We know who are we are; do you?

I genuinely believe Americans are having an identity crisis.

When I first arrived in New York in 2009, I distinctly remember going to games at Yankee Stadium and having to stand up to the American anthem thinking, “Are we playing another country?” We Mexicans only sing the anthem when rivaled by a foreign nation; we conjure up our nationality only when being confronted by another flag. So the situation seemed odd to me.

My upbringing was very much Americanized. I grew up to envision myself in an American future of pompons and a Hollywodesque-cinderella kind of love. Of course, none of that actually came to be true when I moved to New York as an adult and went to art school. But something from childhood and watching those Hollywood movies did stay with me…

I knew from watching American movies that the American flag and being “American” was particularly special to my friends at the north in a way that my own country’s flag and nationality wasn’t. The USA anthem was sung at schools every day; people wore the American flag on their bodies as swimsuits or headbands, they would hang the flag outside their homes as if advising outsiders to beware, and they would yell “USA” at events that seemed to have a purely American public anyway.

This hammering of nationalism seemed odd to me at the time but now, it allows me to understand my friends in the north. Their national identity is very much linked to their identity as human beings.

It is not an uncommon trait in any country that an individual of it holds their entire identity to the borders of the nation they were born in. Yet the degree to which this is done may be held as questionable. When does a person’s identity, or that of a collective, pertain to borders rather than ideas or concepts?

As a Mexican, I see the flag of my country a handful amount of times a year: maybe at an international football game, a special national event (once or twice a year), etc. Granted, there is a large flag that overlooks the city I grew up in and currently live in but it’s not venerated for its symbolism as it is recognized as a tourist attraction.

My point is: my identity as a Mexican is only relevant when confronted with another nationalism but for Americans, it’s a constant state of being.

I can say this: I love my country. But loving my country means I accept everything it is. I accept its worst and its best. I understand that it is susceptible to corruption as it is susceptible to the most generous acts. I understand it is full of poverty whilst corruptly holding the world’s richest riches. I know cartels control the government and the government controls companies. I have no qualms or idealisms about my country…

But I do have faith. I have faith in our people and our innovations. We know how to laugh about our own struggles like it’s no one’s business. We can create memes and make fun of ourselves in one second of any event and apologize to no one. Even in the most idyllic of situations we find comedy and relief because we bow to no one. The difference is that at our worst, we know who we are and where we stand. At yours, I’m not so sure you do.

So we ask of you: at your worst, do you know who you are?

This time, I chose.

I’m having a surgery. I don’t know what number it is out of what I believe are over a dozen since I was 5. And I haven’t had one in almost 8 years. It’s the longest time I’ve had between each.

Those before this one were 95% not by choice except the one time I threw in a rhinoplasty since I was already going under for other reasons. My nose had always bothered me so why not. It was nothing in comparison.

Each surgery was doctor recommended and parent motivated. I was strung along this “adventure” as I struggled to grapple with why other kids didn’t have to miss school, have tutors, or a round-the-clock nanny.

This stringing along often made me feel like an object that needed fixing. Like one of those dolls or handbags that comes out of a factory with a production error. Except I’m a person and you can’t return me and get a refund. As cynical as that sounds, it’s the best way I can describe how I often felt.

Since what I had thought was my last surgery, a lot has happened. All those feelings of helplessness and resentment finally caught up with me and I began to drown in everything that I had once ignored. It’s as if my mind and body had gone into survival mode throughout my childhood in order to be able to deal with what was happening. And once it came to a halt – the reality of it all finally kicked in.

After about 15 years of consecutive surgeries, it took me 7 years to process what had happened and come to terms with who I was. It’s year 8 and I’m putting myself through it again.

I had just moved back to Mexico and gained a little weight after quitting smoking the past year. I noticed that the side of my face with the production error was feeling a little heavy. I notice that my left cheek looked like it was slightly hanging. That’s when I realized the reality of my future.

With no real bone structure on the left side of my face and nature doing its one job, I came to realize that gravity would not be so kind to me. The aging process can already be somewhat daunting but to think of one side of my face melting off more so than the other just freaked me the hell out.

While I had taken so long to get used to my face, it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t over. Now, my fears aren’t about surgery itself but what’s to come if I don’t get ahead of the curve. But there is also a new fear. One that I hadn’t felt before.

I used to worry about what would come out of the OR after the procedures. But now I worry how my head will react.

After 7 years of struggling with myself and then finally coming out for some air, I found myself quickly deciding what I wanted next. And while it is something I want, there is a tremendous fear that I’ll go back to that place where looking in the mirror only made me angry.

My mother keeps trying to remind me that I should keep my expectations in check. After the first consultation with this new doctor, I wasn’t very pleased by his reluctance to say much. Logically I understand why, but emotionally I was upset and disappointed. It was the first time we met a doctor, sat in his consultation room, and explained what I wanted because I wanted it.

By the second appointment, without my prompt, he explained my fears about gravity and nature taking its toll. He explained the possibilities of what could be done and I left thinking, “I knew it.”

Pleased with what he had explained, all that was left to do was wait and waiting is no easier than the rest of it.

A bit over a month a go I had a couple of strange weeks where I felt myself reverting back to old emotions and habits. I found myself drinking a bit too much and stealing cigarettes from family members. But I’m not 20 anymore. While I have started smoking again, I got myself a new therapist and decided that if I was going to this I wasn’t going to let my anxiety and PTSD get in the way of me being okay.

7 years of experience with depression and PTSD can come with learning a lot about yourself. It helps you know beforehand when you might trip again. It helps you know that you need to put your hands in front of you before you land. It helps you prevent any harmful damage because: 1) You know what that looks like, and 2) You don’t want it anymore.

As of now, the surgery is scheduled. The waiting will soon end and I will have to deal with whatever happens when it does. I’m excited, nervous, and anxious all at the same time. I’ve never had a surgery that directly deals with what I was born with because I wanted it. This time, I chose.

While I still have that voice in my head that fears what may happen at the end of this month, I am using every tool, every experience, and every ounce of self restraint to stay as calm as I can. Because if there is one thing I have learned from all of this, it’s that I do have a choice.