially when it comes to marrying after being raised in a household that reinforced the belief , "Marry Your Own". My mother and my father never told me that I should marry one of my own. My mother always told me to do what ever it would take to make myself happy. Now that I think about it, she did sometimes tell me that I could meet a nice girl at church. "Mijito," she always began, "Don't you want to marry a nice girl? There are a lot of nice girls that go to church. How can you want to marry a girl who will sleep around?" I was reluctant to tell her that the nice girl's parents were saying the same thing to them about me. Gary Soto's mother never said too much to him in regards to marrying any one type of woman in particular. "If you find a good Mexican girl, marry her of course," (page 696) she once replied to him. She did however respond in a worrisome manner and with hesitation when she realized that her son was going to marry a Japanese woman.
I was in love and their was no looking back. She was the one. I told my mother who was slapping hamburger into patties. "Well, sure if you want to marry her," she said. But the more I talked, the more concerned she became.(page 697)
I recall vividly when my mother met Tanya, my wife, for the first time. She said that she liked Tanya, but that she didn't think she was really my type. What then was my type? After marrying Tanya, I began to wonder if she was "Mexicana" enough for me. After all, she was very liberal, strong and open minded. I think this is why my mother used to tell me she didn't think Tanya was my type. My mother reminds me of Gary's grandmother, very submissive, docile, your stereotypical Mexicana. Tanya didn't like to cook, she was in no way submissive, and was at times what my mother would term as unlady like.
Gary Soto's grandmother believed that just about everyone was an "Okie" if they were not Mexicans. Gary's grandmother, although I am sure she wanted the best for him was very stereotypical. She once again reminds me of my mother in this way. Their weakness in being stereotypical is almost forgivable and cute. I think it is more out of ignorance of others and there is no real harm meant. One thing we must keep in mind as well, is the time in which this story took place and the exposure the grandmother might have had to others outside of her immediate family. My mother lived a sheltered life and really never had the opportunity to be exposed to the real world. My mother had a habit of trying to make me believe that children who did not obey their parents were in general bad children. Parents were the divine authority and should never be questioned, since they are the parents they always know what's best. This was at least what my mother was taught by her mother and can you blame her for inheriting such an ideology.
For her, everyone who wasn't Mexican, black, or Asian were Okies. The French were Okies, the Italians in suits were Okies. When I asked about the Jews, whom I had read about she asked for a picture. I rode home on my bicycle and returned with a calendar depicting the important races of the world. "Pues si, son Okies tambien!" (page 696)
I also found Gary's Soto's grandmother amusing because she would ridiculously lump people together. This however is easier than trying to recognize each and every different ethnic group that exist on the face of the earth, but it is our differences that often make us so unique.
One particular part in this short story that really disturbed me, was the fact that Gary and his friend Scott at a young age could make the distinction among their different ethnic groups. By this I mean that there was an acknowledgment that both Gary and his friend Scott came from different ethnicity groups and should therefore keep within their groups when considering marrying. Couples often marry those of the same ethnic identity for a sense of familiarity. One may also want to spend their life with an individual who shares the same cultural ideology. This shared ideology could be political, religious, economic etc. A shared or common ideology reduces conflict and creates a sense of unity. Marriage after all is supposedly the act of two people uniting for the rest of their lives. I would not be a bit surprised if Scott at the same time was being reinforced by family members or peers that he too should stay among his own people.
"No offense, Scott," I said with an orange slice in my mouth, "but I would never marry an Okie" We walked in step almost touching, with a sled of shadows behind us. "No offense, Gary," Scott said , "but I would never marry a Mexican."(page 696)
I often have similar conversations with my good friend and housemate Adrian, in which I often find myself believing that I should marry a good Mexicana. I haven't been reinforced by family to this ideology. I think it is due more towards the frustration I have with our social structure. I have the sense that I could relate better to someone of common descent. Someone who has endured the same pain and or confusion of ones own distinctiveness, social class, ethnicity, etc.. I can honestly see myself living the rest of my life with a person who is "Other" than white. However wrong or contradictory it may sound, my feelings are such. I felt that Gary and Scott shouldn't have felt the way they did about marrying their own, yet I shared the same feelings. I believe in the pride of ones own heritage and descent but I also believe in a diversified world. I often tell people that as long as you love an individual their ethnicity should have no significance. I now have to ask myself whether or not I really believe that. It's very confusing for me, as I am sure Gary was confused.
Gary is somewhat reluctant at first to go to his future mother in law's house with his fiancee Carolyn, but later is relieved upon his discovery.
When we pulled into the drive, I panicked and begged Carolyn to make a U turn and go back so we could talk about it over soda. She pinched my cheek calling me a "Silly Boy." I felt better though when I got out of the car and saw the house: the chipped paint, a cracked window, boards for a walk to the back door. There were rusting cars near the barn. A tractor with a net of spiderwebs under a mulberry. A field, a bale of barbed wire like children's scribbling leaning against an empty chicken coop.(page 697)
Gary Soto's discovery of his fiancee and her family was that they were similar to Mexicans. "These people were just like Mexicans, I thought. Poor people." (page 698) Of course not all Mexicans are poor, but a large percentage of the Mexican population do have to overcome many more obstacles and hardships, such as racism and discrimination in order to sustain the equivalent social status of a middle class Caucasian group.
"On the highway, I felt happy, pleased by it all. I patted Carolyn's thigh. Her people were like Mexicans, only different."(page 698)
Asian immigrants are subjected to many of the same social and economic barriers as are Mexicanos who migrate from Mexico. They are often wrongfully perceived as a group of people who are coming to take advantage of an economically rich system.(Our economic system may seem plentiful in comparison to their economic system back home) They are therefore looked upon as "The Other" and are treated as such.
Gary Soto at the end of this short story I believe overcame his self questioning of whether or not Carolyn was right for him. It is a shame that one is socially conditioned so much that he or she would have to justify their validity and wanting of another human being. I suspect that this is simply just another characteristic out of a million that has evolved out of a complex social order. It saddens me sometimes to think that I often believe that there are people for me and people that are not for me. In actuality, there are no rules to relationships that determine who one ought to marry. These are all what I will term social constraints.