Being Autistic and Exploring My Mexican-American Heritage

Mexican American and Autistic

Dana Trick is looking for others who are Mexican-American or Latinx and Autistic.

By Dana Trick

The most infuriating and biggest myth surrounding the autism spectrum is that most people believe it only affects Caucasian boys. A misconception I believe that does more harm than good. Autism is one of the most unprejudiced conditions in the world, yet the world where people with autism live is biased and that affects how they see themselves, their autism, and their relationships with other people of a certain culture.

In addition to being Autistic, I’m also a first generation Mexican-Canadian-American. While I’m well-versed on my dad’s Canadian side, I sometimes feel that my autism prevents me to be Mexican-American like my mom’s side of the family. While my dad still retains his Canadian citizenship, my mom immigrated here when she was eleven and had more time to acculturate than her older siblings, yet she and her family still retain their Mexican culture by speaking Spanish, cooking and eating Mexican food, and watching A LOT of telenovelas.

Growing up, despite favoring my dad’s Canadian side and fighting off every instance of my parents’ trying to teach me Spanish, I was acquainted with Mexican culture as my Mexican relatives lived close by (a few hours away) as well as living in land that was formally the territory of Mexico.

However, growing up autistic and Mexican-American was like being forced to choose how you want your childhood to be. You see, every time I visit my Mexican relatives, the house devolves into noisy chaos that echoes throughout the house and every inch of the halls and rooms are crowded with tias (aunts), tios (uncles), and cousins either talking, laughing, or screaming. I barely have room to stim to calm myself down and release my excitement.

Additionally, I was addicted to watching television when I was young, so I avoided every chance to socialize with my cousins, tios, and tias. Also, the Mexican (my family’s) habit of being late to social gatherings and sudden changes in the plan annoyed the heck out of me when I was young . . . and still does today.

As my therapy used the scheduling treatment to help me accept change and my dad is the thirty-minutes early as well as strict-planning guy in the family, the chaos of my Mexican family’s plans threw me off. Every time we visit my relatives or they visit us, whenever they make special events to spend the day together, sometimes they would suddenly make multiple last-minute changes that would throw me off for the rest of the day. Though I am used to this chaos now, the sudden changes greatly annoy me and I have a mental breakdown at worst.

For instance, before a visit from a group of my tias, my parents and I had created a meal plan where I would cook my awesome suppers. Once during their visit, they along with my mom went out to do something fun while I stayed at home because I had to prepare the meal, which was fettucine alfredo pasta for that day. While I was in the midst of cooking the pasta, my mom called and said that they wanted me to make buffalo wings instead of pasta as planned!

When she told me that, I had a small panic attack where I screamed at my mom that I was already cooking the pasta. When the food was done and they came back, I ran to my room and stayed there until I was hungry. I was angry at my tias for the impulsive changes to the plan but I knew I shouldn’t have exploded at them. I wanted them to eat and enjoy the new dishes I could create. (Nevertheless, they still enjoyed the food I made).

Additionally, I was extremely picky about the foods I ate when I was young, which made it impossible for eating what my tias and tios cooked. Since I hated various types of peppers and beans, which a majority of Mexican dishes and foods contain, it was hard for my family to persuade me to eat those dishes. My parents know that I’ve never eaten a whole pepper in my entire life but they always keep pressuring me to eat peppers. I despise slimy beans as well as their odd shapes, bright colors, and supposed hotness of peppers. (now I know most peppers such as bell peppers are not spicy and hot).

I had never eaten a pepper or beans knowingly, but this pickiness of food has prevented me exploring my Mexican culinary heritage.

One of the most effective ways to know a culture is through their food. A path that I did not take as a child and only caused me to distance myself from my Mexican roots. There are many times where I chose not to eat dinner if the food being served was Mexican. During these dinners, my parents were usually forced to get me some food from my favorite fast-food restaurants, which I often ate at a different table from where my relatives because I could not stand the sight or smell of the Mexican food.

I even refused to eat the Mexican food that didn’t have peppers at all – except for paletas (Mexican ice cream), Mexican sweet bread (yellow conchas are my favorite), and quesadillas, especially ones from Rubio’s because I love cheese and that restaurant.

So I barely ate any Mexican food growing up!

If this sounds like I’m tearing apart my Mexican side or that my Mexican family doesn’t understand my autism, I’m not. My tias and tios love me dearly.

I’m just pointing out how some aspects of my autism—hypertensivity, stimming, and poor social skills have prevented me from getting close to my mom’s side of the family.

I love my tios, tias, and cousins very dearly and adore various parts of my Mexican heritage. It’s just that I’m sad that my autism, which I’m getting to know and love, prevented me from being part of my Mexican family during my childhood.

Nonetheless, as I grew to my adult years and entered college, I started to explore my Mexican-American identity. Since I was less picky about my food by that period of my life, I started to eat more Mexican food such as tacos, carne asada, pozole, menudo, mango with chile, esquites, tamales, and ceviche.

Recently, I started to build up my spice tolerance when my family started to make buffalo wings for ourselves. Through eating and making spicy hot buffalo wings, I raised my heat tolerance (to some extent as I’m still not confident of eating my mom’s salsa and I’m still a spice-wimp). Now, the buffalo wings I cook are hot and spicy enough that my Mexican relatives love them to the point of wanting to drink the sauce. There are times when I accidentally make them too hot that even my mom can’t eat them.

I started hanging out with my Mexican relatives more whenever they visit, although I still prefer very quiet places to collect my thoughts. Also, since attending college, I’ve started to learn the history and culture of Mexico and other countries in Latin America.

However, I feel my childhood greatly hampered me from becoming more Mexican American. The most important thing, I believe, is how to manage and love both my Mexican heritage and autistic identity without losing the other.

I’m currently trying to find stories of other Mexican-Americans and other Latino/Latina Americans with autism so I can better understand this part of both communities. In the future, I hope to research and publish the history of autism and other disabilities in Latin American countries and Latin communities in the United States.

I just REALLY NEED to learn Spanish fast.

Dana Trick headshot

Dana resides in Moorpark, California. She spends too much of her time reading books (fantasy, fiction, history, poetry, comics), drawing weird things that suddenly appear in her head, writing stories and poems and listening to a strange assortments of music genres that she isn’t sure what type of music fan she is.

2 Comments

  • Hey Dana, I’m half Puerto Rican and Sephardic Jewish from that side. I also refused to learn Spanish and I still do. The issues with Latinx culture that I have are in addition to its loudness, the way people greet each other with kisses and hugs and all the really animated facial expressions. I really hope that we can create a big section of the Latinx community for all of us who want to embrace and feel proud of our heritage but don’t want to EVER have to be subjected to the kisses, hugs or animated facial expressions!

  • I’m not Latina, but biracial and have similar experiences in black culture, which I grew up in. I have raised my own spice tolerance and love spicy foods now, and many Mexican foods now that I have been living in Texas for over 10 years. Though I was able to tolerate some spicy foods growing up. My biggest issues were noise and overstimulation and very affectionate people who liked to hug and kiss. My mother herself is punctual, but neither of us are neurotypical and have to adjust for people who aren’t as punctual. I was fortunate to grow up like an only child, with my brother already being an adult. It was school and churches that were full over sensory issues for me, except for holidays mostly. I wouldn’t say I feel sad about how autism affects my participation, but more sad that people aren’t always willing to accommodate me in my own culture or act as if my being autistic is an attempt to offend or to reject them them no matter how much educating I do about it. As if culture is more important than my personal boundaries and needs. So I have learned to value those who value me, regardless of culture. Culture is just a construct to me that people agree to. I don’t feel obligated to agree to all aspects of something due to circumstances of birth. That carries its own weight, but I also have learned that acceptance isn’t the same thing as liking everything. I accept that my culture will do things certain ways, and whether I am a part of those experiences or not, even if a part, it doesn’t mean I have to internally approve of all ways. I also carry earplugs if I think I will be in a situation that might become overstimulating.

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