For YOU, Life

On Identity

March 7, 2013

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The recent blog post on the Latino Cultural Academy, along with catching CNN’s Soledad O’Brien’s Black in America, and my current “on the nightstand” read, Bilingual Is Better, I can’t keep “identity” out of my mind right now. Honestly, since moving away from our family nine years ago, I’ve been more conscious of my identity than ever before. ย Why is it that for some people, cultural identity is such a huge part of their lives? Why is it that for some people, it doesn’t matter?

I grew up in a Mexican neighborhood for the majority of my childhood and when my parents decided to move I had no problem making friends with non-Latinos, I was aware of our differences but it never occurred to me that others might perceive my diversification of friends as a slap to my culture. When I was in high school, I thought that perhaps I needed to make more of an effort at demonstrating my Mexicanismo after I had just been accused by a Latina girl of “acting white”.

I tend to be the one in our family who talks a lot about our background while socializing and when meeting new people (and I gravitate to those who speak Spanish). I’m starting to notice that Jose doesn’t bring up our heritage to the new people we meet as much as I do. I mean, we both instill so much Mexican culture and the Spanish language to our boys because we have not met any other Mexican-American families in our area, and we live away from our family, I feel like I always have to talk about it. Is it pride? Maybe I pay too much attention to the huge cultural diversity here in the East Coast that I want our own to stand out. Or maybe I feel that recently Mexico has been badly portrayed and so many have issues with immigration that I want to shout out, “Hey, look how well this first-generation from Mexican immigrants turned out! And there are so many amazing, talented, smart and good Mexican-American friends we want you to meet!”

Just like I love to share our experiences with people that are not of Hispanic descent, when I meet other Latinos here, the conversation always turns to bilingualism in our home, the struggle of our parents, our education…our common experience. I can’t help but think though that if I were in Chicago, in the community I grew up in and stayed in for 28 years, I wouldn’t be having this conversation so much. Does that mean I wouldn’t have the conversation with our non-Latino friends? If I were still in Chicago would I be defending my background to the shop clerk who just said, “Oh, you don’t LOOK Mexican”? My children would be surrounded my both sides of their Mexican family, so would their experience with the culture just be more “natural” in Chicago?

We just had Diego’s second kindergarten conference and once again his teachers wanted us to know how proud Diego comes across when speaking to his classmates about his culture and background (he is apparently giving Spanish lessons too!). For so many reasons, that makes me so proud. Does it matter? Absolutely. Would it be different if there were others like him? Maybe.

Is it only me? If you live in a predominant Latino neighborhood: are you having this conversations as often as I am?

IF you don’t live in a predominantly Latino neighborhood: do bring up your heritage as often as I do?

Please don’t feel you have to be Latino to comment! ๐Ÿ˜‰

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15 Comments

  • Reply Vanessa March 7, 2013 at 11:59 pm

    I don’t talk about my identity in terms of my culture, but what is on my mind all of the time is who I am in terms of what makes me happy! Do I stay away from things because I fear what people may think of me, because I feel pressured, or do I do things based on who I think I should be verse just being me? I feel like I’m always soul searching? Will I ever find it?

    • Reply Maritza March 8, 2013 at 10:15 am

      Vane, I feel the same way at times. To me it is finding or figuring out my purpose in this game called LIFE. I hope all is well ๐Ÿ™‚

      • Betty
        Reply Betty March 11, 2013 at 8:06 am

        Thank you for sharing Vane and Maritza! I always have something on my mind, jajaja. Maybe because Diego is in kinder now and the whole issue with how I was perceived in school…I don’t want the same for him. I want him to remain proud for the rest of his life and be able to live through many worlds effortlessly.
        Betty recently posted..A Great WeekendMy Profile

  • Reply Liz A March 8, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    This brings back memories of my own struggles with Identity. As far as I can remember it started when My mom took me out of bilingual class in second grade because she thought it was hindering me more than helping me. My grades got better and my English became better and in third grade I was put into gifted class learning math with the fourth graders. The more I thought about it the more I felt ok with her decision. She still spoke to me in Spanish at home but she let the educators teach me in English. English became my dominate language. It was only until I was in grammar school and my younger sister was in spanish classes that I first realized I didn’t know how to read in Spanish?? I grabbed her book and taught myself. From there my own journey of Identity began, I would like to share but it would be too long for me to post it here. lol In the end, my experiences led me to accept who I am and I have learned to respect how others Identify themselves with or without Labels.

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 11, 2013 at 8:08 am

      Hmmm…you have me thinking…perhaps a series of identity in the future for MFBS…I invite you to share Liz. Let me know if it is not to personal of a topic?
      Betty recently posted..A Great WeekendMy Profile

  • Reply Celeste March 9, 2013 at 10:23 am

    We are 1st Gen Pacific Islanders ( AKA Pac RIm) and, realized the other day that our 4 year old does not know who she is. At dinner we asked her if she knew what her nationality was and she responded American. Although, this was the right answer considering she was born here …I’m not sure how I feel about this. She had no idea about where we were from. On the one hand I feel somewhat comforted in knowing that she sees herself as an equal to her peers. On the other, I’m kind if saddened that she doesn’t know this integral part of her identity. Since then we’ve made a greater effort to teacher her heritage. But, honestly, it doesn’t bother me that much. Of course we’d like her to speak the language and have the basic knowledge. But, as for her identity, I’m ok with her defining it on her own. I was very self conscious growing up never felt good enough because of my culture. I had a hard time understanding why I was so different and it held me back in many respects. One of my greatest fears is for her to feel the same.

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 11, 2013 at 8:35 am

      Celeste, Thanks for chiming in! Do you think that if your daughter was seeing herself as a pacific islander would mean she would not be seeing herself as equal to her peers? Also, I also wonder, by the time our children are parents, wouldn’t America be so different that our kids would feel normal that everyone is from somewhere else and that they can talk about that and identify? I also wonder, if I didn’t grow up in a community of Mexican people, would I have shared the same experience you did growing up (I’m assuming you were not in the same place as people of your background)?
      I fear that Diego would not know his heritage in a country where there are so many like him. Even if we stay here forever and he doesn’t interact with many Mexicans, I want him to feel proud no matter what. Sigh. I’m still confused. LOL!
      Betty recently posted..A Great WeekendMy Profile

  • Reply Nancy March 10, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    I will never forget where I come from, I’m very happy that I grew up in a very small town in Mexico, I’m very proud of my culture and proud of my parents, they worked very hard to make sure we had food, a home and clothes to wear. Also they payed for us to go to a catholic school whitch I know it was very hard to do, times where very hard. I grew up eating fresh milk and cheese from my parents goats and organic chickens that we raised, local foods and vegetables. I walked or ride a bike to school everyday and on the way I would enjoy cactus fruits, like garambullos y chochos, y randomly had any homework to worry about, but we did helped my Mom with house chores and taking care of the animals we raised, after we would be done, it was all plays and games, I was a happy girl, school was very easy for me I berly had to study for tests. I was proud of being who I was event though my sisters were not as nice As i would want them to be. but i always kept my head up high because believe it or not, there was descrimination of color between our sibilins, since I was the darkest I had to deal with some kind of bulling. But when I came to the USA, I never felt any less than any other person, for some reason I felt proud to say Hey I’m from Mexico I’ve been here only six months and I speak English, I felt proud to say I grew up feeling free and without fear. I felt proud to say I’m here alone I go to school and have a job even thought I have no papers and I’m constantly learning . I never thought that those were characteristics of being Mexican or an immigrant I just felt that those caracteristics where just who I was. Almost Healf of my life I’ve lived it in Chicago and I’m happy to say I live here, people have treated me nice, I have many friends and family that I love, I enjoy telling people my experiences that I lived in Mexico, I cherish that time in my life and will always remember with joy, I tell my children how my life was and they seem to be proud of me also, Melina is very aware of who she is, she loves to say that she comes from many backgrounds and ethnic groups, (Latino, polish, Italian, Arabic, Greek, etc.) she is proud to be a mixture and happy to be able to learn two other languages right at home. I can’t deny my nationality and ethnicity it’s in my blood, and I won’t be a shame of telling people where I come from at the end we all are humans and we are equals. We all come from the same world.!

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 11, 2013 at 8:38 am

      Thank you Nancy. You clearly identify as Mexican and it’s fair to say that because you experienced life in Mexico you are very comfortable stating your Mexicanismo. I’m glad to hear about your children’s experience, especially because you married a non-Latino. I always wonder how children of mixed couples choose to identify. Would love to hear more updates as the conversation continues. Gracias! xoxo
      Betty recently posted..A Great WeekendMy Profile

  • Reply Heather March 12, 2013 at 7:07 pm

    Betty this post struck a chord and made me think of high school. I struggled because (as you know) my dad is Puerto Rican, speaks spanish, and married my mom who is German. He never taught us spanish because my mom would never understand us. So in high school it became rough for me because when I became a cheerleader I was accused of being a “white girl”. That was a negative comment to both sides if you ask me. Who says latinas can’t be cheerleaders? And why are white people being made fun? I always felt more comfortable with my mom’s side of the family because I couldn’t even speak to my grandpa on my dad’s side because he just knew spanish. ….Same thing with my high school friends. I felt awkward at times hanging out with latinas because they would transition into spanish (assuming I knew the language) during conversations and I had no idea what was being said. But after high school, I realized it doesn’t matter what “type” you hang out with….just surround yourself with good people. Ugh, I couldn’t stand high school! ๐Ÿ™

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 19, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      Hi Heather! The language barrier is huge! It is so normal and understandable for you to identify with your mother’s German side because you didn’t speak Spanish. I spoke it and was also accused of “acting white” or “trying to be white”. So interesting, huh? I wonder Heather how you feel now? Do you still identify more with your German side because you don’t speak Spanish? Do you feel you can identify now with your Puerto Rican side as language isn’t everything?

  • Reply Nancy March 21, 2013 at 1:55 pm

    Very interesting questions Betty, my grandfather from my Dad side of the family was Lebanese, I never meet him and he never spoke his language to my father or sibiling, but for some reason I identify myself with people that come from that region and I feel part of that culture even thought I don’t know much about it, I love their music and food. and you are so right about the language I don’t need to speak Arabic to feel part lebasene, it’s in me! ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Betty
      Reply Betty March 24, 2013 at 10:18 pm

      I LOVE that Nancy!!! It’s in your blood and I’m sure that if you haven’t explored your Lebanese side, you will soon! xoxo

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