The United States is a multicultural country, yet that does not stop many multicultural people questioning who they are – like me. I’m Mexican-American, and I grew up wondering who is the “real” me.
“We gotta be twice as perfect as anybody else. We gotta prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are. We gotta prove to the Americans how American we are. It’s exhausting.” – Selena (movie)
After watching the movie about Selena (a famous Mexican-American musician), I resonate with what he said. I began to realize I’ve been in a battle alone to justify who I am. Being born and raised in the USA, I often had people questioning my Mexican cultural identity because I’m “too American” to them, like I just wasn’t Mexican enough. But I also felt I didn’t belong solely to the American culture. I found myself trapped in between both worlds: the Mexican side, and the American side. I needed a sense a belonging but how could I just pick one? So then, who am I? Let me share some parts of my life why I questioned my Mexican identity.
After hearing all the raves about the “el otro lado” (“the other side”) is the land of opportunities, my parents packed up their bags and moved to the USA from México, hoping to achieve the so-called “American Dream.”
Being born as a first-generation Mexican-American means I’d be raised with two different cultures: Mexican culture & American culture. I learned two different worlds, and I love them both (I also have Deaf culture but that’s a whole another story). I’m the oldest (and the only) daughter in the family, it’s like an unpaid internship. I saw someone saying that on Twitter and burst out laughing because it’s so true! I grew up like a second mother to my little brother because – that’s just how it is in my culture (don’t get me wrong, I would still take care of my brother).
“Mi renia” changed to “perezosa” quick if I wasn’t helping my mom to clean the house on Sunday morning while her music was blasting loudly throughout the house. I swear, the entire neighborhood could hear it. With a big family that I have (when I said “big,” I mean B I G), there were almost always family events going on on the weekends. I had to say both hello and kiss goodbye to each uncle, aunt, cousin, nieces/nephews, family’s friends – oh, wait, who are you? Never mind. And oh my life, I was even forced to have a Quinceañera (which turned out to be one of the best nights of my life) because it’s not only part a rite of passage in our culture but it’s family time too.
Although I grew up in Mexican culture, my birth country is the USA, not México. The culture of the USA sometimes collides with Mexican culture. Some of the USA’s values that I’ve learned were privacy and independence, which were something that my parents weren’t too keen on while I was a teenager (yikes). “Cuando yo tenía tu años” (“when I was your age”) was something that I could never avoid. Talking back to parents or adults are believed to be very disrespectful, even they knew I was right sometimes. “Te calma, o te calmo?” (“Calm down, or I’ll calm you down”) my mother would often say to me after talking back to her.
Having Mexican parents be confusing as hell sometimes, “mija, vete a ver tu amiga. Puedo llevar” and if I go out again in two days, “A donde vas? Otra vez?! Ya limpiaste la casa?! Aquí no es hotel!”
If I have a dime for every time my mother gave me “cuando yo me muera” talk (“when I die…”), I could buy a house in México. My mother and aunts would both mutter something about how “American” we children are. They didn’t like how we were learning the “American way,” because it sometimes contradicts one of the biggest values of Mexican culture: Family is the people that we have to rely on for support and family comes first.
And to say this without hesitation, my family is everything to me but I also have certain boundaries when it comes to personal stuff or navigating myself through the adult world. I still do love many aspects of my Mexican culture. All these experiences made me who I am today. Yet, despite growing up in a Mexican culture on the “land of opportunities,”
Am I too American to claim that I’m Mexican?
I know, I know. Like “gurl, why are you even questioning yourself like this?” But there are more reasons why I had a cultural identity crisis.
Several White Americans in the USA, even some People of Color (including USA-born Latinx), have certain beliefs who are “Mexican enough” based on their appearance – and mainly, that is the color of the skin. This also applies to every other Latinx (Guatemalan, Dominican Republican, Colombian, etc.) The notion they have about Latinx is that they couldn’t be white or black – just brown.
My brown-skinned father meets the USA’s notion of “how-Mexican-looks” criteria whereas my white-skinned mother does not. Unless my mother talks in English with Spanish accent or speak Spanish at public places, but she doesn’t share the same experiences (such as racial profiling) as my father because she has white skin privilege. My parents, who have two different skin colors, given birth to a light-skinned/white-passing daughter: me. (The reason I’m using both terms, light-skinned or white-passing, is because I also had light brown skin sometimes but not sure if that’s justified to use these? Feel free to educate me on this!)
Therefore, I have the privileges in comparison to my brown-skinned Latinx schoolmates because I don’t instantly fit the USA’s “criteria” — which led me to questioned myself:
Am I truly Mexican?
Not only is it because I didn’t meet the stereotypical criteria in their eyes, but I am also not fluent in Spanish. My first language is Spanish but being a Deaf child, I was learning Spanish while misreading lips and not being able to hear and understand the words and sounds. I didn’t have visual access to the Spanish language. Despite mispronouncing certain Spanish words with a Deaf accent, I was able to have spoken conversations with my family and other Hispanic people.
Attending schools in the USA as a Deaf child also mean that I had to learn English. While learning English, not only did I learn to speak English but I had the visual access to learn English: writing and reading.
I also had access to learn American Sign Language (ASL). ASL is a visual language where I didn’t have to rely on hearing spoken languages. A language that I don’t to play “fill in the blank” games every day because I can’t hear every word that Hearing people are saying. A language that doesn’t make me feel frustrated and alone. A language gave me a basic human right where I can also have a connection with other Deaf peers, my community. ASL became my dominant language. Growing up, I still had yet to have visual access to the Spanish language (and I’m not saying it’s my parents’ fault – because it’s not). Because of this, I only know how to speak Spanish growing up and taught myself how to read and write Spanish inconsistently.
My first language is Spanish, but I’m still not fluent. Am I Mexican enough?
I started questioning my cultural identity when I was about 25 years old. In the same year (2015), I visited Cancún with my family where I felt ashamed for not being Mexican enough. I couldn’t stop ruminating these questions out of my head after, but Cancún (a westernized Mexican beach city) wasn’t enough to push me further to face my cultural identity crisis. Although I visited México every year since I was mere months old (until my grandparents passed away when I was a teenager) and stayed with my families for a month to three months, exploring my cultural identity never crossed my mind at those times.
After leaving Cancún, I vowed to return México once again to face my cultural identity crisis. I needed to explore more about who I am, including my roots and privileges. During the last four years, I found a Deaf Latinx community, a stronger sense of self of who I am after traveling to other countries but I still sometimes questioned my cultural identity. That promise that I’ve made for myself, I finally had the chance to visit México where it has begun to solidify my Mexican identity and learned that experiencing a cultural identity crisis was a good thing.
To be continued.
have you experienced confusion about your cutlural identity?
What was it like for you? Are you still experiencing this journey, or have you finally discovered who you are?
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