One of the most important aspects of my character is the fact that I am an immigrant. I came to the United States from Mexico fifteen years ago, and the journey has been anything but smooth.
The picture on my visa is me as a baby, and the card is missing a fingerprint because I was too young. That should give you an idea of how young I was when I moved to this country.
I grew up as an American, but I was raised as a Mexican. I grasped the English language within the first three years of living here, and I spoke Spanish at home. At Mexican birthday parties, it was all about Las mañanitas and “la mordida.” During American birthday parties, though, I would sing the "Happy Birthday" song and I didn’t shove the birthday boy or girl’s face into the cake.
It never really dawned on me that I was any different than Brittany from summer school or Juan from K-4. I was okay being part of two cultures for a large part of my life, because I thought they were one. It wasn’t until I grew up into the American culture that my mom started calling me out on my “whiteness,” as she would say. I had kept the cultures separate for much of life. When I started dressing differently, though, my mom told me I dressed like a güero. And I started becoming aware of my darker-colored skin whenever I left Milwaukee’s south side (which is predominantly Hispanic).
Because of that-- even after fifteen years of living here-- I still struggle with being an immigrant. Whenever my mom calls my grandma (who lives back home in Mexico), she tells her that I don’t like tortillas and that I don’t listen to any Spanish music. I can’t help but think that I’m described as agringado (that is, whitewashed). I really don’t like tortillas, though. They’re too dry and tasteless.
And whenever I go to places like downtown Chicago or the lakefront here in Milwaukee, I feel Hispanic. Often times, I am surrounded by non-Hispanic people in these places, and I can’t help but think that I stand out like Mt. Everest in a field. And in those moments, I feel bad for being Hispanic because of the fact that I stand out.
Being a Mexican immigrant in the United States stops me from fitting in. I saw a picture on a Facebook pagerecently that said “So, here you are / Too foreign for home / Too foreign for here. / Never enough for both.” It stuck with me, and I can definitely relate.
I can say that I am Mexican, but I’ve lived in the United States for every year of my life except two of them. I watch the fireworks on the Fourth of July, and all I do on Mexico’s independence day is go to school. I know the lyrics to "The Star Spangled Banner," but I don’t even know what Mexico’s national anthem is called. I was rooting for Team USA during the Olympics, but I kept an eye on Mexico’s medal count.
And I can say that I am American, but I have brown skin. My last name is Hernandez, and I speak Spanish at home. I eat Mexican food but I just call it comida. I open my presents at midnight on Noche Buena, not Christmas morning, and I don’t celebrate Thanksgiving because “eso es de güeros.” Sometimes, I would rather eat a hamburger than a taco. Other times, it’s the other way around.It’s literally like you’re living two lives when you’re an immigrant (whether you’re a first- or second-generation immigrant). To your family, you’re whitewashed for adopting certain quirks of the American culture, and in American society, you’re referred to by a racial epithet for connecting to your country’s culture. If I have children, I don’t even know what language I’ll teach them first. I don’t know how to describe myself demographically-- Mexican-American, American, or Mexican. It’s a struggle to blend two cultures together, but like I said, I consider my status as an immigrant an important part of who I am. It has helped shape who I am today, and if anything, it has helped me connect with a larger network of people. Having the best of both worlds isn’t easy, but it sure is interesting, and until I learn to appreciate both of my cultures, I’ll just be around eating Qdoba.