American: refers to people who are native or citizen of the United States.
Latino: refers to people who are from or descended from people from Latin America.
Chicano: a slang word that refers to people of Mexican decent but born and raised in America.
You see I fall under all three categories and that makes for, not only a lot of confusion on my part but also, a lot of discrimination from others.
I am not “American enough” for the white Americans because I am brown and have Latino features. My little Mexican mom cooks mostly Mexican dishes and I had a Quinceanera. Shouldn’t be a problem right? I have my group to belong to: the Latinos. However, you see, I am not quite “Latino enough” for them. I don’t speak Spanish (like really, I know less than a lot of white Americans). I don’t listen to Spanish music or watch novellas. Okay fine, at least there is still the Chicanos, right? They are the group that technically describes me the best anyway – Mexican descent but born in America. Wrong! I am not a “real” Mexican because I act “too white”, whatever that means. From what I’ve gathered, “act white” means I speak well and enjoy me some Justin Timberlake. So where does a brown, taco-loving, well-spoken, Justin Timberlake fan belong?
I am 31 years old and I have been trying to figure this out since middle school, which is apparently when kids really start to “see color”. That is when I started hearing “you act white” but also feeling discriminated against by the white Americans who would often raise their voice to ask, “DO YOU SPEAK ENGLISH”. I think it was high school though that my friend’s neighbor asked me where my shank was: “You’re Mexican, don’t you carry a shank?” I remember trying to avoid the sun so I wouldn’t get “too brown” and feeling shame when another student whispered on my first day in a new art class “I don’t think she speaks English”. I remember feeling embarrassed when a Latino would ask me if I spoke Spanish or would mention my “light” skin. Do you see a trend? Each side has a different prejudice for someone like myself.
This post was inspired by an event that happened yesterday. Earlier in the day, I shared a Facebook video of America Fererra speaking on this same issue. The discrimination she herself faced in the film industry for not being able to portray a character as “Latino enough” was confusing to her because, as she put it, she is an actual real-life Latino.How is that not good enough? Ironically, a few hours later I was at lunch and a colleague mentioned she had gone to a concert. She asked if I had heard of the singer. Because I hadn’t, she then proceeded to ask if I even know what reggaeton music is. I had heard of it but if a reggaeton song came on the radio, I could not identify it as such. It was then that she asked, “What kind of Mexican are you?”. My mom works in the same office as this person and we all have lunch together. A few minutes later my mom says something in Spanish and she corrects her in a mocking way.
I hate that I let this person shame me. I hate it even more that she did it to my mom. My mom’s first language was Spanish and she learned English when she entered the school system. She tells me stories about her English teacher and how mean she was about my mom and her sisters having an accent. Eventually, English became her primary language and she didn’t speak Spanish as much once her parents had passed. She lost a lot of it and now has an American accent when she speaks it. She’s a Spanish speaking Latina but she’s still not good enough because her Spanish isn’t perfect. Why would I even want to attempt to speak it knowing her experiences? Just so someone can mock the way I speak it?
Being a Mexican in Arizona during this time is especially hard. All the talk of illegal immigration and the border wall has sprung a lot of hate. Hate that trickles down from the Mexicans who are here illegally to us who are several generation Americans. I have had family racially profiled. I, myself, have had my vehicle searched during a routine traffic stop because they were looking for guns. I’ve never owned a gun in my life and gave no reason for them to suspect it. Maybe my gun is somewhere with the shank I should supposedly have?
I had an old shoplifting charge haunt me for a decade while my friend who was my partner in crime had ZERO issues from the same charge. The company she works for hired me, then took back the offer after the background check, stating they cannot hire someone with that charge. I couldn’t find an apartment that would allow me on the lease to save my life. She had several apartments in her name with no mention of the charge. I was confused as to why I kept having to pay for a mistake I made many years ago and she never heard about it again. I’m not one to pull the race card, but my brother mentioned it. He said the only difference is your last name: you’re Mexican and she’s white. That was a hard one to swallow.
I don’t speak Spanish. Along with that, a lot of my culture has been lost over recent generations in many other ways. My kids are half white but I hope to raise them to be proud of their Mexican side. Even though a lot of our culture has been lost, I am still proud of my roots. I am allowed to be a proud Latina. I know that now and I am happy I was finally able to find acceptance within.
I urge you as a white American to read this and try and understand the struggle your Mexican neighbor might experience daily. I want you as a fellow Latino to open your eyes and see that you could be part of the problem. Our people receive enough hate. Why would you contribute to it? Why would you shame someone who can be both proud to be Latino and also American raised? Why would you shame a fellow Latino because they are trying to keep the culture alive by speaking Spanish but maybe they don’t speak it perfect? Know that we might already be insecure and have empathy for that. Help educate instead of discriminate. If you too are a Latino who struggles with your identity due to lack of acceptance, try and rise above it. Take pride in who YOU are, ignore the ignorance, and feel sorry for the close minded.
I am an American. I am a Latina. I am proud to be an American born Latina and I refuse to let hate win!