Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Identity/Mi Identidad

As you all know, yesterday was the 4th of July. (Yes, this blog is late. But come on now, really?) So I think I would like to talk about something relevant, something that has also been on my mind a couple of times in the past.

Why do we celebrate the 4th of July? Nowadays, the reason for this commemorative date might be obscured in all the pool parties, bbqs, and fireworks, so you might not be sure. But the 4th of July holds a very special meaning to those who love this country. Is it the day that we finally gained independence from Britian. Sure, it was in name only (and the Declaration of Independence was signed on the second, not the fourth), but the significance of what the group of delegates did is what really matters. And there, the birth of a nation began. From that humble beginning to now, living in what can be arguably called the best country in the world. But, what does it mean to be a citizen of the United States? And what if you also have ties to somewhere else? For a person whose whole culture is not really his at all, but rather, a blending of the old and new ways of life, growing up in the United States is a unique experience, but also one shared by thousands of other children of immigrants who learn to live like and love the country their parents came from and also this country where they were born into.

For me, this is an experience that has taken some twists and turns, and has also affected how I life my life. For some reason, I refuse to fit into either category of “American” or “Mexican”. Or maybe it’s not that I refuse to fit in, but that I simply just don’t. My parents are Mexican (BIG SURPRISE!!!!) so as I was growing up, I learned to be Mexican like they were, which included eating Mexican food, believing the Mexican faith (Catholicism), talking Mexican (Spanish; you would think most people know we talk Spanish, but I still hear remarks about “talking Mexican”), and learning Mexican customs. However, I was not in Mexico, so as you expect, I don’t act like a typical Mexican. I don’t like chile or most spicy food, because it burns, and so I’ve gained a reputation of “chicken” among my family members. I don’t believe in lots of the superstitions that are held in my parent’s hometown, although I am a faithful Catholic, or so I would like to think. I talk Spanish fluently, but it’s much more fun to talk Spanglish. However, I am also not a full “American” either. Sure, this is my country, and I lived here all of my life, but I also do not represent the typical American (if there is such a thing). Yes, I grew up eating hamburgers, Chinese food, and pizza, which shows the cultural diversity this country has to offer. I learned English after a struggle to speak for some unknown reason, although I speak Spanish to my parents. I learned about the social norms of people here, even though living in New York City can’t exactly be called “normal” living; yet, I also interject my Mexican mannerisms from time to time, especially when talking to my cousins or sisters. So growing up was kind of weird. On the one hand, I was expected to represent the people from which I came from, mi raza. On the other, I represented one out of a million people that makes this country so great, a melting pot of cultures. For some time, I struggled a bit with this dual identity, and for some reason, never found a completely satisfactory answer.

As you can imagine, this lead to some difficulties. Nothing serious, but they still affected both the way I perceive myself and how I would identify myself. I didn’t fit in to the Mexican stereotype of being hard working, liking both the women and the booze a little too much, and giving off an air of strength and manliness. I was weak and lazy, so you can imagine how my cousins (who were all about 10 or more years older than me) perceived me. I didn’t, and still don’t like alcohol, and while I did like girls, I didn’t flaunt it like they did by looking at magazines like Maxim. For me, all of that seemed like a waste of time. They saw me as strange, so I didn’t get along with them that well, even with the few cousins/nephews I had who were my age. And for Mexicans, one of the most important things is camaraderie. As you can imagine, I spent most of my time alone. Flip the coin to see what happened on the other side. I really didn’t fit in with my peers at school, due to a factor of reasons, but one of those reasons I’m sure is because of my “Mexican-ness”. Kids can be very mean, and they were, for a long time. Because of my parent’s insistence of no watching TV shows that were deemed “inappropriate” for children my age, I was out of the loop for the most part when it came to talking to my classmates about things like movies and popular TV shows. While, yes, this is not a uniquely Mexican attribute, my parents took it to a bit of an extreme. I was overprotected, you could say. Not used to letting their children hang out and do things after school, they decided to not let me spend time with my classmates after classes ended. So I mostly just read books, and when it came time to talk to people, I mostly talked about what I had read. As you can guess, this made me unpopular with the majority. And some of these kids took it to the next level. Pretty soon, some of them on occasion would make fun of me for being Mexican. Now, I probably had it easy compared to other times where any form of immigrant was treated roughly. However, as a small child, being picked on for who I was still stung. I never rejected my Mexican side, but it caused moments where I doubted what I was and why I was so teased. In time though, I learned to accept these things as inevitable, and the only thing I could do is just be me.

Presently, I do not call myself solely “Mexican” or solely “American”. I am both, and I am neither. As I grew older, I began to realize that there was no need to fit into any one of these ways of thinking and living. I am a Mexican, living in America. I consider myself a Mexican-American, but more importantly, a citizen of the world. I also attribute some of this shift due to my increasing interest in my faith (that story is for another time though.) Oddly enough though, some of my earlier side choosing still kicks in from time to time. When I’m at school, where most of the people are white, and thus most of my friends (oh yea, I have friends now *laughs*), I subconsciously act more Mexican. In fact, when they tell me I am American, I try to then say I am Mexican. However, at home, I seem to distance myself from my Mexican roots, mostly because those same cousins who used to be ashamed of me now bring me shame or at least a feeling of “what?”, and also because sometimes my family still tries to impose a sole Mexican identity on me. However, thinking about this yesterday, I decided to try to stop this way of thinking and embrace both sides to the fullest, to let my American and Mexican sides blend in to a harmonious mix of culture. There is one thing I can’t change though- I will always support the Mexican soccer team, even though they seem to be on a losing streak as of late. I actually don’t care about sports too much, but if Mexico plays, I try to lend my support, even if I know later on I will be probably disappointed. I guess you can’t fully take out the Mexican from the Mexican. I will be yelling out SI SE PUEDE (Yes We Can), not only for the Mexican soccer team, but for the world, in hopes that one day we can live harmonious. But for now, I will enjoy being a Mexican-American in a country where a dark skinned man like myself can find an equally bronzed beauty, or perhaps a blonde bombshell, where you can eat both tacos and pizza in the same sitting, and where I can buy tortillas from a grocery store that usually sells products with all-English labels. It’s great that growing up, the world around me has also changed, and headed in the direction I’m going, blending of culture and making one thing better with another.

I hope you all had fun this past 4th of July, and even though I was kind of bored, I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Remember where your came from, and also think about where you’re going. You are not just one thing or another. You are a combination, and it’s precisely that that makes the US so great.

PS- I think I like white girls more, although I'm still waiting to find a hot Mexicana in real life. I'm saddeded that all the good looking Mexican women are on TV. Please stop hiding! Thanks.

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