When I was a kid my dad never played banda music while working in the garage echando mecanica. He never placed photos of our deceased relatives on an ofrenda for Dia de los Muertos, or gave my sister a quinceañera. He never talked about his past, about Mexico, accept to say that he grew up poor and came to America with nothing, the narrative of so many illegal immigrants before and after him. Most of my knowledge of his history is a patchwork of whispered anecdotes and cautionary tales my mother would lay on us when were being malagradecidos, unappreciative. And as a result I grew up with a lack of distinct cultural traditions. I knew of course, of the things associated with my heritage, but I never got them from the source that mattered the most: my parents.
Navigating through a difficult upbringing in a Los Angeles suburb has the benefit of forgetfulness. I forgot that I had roots set somewhere beyond where I was raised. And I suppose, through this negligence, I grew to be okay with that blindspot of my history. It was just a given that we didn’t celebrate traditions from my father’s Mexico, or my mother’s native El Salvador for that matter. And I was okay with it because I don’t think I wanted to do those things anyway. It meant I would have been like every other Mexican or Latin American kid in my neighborhood, attached to some nebulous history that meant more to the people teaching me about it, than it did to myself.
Years passed in this way, when, I think it was around high school that I saw how “cool” it was to take pride in Latino culture, like a badge of honor shoved in people’s faces for validation. Mexican identity then seemed to form this tough exterior that said I’m both proud, and made of sturdier stuff than you, America. Figures like Pancho Villa, Emiliano Zapata, and the cholos that had them tattooed on their forearms no doubt perpetuated this misunderstanding. Adopting this mentality, I clung to something I genuinely knew very little about, complicated more so by the enigma that was my father. Mercefully, this facade grew old and insincere, and I grew organically curious about my actual identity as a Mexican-American, about my place in the world as a result and influence of my father. I listened and learned to what public school had to offer on the subject and took the requisite Chicano studies classes in college to get that sense of authenticity that I so desperately wanted. Then I graduated college.
At this point my life took strange turns as I made even stranger decisions and wound up on the other side of the pacific, living and working in Japan. There I was, a recently married graduate, learning about a people and culture so alien to my own that again, I forgot about Mexico and El Salvador as places I wanted and needed to connect with. Still, while in Japan I learned the language, the holidays, the mannerisms and quirks; I learned about the social anxieties and ate so much of the delicious, delicious food. It was absolutely amazing, something I wouldn't change for the world, but ultimately, it made me feel a little guilty inside. It instilled in me this notion that I’d ignored an opportunity to travel to the places where my folks were from and flew to the east instead. It got deeply existential pretty quick. After returning home trilingual, and with an immense respect for the Japanese, I thought seriously about what was missing in my life, for which I knew the answer, but wasn’t quite ready to do anything about just yet.
Now in my thirties, I’ve had several years to talk about this with my father, and although the image of his past isn’t clear yet, it’s less opaque and offers a sense of hopefulness that one day, by getting closer to know who he is, I’ll know more about the country that molded him, about Mexico.
Or maybe I have it the other way around...
Enter a small game named Mulaka from an even smaller developer named Lienzo. In early March, while listlessly scrolling through IGN I found myself reading a post titled “7 Nintendo Switch Games You Probably Missed and Need to Play”. I sat in my office and wondered, half-hopingly, if I’d be making any impulse purchases I’d later have to explain to my wife, when I ran across something perfectly unexpected: “Mulaka...from Mexico-based studio Lienzo” There was a moment there, for only a fraction of a second, where I considered what I had just read. My immediate reaction, without even having seen the game yet, was one of pride. I was fiercely happy that a team from Mexico had broken through the American market and was receiving media attention for their product. It was only after picking up the game itself and watching the developer featurettes that I knew I had to be involved and contribute in some way.
I had a decision to make. If I could help tell the story of how Lienzo did it, how they made a game that preserves and celebrates northern Mexico’s indigenous Tarahumara culture, how they got their new IP on all major console platforms from a small office space in Chihuahua, Mexico, how they’re passionate about forerunning a Mexican games movement, how they started, how they struggled, and how they intend to follow up on their new found success, if I could tell that story, I could have enough to write a book! And that’s exactly what I aim to do.
This summer I’ll be traveling to Chihuahua, Mexico to meet and get to know the awesome people at Lienzo. I plan to chronicle their story in a way that can promote more cultural diversity, not only in the content of our games, but in the people making them. My hope is that it’ll be a story you enjoy and will want to promote yourselves.
In a way I feel like I’m the perfect person to tell this story, not that there aren’t others more capable, or that the good folks at Lienzo couldn’t do a better job themselves, but as a Latino writer and gamer in America, I feel it incumbent upon myself to do everything I can to support this part of my culture, in part because of my past. Looking back, I was ignorant and somewhat snobbish as a kid. I disassociated myself from a part of my heritage that would come to mean so much to me. So to make amends and encourage everyone to seek out those wonderful parts of their own histories, I hope this is the start of something really great.