Growing up as a half-mexican in America has forced me to reflect on my own identity in ways I would not have otherwise. As a middle schooler, the worst insult I could receive was “mexican”. I had hoped, thanks to my above average height, lack of accent and half-white features, that people would assume I was Spanish or Italian or something even more “exotic”.
I remember being teased by some of my male classmates, as all awkward, middle school girls are. They were making fun of my dress, which featured a rather obnoxious zebra print. One of the boys said “that dress makes you look like a zebra. Wait, you’re a Mexican zebra!” Creative right?
Now looking back on this moment, which ended up becoming one of the most significant moments that has led to my culture hatred, I see that it was nothing more than a few bored middle schoolers picking on a classmate.
But this is just one example of how I grew up thinking that “Mexican” is a bad word. I still cringe at the sight of it sometimes (I rewrote the first sentence of this post about ten times because calling myself mexican makes me tense up).
I spent the majority of my childhood convincing myself that I looked white enough that people would never know or that, if they did notice, they’d think “I mean, she’s not like other Mexicans, she doesn’t speak Spanish or wear hoops so she’s basically white.”
Now I spend a good amount of my adulthood defending the culture I shamed for 15 years. I get offended when people tell me I’m practically white and I look up to idols like Selena and Frida Kahlo, who as a child made me uncomfortable in their confidence in their culture.
It took me a long time to realize that the only problem with being Mexican is in the way people see us. We as a country have this association of Mexicans being stupid or criminal or trashy when in reality, they come from a culture centered on family and hard work and providing the best life possible for those around them.
My group was assigned the article on immigration and through doing this project and speaking to the class, I realized that I am not the only person who grew up feeling this way. Mexican-Americans are taught from birth that if they drop the first half of their identity, they become a better, more important person. We must learn from classes like this one and change the way America views the Mexican culture and tell ourselves that Mexican is not a dirty word.
Yours Politely, Natalie