Once again, I woke up at the crack of dawn. The side of the Earth on which I reside is rotating hurriedly to face the Sun.
I felt the same urgency as rotating Earth: like a loaded arrow pulled back in its bow, and whose spearhead was on fire, confident of piercing its target at the bullseye. My target was the Mexican Consulate.
Today’s visit to the consulate would be the fourth, all of them done in the period of time spanning late July to early August 2021. Hot covid-free summer turned into hot worried-about-the-delta-variant summer. With vaccines aplenty, Americans should have been adequately prepared for this strange installment of the covid saga. Still, a year of half-hearted discipline around quarantining, social distancing, and masking should have been enough to tell us about the general attitude of our other half. Things bode unwell for a block of wood splintered at the middle — this is the character of our nation, of you, and of me.
After my third visit to the consulate, I finally wielded the coveted document — a Mexican birth certificate — that attests to my Mexican nationality. Today, after my fourth visit, I would leave the consulate with a Mexican passport in hand.
As per usual, I had set my appointment for the earliest time possible and the earliest day possible; The concept of being early and being first blissfully intoxicates me. Plus, there is something magical about dawn, about seeing the sun wax up and above the horizon, lighting and heating up the cool, dark land from the night before. I live for the moment when the landscape brightens up, and when the world is still quiet. Finally, I think, the quiet is so loud and it envelops me like a tsunami of comfort; I can peacefully close my eyes. The only sound that persists is the light hum of Houston’s freeways. Maybe some bugs, and more likely the occasional dawn calls of the birds.
This scene crescendos in front of me as the time melts away. I’m lucky because my room has huge windows through which I can view this scene. It’s primal, and I can’t help but be reminded of our Edenic origins, especially when you live in a city that privileges the non-human and the mechanical. How far we have fallen from grace and nature, I wonder to myself as I think of the polluted, blackened waters and air that are slowly consuming my city. Houstonians are choking, and the planet is dying alongside us.
Still, this scene also gives me hope that we can create a world that looks exactly as the most passionately nostalgic scenes from our childhood. The ones that run through our head in sepia-toned film.
Foregrounding the scene I have laid before you, dressed up dapper for an appointment at the consulate, I quietly stared through the windows, at the panorama in front of me.
I grabbed my copy of Juan Villoro’s El vertigo horizontal, and looked at my watch. I think to myself that I can afford to read one chapter from the book and still make it on time to my appointment. Reassured and with book in hand, I calmly collapse onto the couch. It’s so soft, and I sink several inches every time I sit on it.
The chapter that I’m reading is titled, “‘If you see Juan…’” He tells of his childhood and talks of his intrinsic strangeness, tracing the genealogy of those qualities that made him different and that fueled his bend for writing.
Written in vignettes, Villoro’s book is an ode to Mexico City — the city that raised him and made him into the man he is today. In this chapter, he sheds light on the neighborhood in which he grew up. Here stood the house of one family, here the business of another family; here the streets were named such and such, he tells us. For a book that acts as a roadmap (and which contains a literal map of the book’s chapters in lieu of a table of contents) of a megacity with almost ten million residents, Villoro’s lucid descriptions are comforting. Heck, without the clarity we would be utterly lost! “Horizontal Vertigo”: even the book’s title is dizzying and disorienting.
Mid-chapter, I follow my train of thought back to the first time that I went to the consulate. I had dragged along both of my parents and two people who could act as my witnesses. I chose my friends who I met in high school, Elif and Reese, the former Turkish and the latter Jewish. A motley of identities accompanied me on the quest in search of my own identity.
I’ve never had much fondness for the identity rhetoric of Borderlands theory. I grew more distant from it after finding out that I could become a Mexican national. My distaste for the phrase “Neither from here, nor from there,” grew, and I decided that I would consider it as pure melodrama. It turned out that for me, I CAN be from both here and there. Yes, I was born in America; Yes, I was born to Mexicans who just happened to be outside the homeland when I was born. Yes, I can be proud of my background and no, I don’t have to desperately vacillate. I can and will inherit both the American and Mexican nationalist projects. I refuse to be Francisco Goya’s half-drowning dog.
I added to the richness of my identity when I realized that I had just as equal a right to Mexican citizenship as I did to American citizenship. In the vertigo-inducing decade spanning one’s twenties, coming across such identity capital is like striking gold. God, gold, and glory. The journey laid before me was clear and getting my Mexican birth certificate was the first step.
So, on the morning of 19 July 2021, I assembled my troupe and made way for the far-reaches of outer Houston, past Beltway 8, where the Mexican consulate lay.
Some Mexicans, a Jewish person, and a Turkish person entered the Mexican consulate, only to be rejected because I made a technical error when creating my appointment.
Defeated, I assembled the troupe for a spirit-lifting speech, then I offered redirection. We would all return next week, and that time, I said, we shall be ready. We all left in our own cars — Houston’s premier mode of transportation.
God, gold, and glory. Cortés and Moctezuma laugh. They live in me, and I am fated to repeat history…
On the ride back home, I thought about how in days past our cars would have been horses. I played “El caballo blanco” by José Alfredo Jiménez on Spotify:
Este’s el corrido del caballo blanco/
Qu’en un dia domingo, feliz arrancara/
Iba con la mira de llegar al norte/
Habiendo salido de Guadalajara/
Cumplida su hazaña, se fue a Rosarito/
Y no quiso’echarse hasta ver Ensenada/
Y este fu’el corrido del caballo blanco/
Que salió un domingo de Guadalajara.
I sunk in the couch, my mind sunk in the past. During the second visit to the consulate, we all gained entry. The inside of the building was clean and sleek; Its reflection glistened in my eyes, sparking the matchbox that resides inside me. When you first enter, two metal detectors peer at you. They speak clearly: Take off all loose belongings and present them to the security guards at my sides. I and company passed through. No beeps to be heard.
Past the security gates, the façade of the interior beamed at you: el escudo nacional de México on the wall, and the flag of México to its right. In clear-cut, bold words, the phrase “Estados Unidos Mexicanos” stared at me. So did the Golden Eagle below it, perched on a cactus and devouring a snake. Its gaze is clear and sharp, following you.
The gaze was similar to the one in Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son.” In the painting, however, Kronos looks disturbed. What fate had the Titan chosen? Whereas Kronos had decided to end his bloodline, the Golden Eagle had unequivocally chosen to begin a new bloodline, one which would sprout into the largest Spanish-speaking population in the world.
God, gold, and glory. Cortés and Moctezuma laugh. They live in us, and we are fated to repeat history…
Higher above on the second floor of the consulate we landed in a waiting area. Chairs faced a wall with a TV on it. Behind the chairs, offices. The (untold) instructions were clear: sit, wait for your number to appear on the screen, then head to the office that you have been assigned to. Welcome to Kafka’s nightmare (or perhaps sweet dream), à la mexicain, I told my friends.
Aside from the long waiting time, the visit to the consulate lacked in any Kafkaesque moments. Still, my visit to the consulate went smoothly. I left with a document proving that I “registered my foreign birth,” (as the consulate puts it). I would return a few days later for my third visit to the consulate, when I would pick up the official copy of my Mexican birth certificate.
Nacimiento en el extranjero. Foreign birth. Yes, I quite like how that sounds.
Yes, my existence is bifurcated, I had once thought. The wisest know that a question has infinite answers. All you need is one answer to satisfy you, your dogma. Change perspective, find a different answer. Who is to say one answer is better, worse, more true, more false than another?
Yes, my existence is bifurcated, but with a change in perspective I can also say: yes, my existence is unified.
My fatal flaw is an Icarian one. Recently, I have unashamedly embraced my hubris. Like it did for Icarus, it distracts me from the path of moderation. I want more, and my lungs gasp for more air, my heart tries to compensate, I’m on the verge of collapse, and still I want more. Blood rushes to my head, and I get hot. My diaphragm tightens, I feel a black hole develop right below my sternum. I am addicted to this anxiety-inducing intoxication.
As a kid, I poured my Icarian leanings on books. I wanted them all, and above anything, I wanted them to open and spill out all their secrets.
When the theme of double citizenship came up, I saw it as an opportunity to escape the labyrinth that is the question of identity. Now, I would pour my Icarian leanings towards this intoxicating identity-building project. I am in too deep. I must continue.
Thus, I find myself here on this early morning, when the hum of the freeway and the chirp of the morning birds and the illumination of the rising sun accompany me as I make my way, for the fourth time, to the consulate. My next steps are clear: I will finish this chapter of El vertigo horizontal, then I will drive to the consulate to get my Mexican passport.
Villoro wraps up the chapter “‘If you see Juan…’” by talking of his move to Mexico City proper. There, in the immensity, he found peace with his inner weirdness, an inner split that reflected the mixed nature of his parents & family and which tormented his ability to form an identity. That is, until he moved to Mexico City proper:
/Estaba fuera de lugar. Sin embargo, la vastedad del territorio me hizo saber que ahí podía tener acomodo. Decidí ser de la ciudad, como si no lo fuera antes. Decidí amarla y despreciarla como sólo se ama y desprecia lo que te pertenece. Decidí entenderla, con una mezcla de entusiasmo y estupor. Para un desorientado, el laberinto es una casa.
/I was out of place. Nevertheless, the vastness of the territory reminded me that I could find my place here. I resolved to be of the city, as if this were not already the case. I resolved to love it and take it for granted as is only done with something that belongs to you. I resolved to understand it, with a mix of excitement and astonishment. For the disoriented, the labyrinth is a home.
Identity, certainly, is a labyrinth.
Icarus falls, my chest explodes.
I find my clew, then I lose it.
The cycle repeats.
I will do as Villoro, as the Minotaur.
And make my nook in the labyrinth.