Most nights at work, we play a game after we close the store so that we can end the evening with good laughs. A recent exercise involved all of the management and staff present recalling a story about the first pair of Nikes we'd ever owned. My boss started telling his story and the first pair of Nikes he owned were a pair of Nike Cortez'. After he started to explain the story behind his shoes, one of our associates responded with “Straight paisa with it!” I immediately turned and looked at him because I was shocked by the words that had just come out of my associate's mouth. As he looked at me, he responded with “In no way did I stereotype you guys.” For those unfamiliar, "paisa" is a derogatory term that is used to refer to Mexicans as uneducated illegals who crossed the border to have anchor babies on American soil. I looked at him and informed him that he should stop while he was ahead of himself, because every word that he said was offensive in many ways. In today's society, there are many who think it's okay to speak freely about others because they fail to realize the negative impact their words might have.
The words that my associate spoke that evening were offensive to me in many ways. Not only did he assume that every person who wears Nike Cortez’ is Hispanic, but he also called Mexicans "paisa". What you need to know is that "paisa" is similar to saying "wetback", and both words are very hurtful and disparaging to a proud people. We are considered Mexican, Hispanic, Chicana and Chicano, and while we often referred to as immigrants, illegals, wetbacks, paisa, etc., the commonality of these remarks doesn't make them any more acceptable. There are those who would argue that racism and ignorance in regards to racial tolerance are things of the past, and yet, we still have misguided people who see nothing wrong with uttering phrases like "Straight paisa with it!" Then again, that wasn’t racism or a stereotype at all, because it’s okay to still use offensive words towards Hispanics. (Sarcastic voice). We are worthwhile individuals like everyone else and yes, we do take offense to stereotypes and offensive words.
What one of my associates didn’t know is that even though to him saying "paisa" may be acceptable, it’s really not. The words "wetback" or "paisa" began as derogatory terms to describe an individual who was from Mexico and crossed the Rio Grande; "paisa" more specifically, is used to describe someone who is not a U.S citizen and speaks broken English. When individuals in society think about Mexicans, they think that they are uneducated, speak with an accent, have a lot of kids and work in typical places like farm labor camps. This is not always the case however; someone like me who is Mexican, a year away from getting my bachelor’s degree, doesn't have any children and speaks fluent English embraces her Hispanic culture, but overcomes every stereotype that there is. This has led many people I've encountered to either say "You're not really Mexican," or "You’re not like other Mexicana’s.” What does that mean when someone says you're not like other Mexicans? I don't adhere to offensive stereotypes, so people feel the need to marginalize and downplay my heritage.
Some people are so stuck on what a Mexican is in their mind compared to who we really are. Who am I if I don’t fit under those stereotypes that individuals are still stuck on? Even though I have conquered a lot of stereotypes, as a Mexican woman, I know that there will still be individuals that will only see me for the color of my skin. My associate probably thought he was being humorous and he probably thought no one respond to the offensive comment that he made. As everyone else stood by silently, I am proud to say that I was not and will not be quiet.There will be a time in almost everyone’s life when you realize that you get tired of always having to take the crap that individuals say. Whether it be about your culture, religion, sexual orientation, etc. The fact still remains that eventually one has to stand up for what they believe is right. I may not know a lot about my culture or heritage, but what I do know is that I’m tired of letting those around me decide what a Mexican is and who they can and can’t be. I know that all it takes is one voice to stand up and others will
follow soon after.