Toma Té: Studying in Oaxaca will allow me to revisit my roots

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

This is the final installment of “Toma Té” for the semester. I’ve had the opportunity to share my stories as a Latino student at USC with the world, delve into my identity as the son of undocumented immigrants, express my love for girl group Fifth Harmony and relive my experiences as a gay student coming out to his Catholic parents.

While my Latino identity plays a huge role in defining who I am, I still have lots to learn about my culture. For that reason, I decided to take my white-passing Mexican ass abroad to Oaxaca, Mexico in the spring. Yes, I’ll be stepping away from the Daily Trojan for a whole semester.

I’ve only been to Mexico three times before; the first time, I traveled alone as a 10-year-old without truly understanding its significance for my family. All I knew was that my parents couldn’t go with me and that I would stay with family I had never met before.

It wasn’t until a trip last December that I really understood that my parents were vicariously experiencing Mexico through me. They haven’t been back in over 20 years because of their immigration status — my photos, videos and memories are the closest thing they have gotten to seeing their beloved home state of Durango.

I traveled to el santuario de Guadalupe, a place mi papa and mi abuelita would visit every Dec. 12 to celebrate the day of la Virgen de Guadalupe. My dad didn’t ask for any gifts or souvenirs when I went to Mexico — he only requested that I visit the spiritual place he and his mother frequented during his childhood. He asked me to take as many videos as possible and to soak everything in. When I Facetimed him from inside the church, he was moved to tears from nostalgia.

While I won’t be spending much time in Durango next spring, I’ll be finding my own identity in Oaxaca, a state I’ve never visited, through a program that delves into topics that have indirectly defined my experience as an American: migration, borders and transnational communities.

Alongside other American students interested in Latin America, I’ll be immersed in an “experiential learning” program aimed at increasing understanding of South Mexican culture.

I’ll also be learning about the immigrants who travel through Mexico to enter the United States. Despite some — including my media law professor — who called those traveling to the U.S. in migrant caravans criminals, I’ll be working to humanize the immigrants who are risking everything and fighting for better lives.

While the program will help me better understand the struggles of migrants and refugees from Central America, it will also allow me to explore my own Mexicano identity.

Living in Oaxaca for a few months will prove to be a stark difference between a short trip to visit family, but I am grateful for and thrilled by the opportunity to learn more about who I am and about what makes my culture so beautiful.

I hope to return to USC next fall empowered and fully comfortable with all of my identities and how they intersect.

¡Nos vemos pronto USC!

Tomás Mier is a junior majoring in journalism. He is also the associate managing editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Toma Té,” ran every other Friday.