Claudia Pawl, courtesy photo

Caution! Construction Zone. I am not a final product; I am evolving. 

I didn’t know I was Latina until I was forced to define myself to others. I was simply a living being, part of a family with a simple and happy life. It was exciting for me and common to see my mother sewing other people’s clothes and doing crafts all the time. I didn’t understand that it was much more than a hobby. 

The cundinas (Mexican mutual aid), raffles and lottery afternoons became customary and seemed to be part of a mandatory regimen. There was no shortage of family meals together and birthday parties full of unknown children lining up to receive their candy. The bolo (coins tossed to kids during a baptism) on christening days was a reason to plan exactly where I would stand for that perfect moment, and what I would do with my winnings. I didn’t even care about the name of the baptized or the family having the celebration, I had one goal in mind. The gum balls with chili powder in their center would be my most coveted prize.

Once my world became all questions and labels, I realized that I could no longer remain in the comfort of ignorance. I was forced to decide between green or blue, up or down, and from here or from there. This decision was unfair and caused more confusion than clarity. Since then, the search began.

I see myself in the stories I hear daily, in the smells of fideo soups, fresh bread and ponche de frutas (fruit punch). Then everything changes, and I return to that point of neutrality, where I feel full and complete — no need to decide or define. 

Later, something changes and the curiosity of that being in construction begins. The being that thinks in English most of the time, communicates without thinking and expands its wisdom every day. My roots light up like fireflies at unexpected moments and disappear without reason, like lightning in the sky. They are always present, but in parallel worlds.

Listening to the iconic comadres sharing stories at the market or commercial stores makes it impossible for me not to smile. It brings a feeling of inexplicable warmth and nostalgia that is only understood when felt. It transports me back to a bus ride from my childhood to an unknown destination where I couldn’t reach the window to look out at the scenery. 

The whisper of a conversation in Spanish in the distance in unexpected places reminds me that the world I belong to is much bigger than I have been told, that I am part of a blanket woven with love and patience by many generations. Each day I have the privilege and responsibility to decide the magnitude of that feeling of my roots. Whether to brighten or dim it, like the light of the firefly that travels and changes by simply existing.

It is celebration and peace simultaneously, without reason or end. It simply becomes a balanced state of being that nourishes and nurtures. It illuminates and darkens; it changes and stays the same and feels no need to control anything. I am excited to be acquainted with that being in construction that will never quit exploring. The one that always reminds me that I am, and that is more than enough.

Claudia Pawl is a Mexican artist who loves to dance and perform. She migrated to the U.S. as a child, discovered social dance as an adult and is now a dancer and interpreter. She travels to dance events to learn, and she teaches and hosts social dances in our community through Mezcla Socials, an organization she founded.

VOICES presents “Nuestras Voces, Noche Mística, Teatro En Español” on Oct. 21-22 at TACAW. This original theater project weaves together comedic stories with splashes of mysticism, often based on lived and shared experiences. Tickets are a suggested $25 donation and English subtitles will be provided.