ASHLEY HUDSON, publicist
“Everyone needs to experience mexico”
When I think about the way that Ashley Hudson grew up, it seems like an ideal childhood. As a young girl, Ashley traveled to Mexico several times a year with her family, her first language was Spanish even though it wasn’t her father’s first language, and she lived with her cousins in Mexico during her seventh grade year. A family tradition that created close bonds and provided cultural insight. The result is that she carries a pride and familiarity of Mexico that is deep and heartfelt.
I was so inspired by her experience, it’s made me think about how I’m raising my daughter and what more I could be doing to connect her to this part of her heritage.
Ashley works as a publicist in LA and we met at the newly-opened La Neta, a Mexico City-inspired restaurant in Old Town, during a recent trip to Portland. We talked over albondigas, chips and salsa, and pineapple flan. Read on to learn more about Ashley’s background and travels.
Carly: Where were you born?
Ashley: I was born in San Diego. I grew up there until I was in middle school. After I finished sixth grade, I went to Guadalajara and lived with family members for about six months and did pretty much most of my seventh grade year down there. I'm really close to my family. My mom is Mexican and her family did an exchange program. When she was living in Mexico, she came to live with relatives in the States for a year and vice versa. So they did that with me, too. After that I moved to the Murietta area, which is about an hour north of San Diego.
Carly: Did your cousins in Mexico also visit you and stay for periods of time?
Ashley: Yeah, the cousins that I stayed with when I lived in Guadalajara came and stayed with us for a year when they were in high school. I didn't have any sisters, and it was really fun getting to live with them.
Carly: Where is your mom's family from?
Ashley: My mom grew up in a town called Tecuala, it's on the coast of Mexico, in the state of Nayarit. It's this little tiny town, they still have cobblestone streets. That's where my grandparents met. She grew up there for a portion of her childhood, and also in Nayarit. My grandparents moved to the United States when my mom was about 15 and all my aunts and uncles, her siblings, came with them. My mom was actually born in the United States while her parents were traveling on business. She ended up being born here, but she grew up in Mexico and returned to the U.S. when she was 15.
Carly: How many brothers and sisters did she have?
Ashley: She is the oldest of five. My aunt, the youngest child, my mom's youngest sister, was in elementary school when they decided to move to the U.S.
Carly: Why did they decide to move?
Ashley: For a better life. They definitely didn't have a bad one, but I think just for the opportunity, education, and to be near family. It was an easier transition for them because they have a lot of family up here.
Carly: Do you know what that was like for your mom to be 15 and in a new country?
Ashley: I think she liked it, but I think all of my aunts and uncles experienced more of a transition to a certain degree because they were still going through their adolescence. All of my mom’s childhood was in Mexico, and then, coming here, it's a whole different culture.
Immigrant families were seen as different, so I think she went through a period of time where they were not really Mexican, but also not really American.
Just trying to figure it out.
Carly: It’s an interesting time to move to another country. When you’re 15-years old, you’re already exploring your identity. Then your mom had the added layer of being in a new culture as well.
Ashley: Totally. And she was in homeschool. Back in those days when my mom grew up in Mexico, everyone was very conservative. They obeyed their parents. I think when my mom came to the U.S., she was like, what is going on? There are all these kids, holding hands and kissing at school, you know? My mom always has been very innocent. Can you imagine moving in the middle of high school to another country?
Carly: Do you know what kind of community they lived in? They were near family, but were they embedded in a Mexican-American community?
Ashley: Yes, they were. They lived south of San Diego, in Chula Vista. There were a lot of Hispanics in that community, but it was also an American neighborhood. Intermingled.
Carly: How did your mom meet your dad?
Ashley: My dad's brother was my mom's driver's ed teacher. He told my dad that he should meet her. My dad was 20 and my mom was 16 when they met, and their first date was at church. He picked her up and took her to church, then they went to lunch afterwards. From then on, they dated, but my mom always had to have a chaperone. My aunt would always go with them. They got married when she was 19, about to be 20.
Carly: What is your dad’s background?
Ashley: He's born and raised in San Diego, white parents. His family's from the Montana and Wyoming area, and also the South. But he's maybe third or fourth generation San Diegan.
Carly: A true Californian.
Ashley: True Californian, with blonde hair and blue eyes. My mom has dark hair and dark eyes. My brother and I definitely look alike, but I'm just a little lighter than he is.
Carly: You grew up around your aunts, uncles, and your cousins in San Diego, did that feel like you had a strong Mexican community through them?
Ashley: Definitely. I'm so grateful for that. I grew up really close with both sets of my grandparents, all of my immediate family, and also our extended family in Mexico. We used to go at least twice a year to Mexico as a family, the four of us, just me and my brother and my parents. It was usually a road trip. We would go in our motorhome and drive all the way down. We usually would go down for Christmas or the New Year and then we'd go in the summertime.
I always felt very connected to my Mexican heritage even though I grew up here.
We kept in touch too. This was before social media, when I was younger. I still felt very connected to my cousins and family in Mexico, as well as my family here. It was so cool having that. Also, my American family's pretty big. It was always fun growing up around all of my cousins and my family. That was definitely where I got the sense of community, with my Mexican side, and otherwise, I grew up in a predominantly white area. There wasn't a ton of diversity, so it was nice being able to have my family and grow up like that.
Carly: What else did your family do to keep you connected? Did you celebrate Mexican holidays, did you speak Spanish?
Ashley: Spanish was actually my first language. I didn't really speak English until I went to kindergarten.
Carly: Your dad speaks Spanish, too, then?
Ashley: He does. I wouldn't say he's super fluent, but he gets by. I think when I was younger, my mom just spoke to me in Spanish and he got by. I probably spoke a little bit of both, but I was predominantly just speaking Spanish. After I went to school, we transitioned more to English. We pretty much speak English now, between my parents, my brother, and I.
Carly: Why do you think that switch happened?
Ashley: Probably just because of living here and you know how kids are kind of a little rebellious, and they're like, I don't wanna speak it. I think we just decided that it just felt more natural to speak Spanish. With our extended family, we all speak Spanish together.
We celebrated Mexican holidays often because we spent so much time in Mexico. We usually were there for Christmas. There was a time when we went down there in September, so we were there for Spanish Independence Day, which was awesome. Mexican Mother's Day is every year on May 10th, so we usually celebrate Mother's Day then. All the usual holidays.
Carly: Does your brother also feel as connected to Mexico as you?
Ashley: He was actually living in Mexico longer than I was and goes there more often than I do. And recently, he dated a girl from Monterrey. They were together for a really long time, so yeah, I think he does. He loves everything about the country.
Carly: What has the transition been like as an adult? Do you still go to Mexico often?
Ashley: We usually go at least once a year for vacation.
Carly: What has the change been like? I’m guessing the Mexico of your youth is probably not the Mexico of today.
Ashley: It's developed so much. There's always been a really strong tie with American culture, but I think with the internet and the social media now, it's completely different. There's so much more influence. Not just the culture. They have more access to trends and online shopping and all that, which has influenced the culture. With art, food, design, I think there is a renaissance taking place.
Mexico's so beautiful, it's so rich in resources. The land is incredible, you have mountains and beaches. Everybody needs to go and experience it, which I think a lot of people are doing.
Carly: I’m headed to Mexico City in December. I'm so excited, but it's really interesting to see how people react. Some people immediately start talking about the amazing food. And others first talk about the dangers.
Ashley: It's just like anything. You have to be smart. You can't just be walking around with your purse hanging down. It's a big city. There's a Netflix series right now called "Made in Mexico" that follows this group of socialites in Mexico City. It's kinda like a reality show, but it isn't really a reality show. You should watch it. It's a little ridiculous at times, like most reality shows, but it's really cool. You get a look into the social scene of Mexico City.
Carly: Have you traveled a lot throughout Mexico?
Ashley: Yeah. I haven't been down to Oaxaca, but I've definitely been to most of Mexico, I would say.
Carly: I think it’s incredible that you went on road trips through Mexico. I'm sure you saw things that most tourists don't get to see.
Ashley: We would stop in these random little towns in our motorhome, hang out, just experience places that you would never know of unless you were driving through. We used to bring big bags along and give candy out to the kids. We’d drive and see everything from the deserts to jungles.
Carly: Most of your family who is in Mexico now, are they your second aunts and second cousins?
Ashley: Most of my family from my grandparents' generation are still alive, and they all live near each other. There are so many of us. Honestly, I'll go down there and I meet new people that are related to me every time. I come from a long lineage that's been there forever.
Carly: What's it like living in LA? I heard someone recently say that 50% of the population in LA is Mexican, or at least Latino. In Oregon, the Mexican population is at 11% for the whole state. And that’s the largest minority group. I can’t imagine being in a place with such a large Mexican population.
Ashley: It’s really cool. There is a Mexican community, but even more so just Hispanic. There are people from Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala. We have all these little neighborhoods, like downtown LA has an area called Olvera Street with lots of Mexicans. It's a street that has little stores, places to shop, and places to eat Mexican food. But in LA, you kind of just feel at home because everyone's just everything. It's super metropolitan, so you don't feel that noticed.
For me, what’s different is that in LA nobody ever thinks that I'm Mexican. It's such a huge part of who I am and such a huge part of my identity. Even though I grew up in a predominantly white area in the classic American family, I still feel attached to my heritage because of how closely my parents have kept it a part of my life.
I really like that I grew up so closely tied and aware of Mexican culture, actually living there and traveling there all the time. I feel like I know the country really well.
Even the social and cultural trends of my age group. I feel really plugged in.
Carly: Will you be returning to Mexico anytime soon?
Ashley: My brother and I might go in January. We like to go down to Mexico, down to the Cancun area, to go scuba diving. It's amazing down there.
Carly: Scuba diving sounds terrifying to me, but I think it’s awesome that you love it.
Ashley: I love it because I love the water and nature. When I'm down there I’m so relaxed. I feel like maybe I was a mermaid in a past life. I got certified in SE Asia in Kotal, an island on the eastern side of Thailand. People go there to get certified and it's one of the best dive spots in the world. It's really cool.
On one of the first dives I was taking, I was descending and looked back and there was a jellyfish that was really slender, but really long. It was right behind me and if I wouldn't have turned around, I probably would've gotten stung. But it was beautiful, bright and yellow, red, all these cool colors. One of my bucket list things to see was an octopus in the wild. They're my favorite animal. When I was in Hawaii I asked them, "Is there any chance that we'll see an octopus today?" And he's like, "No, they don't really ever come out. They're more nocturnal so if you go on a night dive you'll see them." But on that dive, we saw two of them. It was a dream.
Carly: How many different countries have been for scuba diving?
Ashley: Thailand and Mexico, and then here in the U.S. I really want to go to Iceland and dive the sulfur fissure. It's a fissure between the Eur-Asian tectonic plate and the North American tectonic plate.
Carly: Have you had any conversations with your grandparents about what’s going on with immigration? I wonder what their perception of the current situation is, having immigrated themselves?
Ashley: That's a good question. We haven't really talked much about it, but I think when they talked to me before about coming to the United States, they've always just been so grateful to be able to have the opportunity to come and live here. Although my grandma still doesn't speak English. They've been here for, I don’t know, over 30 years, but she just hasn't picked it up. I think they’ve loved living here. My grandpa passed away a while back and it's just my grandma now, but she loves it. I think now she has lived longer in the United States than she has lived in Mexico.
Carly: That must be so special for her to see what has become of that move, what her children and grandchildren have become. It’s such a big step, to make the decision to leave your home, your country, your family. To leave it all and move somewhere else.
Ashley: Then to see all these years later how it's been built out and what everyone has done.
Carly: All still while maintaining many of the traditions and the heritage.
Ashley: It’s really important for me when I end up getting married, to keep all the traditions as well. I want to teach my kids to speak Spanish from an early age like I learned, and take them down to Mexico.
Carly: It makes me feel sad to think about how my immediate family has lost our connection to our heritage. It wasn't anybody's fault, but it was just the natural progression of choices, whether conscious or not, with regard to language and where we lived, which wasn’t anywhere near my family in Chicago which is much more connected to our Mexican heritage.
Ashley: I feel really great that my parents always took us places and were traveling. I think my first trip to Mexico was when I was six months old. I think that the sooner you can travel when you're younger, the better. It just opens your awareness even more and teaches you empathy and that the world is so much bigger than you think it is.
Traveling connects me with where I come from, but also let’s me see what another place is like.
Carly: Immigration is such a huge political issue right now that it's daunting, in a way. But bringing it down to this micro level and putting faces to the issue, that's how you change this perception of what immigrants are and what Mexicans are. I hope that this project does something, adds to the conversation a little bit.
Ashley: The beauty of the stories is what's really gonna come out of it. You just have to let that manifest itself, it'll grow into what it should be.
This interview has been edited and condensed. Published on December 12, 2018.