Photo by Kleigh Balugo
It feels like I’m stuck in between two communities, desperately wanting to be able to fit into both, but knowing that I’ll never be anything but a visitor in either.
As a Latino American, I have always felt lucky to have grown up in a home with two distinct cultures. I felt like how Miss Hannah Montana felt, as if I had the best of both worlds. Since I grew up in a mostly Spanish speaking household, I learned English and Spanish at the same time, and I have always considered both to be my first languages. And when I was younger I believed that this and my mixed ethnicity automatically made me a part of the Mexican community, but as I’ve grown up I’ve come to feel a million miles away from it.
In some ways I feel like I know what Mexican culture is, it makes sense that I would since I was raised by people who were raised in Mexico. On the other hand I was raised by my white father in the US, partaking in American holidays, traditions, and customs. Sometimes the two worlds would collide, like at our Thanksgiving dinners we have in certain years opted for posole or tamales, and would only prepare a small turkey for my dad. I’ve played Lotería more times that I can remember and I also know that Vicks Vaporub can allegedly cure everything. But while I’ve taken part in some activities, and I know a few things that are considered universal experiences for Mexican Americans, I feel like I don’t really know anything at all. I know I’ve been to Mexico but do I really know Mexico?
I’ve always been so proud of my heritage, and I’ve always wanted to be part of the Mexican American community. But sometimes I hear my American accent and hate myself for sounding that way. Everytime I stutter or fuck up a conjugation, I feel like I would be embarrassing the community if I said I was a part of it. Truth be told, I don’t know what it’s like to be Mexican. I don’t know the culture. I was raised on the opposite side of the border from half of my family. Lacking proximity to my extended family has been particularly difficult for me. On the other hand, I don’t entirely know what it’s like to be a white woman. I wasn’t raised the way many of my white friends were, and unlike them I have been subjected to subtle racism and have had parts of my heritage invalidated. I’ve felt like the odd one out in my father’s family reunions, being tan and having darker hair, when my cousins are all pale and blue eyed. But in my trips to Mexico, I’ve felt equally out of place, struggling with my Spanish and not fitting in. I’ve had both Latino American, and White American experiences, which puts me in both communities. Or maybe it puts me in neither of them?
I’ve heard people argue with my sister that she has no reason to be bothered by the fact that she has been called a b*aner, despite it being a slur used against Mexicans and Mexican Americans, because she’s ‘not really a Mexican’. I guess being mixed ethnicity means that I’m Mexican enough to be disrespected but not Mexican enough to be upset or offended about it. I can only imagine all the hardships Mexicans and other Mexican Americans in the states have to go through, but having gone through just a fraction of it makes me angry for my community, or is it not my community, because I can’t tell if I’m considered a part of it. This worsened by the guilt of not speaking Spanish perfectly. Most of the non-English speaking latinos I meet, correctly assume that I am a spanish speaking chicana. I’m near fluent and can understand everything I’m told. I can read it, write it, and have conversations easily. But there’s something about not being 100% fluent that feels so shameful to me. Like I’m not latino enough because of it. I’ll avoid speaking it, if possible, because hearing my American accent makes me want to never speak again. I don’t know if I can expect people to recognize me as a Mexican American, when even I have trouble believing it myself.
I am always proud of my heritage, I just wish I knew more about it. Maybe if I learned more about the culture I would feel closer to the community, and to me that’s worth a try. Because right now the loneliness of being in between two communities, but being part of neither is devastatingly hard to bear.