In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, I’d like to share a few thoughts about being Hispanic in a country where it’s hard to be Hispanic.
Just a little background information; my dad was born in Mexico, came to the U.S. as a newborn and became a citizen when he was 25 years old. My mom was born and raised in the U.S. as were my grandparents and great grandparents, but my great-great grandparents did migrate here from Mexico. I am proud to classify myself as Hispanic but there are times when I feel like I’m living a double life and I don’t fit into either one.
I was raised in a Mexican-American household where I was taught to speak both Spanish and English but once I started elementary school, I lost my ability to speak Spanish altogether. I understand a fair amount of Spanish now but it’s still difficult for me to hold a conversation without stumbling over my words. It didn’t help that the elementary school I went to was majority Caucasian because then I started acted more American than Mexican. All of my little friends had pretty blonde hair and fair skin and I always wondered if things would have been different if I had childhood friends with long brown hair and tan skin like mine.
I thought my situation was unique but talking among my peers, so many of them also struggle to fit into both the American and Mexican lifestyle. I’ve realized that a good reason for this sense of isolation has a lot to do with not feeling good enough for either culture.
One of my favorite movies "Selena" (1997) written by Gregory Nava, includes dialogue that perfectly describes this issue of being Mexican-American and trying to please both cultures. Nava’s script includes a scene where the character Abraham Quintanilla (Selena’s father) is trying to have a very real conversation with his kids and what he says is spot on, "And we gotta prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are, and we gotta prove to the Americans how American we are, we gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time. It's exhausting. Damn. Nobody knows how tough it is to be a Mexican American."
No one is ever pleased.
I chose to attend Cal State Long Beach because it is known to have a larger diversity of students and that is most definitely true but there is still this weird sense of cultural loneliness.
My first year in the dorms, there were hardly any other Hispanics around so I always felt out of place even though the friends I made were all very welcoming. There’s just something about meeting people with a similar background to yours that makes you feel connected. When I’m around my non-Hispanic friends, I speak English, eat wherever they want to eat even though I’m really craving my grandma's menudo and we only talk about topics that they’re familiar with like our favorite TV shows, celebrity drama, memes, etc.
When I’m with my family or with other Hispanics, I can understand if they have something to say in Spanish, we can talk for hours about the remarks Donald Trump has said about us, and we can all appreciate authentic home-cooked Mexican food.
Now what happens when these two worlds collide? I’ll tell you a little story about my most recent experience…
I love the Mexican culture I come from which is why I wanted to be part of clubs on my campus that celebrated Latino/Hispanic heritage. I am a member of The National Association of Hispanic Journalists and also the Latino Student Union. Both are amazing organizations and I am so happy to be a part of them but there are times when I don’t feel I am “Mexican enough” because my Spanish isn’t the best. Yes, I love being Hispanic but I never realized that wouldn’t be enough and that terrified me. Thankfully, everyone is so accepting despise my level of Spanish but It’s me who feels I cannot fully embrace my culture if I cannot speak the language.
If you’re going through a situation similar to mine and are also asking yourself “Where do I fit in if I’m exactly in-between two cultures?”, just know that knowledge is power. The more you know about where you come from, the more you will feel connected to your roots. Call your grandparents and ask them about a historical event they will never forget.
When your mom’s cooking a recipe she learned from her mom who learned from her mom, let her teach you. Learn all that you can about what your family went through to get you to where you are now so that when you do feel lost, you will always be reminded that you are exactly where you belong.