I grew up in the burbs with my (very stereotypically) large family being the only interaction I had with Mexicans not standing on the other side of the looking glass. If you had a tan and an accent, you must be related to me. Respect for our elders drilled into our heads since birth had us referring to any adult our parents' age or older as Tia or Tio, which, quite honestly, only confused us even more.
Suffice it to say, sometimes I forgot I wasn't white. The moments were few and fleeting, but they were there. And they were obvious. As a 15-year-old, I nervously told my dad about the cute boy at work who asked me on a date and my father simply replied by asking what he was. Italian and French-Canadian, I told him. My dad looked at me. "So he's white." It wasn't a question. It took me a minute, y'all. I just stood there blinking until I realized that Oh RIGHT...I'm not.
Or whenever there's family drama and I'm mad-texting BFF Mel about whatever wedding, milestone party, or funeral (generally the trifecta of Latin Commandments for Your Ass Had Better Be Showing Up No Matter How Much the Plane Ticket is) her response to my And then She Said's is usually a tired yawn and a sleepy giggle. Then she asks me why we bother to put ourselves in those situations to begin with.
"When white people don't like each other, we just don't talk to the people we don't like," she said during a trip home for a wedding a few years back. "It's hard to feel sorry for you, babe." I gotta admit, I really didn't have a snappy comeback. It's hard when what she said made so much sense. Not only had we walked right into a stressful situation willingly, we paid a whole lotta money to do it because doing otherwise had never even occurred to us.
And there it was again: Not White. See Also: White People Veggies, a crazy-good side-dish consisting solely of California Blend veggies baked with a metric ton of Italian dressing, which Mel served up to the obviously easily impressed.) If looking up cultural dictates in a dictionary, the See Also would include additional il' bits 'o' wisdom like:
- Spanglish Guilt Trips are legendary. See Also: Final scenes in Real Women Have Curves.
- The fact that your Abuelo's dog was named Come Cuando Aye is actually still funny to you as the grownup who refers to her dogs as her furbabies, mainly because you know your Guelo loved that dog.
- You're birthday parties as a kid weren't themed, didn't have balloons, and no one needed an invite because the guest list is made up of people who've been grounded with you or used to change your diapers.
- You were raised to say "Todo esta Bien" (even when it isn't) when anyone asks how you happen to be esta-ing, especially if we swap our normally Whatever Guacamole (read: fork plus salt plus avocado = done!) with the fancy version with cilantro and pico de gallo whenever they come over for dinner.
- Never speak publicly about that which is better saved for the Sweeping Under the Rug thing. Except for that family wedding you're going to next week. Everybody knows the bride is pregnant and everyone will continue to nod and smile when the baby is born six months early, weighing 8 lbs, and give Gracias to Dios for miracles such as this one.
- Family comes first. Always. And family means everybody your Anglo buddies usually refer to as extended family.
I love my cultural identity -- hyphen and all -- because I am as American as I am Mexican (and both by my own definition, thank you very much), but I'm also a realist in the sense that I am not afraid to address the good with the bad, which in this case, oftentimes just means outdated thinking. As a first generation Mexican-American, I was raised to keep my thoughts to myself and put the feelings of La Familia over my own. Considering the emotional baggage I’ve been packing since childhood, I’d say that line of thinking didn’t turn out so well. Remember, I'm the girl who responded to my now-husband's pre-engagement request for my choice in band color for my ring by telling him to get me yellow gold, not because I liked it, but because that's what my family wore.
Maybe things wouldn't have changed if we hadn't moved from out of state, removing us from the familial (and related self-imposed) pressures. but they did change because we didn't stay. Removed from the filtered reality I grew up in, I was wide-eyed and full of wonder when I started to realize the freedom and purpose that come with thinking for myself. When I became a mother, my daughter's future became my present-day reminder to raise her to always know what it took so many of us so very long to learn for ourselves.
Tomorrow, (Wednesday, June 25 at 10p.m. EST) we discuss keeping our balance on the hyphen between our two cultures and remind each other that it is entirely possible to honor who we are now while still holding on to where we came from. I'd love to see you join us for the weekly #ChingonaFest twitter party at 10 pm. EST. The hashtag, obviously, is #chingonafest. Don't roll your eyes at me, y'all. The hashtag may be culturally specific, but the spirit behind it is universal. That means we all get to play together in the sandbox.
Now... rinse, lather, and repeat.