My grandmother was born in El Paso Texas in 1908. Her parents were from Monterrey, Mexico. My mother was born in California in 1941 and so was I in 1965. When I fill out the census I check the box that says Hispanic. When I’m eyeballed by the average American read: Caucasian, Asian or Indian person, they see a Latina chick. No big deal I wear it well and am not ashamed.
However, I’m this breed of American caught between two worlds. I’m sure it happens in other cultures too, but I only know my own experience. I speak a half-way sort of Spanish. I spoke only Spanish until the age of 5 and then I went to school and English became my primary language. I still understand it well. My grandparents spoke Spanish and my parents spoke Spanglish so I grew up hearing both languages. I eat menudo and creme brulee.
Culturally, we were raised as American children who were told stories of the struggle to get to this country and make some headway. “Get an education” my grandfather said, “para no trabajar como burro” (so you won’t work like a donkey). “What college are you going to?”, my parents would ask. My mother was a professional business woman so I saw that as my future. My father cooked dinner when he was home so I saw no set chores for men and women.
Interestingly though, Hispanic immigrants who live in America both legally and illegally see me as American read: Caucasian wannabe. I don’t speak with an accent, I don’t speak Spanish as fluently as others and so therefore, I must be a racist on some level. I suppose this thought is because I don’t know the struggle of an immigrant first hand and because by the third generation immersion in the culture looks quite different.
This thought is further imbedded in their thinking when I say that in order to move forward we must learn the English language. It is the language of this country that I so love with all of my heart. Without the language you are slaves to those who can translate for you and your hope is that they translate correctly. They don’t realize that a racist would keep them in their language and take advantage of them. I don’t relate to a language being a culture, because to me, the culture of many people from all over the world is the life in which I was brought up. My ancestors story is one of many.
When I lived in Europe no one translated for me. I carried a dictionary in my purse and I butchered the language of each country I visited, and made a lot of people laugh, but I managed, and they helped me. I understand the struggle to learn a new language however I also know that when in Rome we speak Italian.
I am further criticized when I say that we must get an education. It’s not enough to occupy space on the planet but we must make it better and we each have much to offer. I don’t believe that there is a set of people born to do menial labor. I believe our ancestors paved the way for something greater and it’s up to us, those second and third generations born of immigrants to do better. To remember where we came from is important but to move forward is imperative. It’s not enough to have arrived in the land of opportunity it’s about now accessing that opportunity to better future generations.
I remember when I was a child and in Mazatlan, Mexico on vacation. The adult I was with spoke only English but she was half-Mexican American and Italian, we were in a store and she asked the price of something. The woman was so rude to her, looking at her in disgust she said with disdain in Spanish, “Look at you, you’re obviously Hispanic. Learn to speak Spanish when you come to my country.” Why the double standard? I was only nine but I remember the hypocrisy well and it is imprinted in my memory.
So, while I am not a racist, I do believe you have an obligation to learn the language of the country you live in. I do believe you have an obligation to seek wisdom and knowledge. I understand the struggle and I understand the obligation I have to do better. While the term racist is thrown in my direction, I don’t receive or accept it. In fact, I think the moment it is thrown at me, it boomerangs back at the accuser who is looking at me with their own heart issues and their own mistrust of this new people they have chosen and decided to merge with, after all we have not been brought here as slaves.
In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy my life as a American and be proud that I live in a country that is so meshed in each other’s cultures that I can eat Asian tacos and Mexican Lasagna with gusto! This is the reality of my upbringing.