Tuesday, July 12, 2011

What It Means To Be Both American and Mexican

Photo Credit: lndhflf72
The United States is a nation of immigrants. Whether we came to this country ourselves or our ancestors came here centuries ago, most of us have our roots in some other country. While it has been less challenging for some (especially those of European descent) to assimilate into American culture, it has not been found simplistic for all.

For those from other nations, particularly from non-English speaking countries, a choice to intentionally maintain aspects of their cultural distinctiveness for their children and grandchildren makes acceptance into American society more difficult.  Then there are others who have wished to fully assimilate into American culture but have been kept from doing so due to skin color, religion, accent, country of origin or some other issue not under their control.

Ruben Navarrette, Jr., a writer for CNN.com, has written an informative piece on the challenges he faces as an American of Mexican descent.  Navarrette's wife grew up in Mexico, came to America as a child and is now a U.S. citizen. He writes of their mixed-marriage:
"Ironically, long before I met my wife, while growing up in central California, I never considered myself anything but a Mexican. Not a Mexican-American, but, in ethnic shorthand, a Mexican. Just as important, it was how others saw me and people like me. Adults referred to the "Mexican" part of town or talked about the high school's first "Mexican" quarterback or first "Mexican" homecoming queen.

Years later, when I was admitted to Harvard, jealous white classmates informed me: "If you hadn't been Mexican, you wouldn't have gotten in."

Not Mexican-American. Just Mexican.

My readers do the same. Not long ago, one accused me of welcoming the "Mexican invasion ... because you're Mexican."

OK, so I'm Mexican. Just like my friends in Boston who call themselves Irish, and friends in New York who call themselves Italian, and friends back home in Fresno who refer to themselves as Armenian.

Cool. I'm Mexican, right?

Wrong, says my wife. Wrong, wrong, wrong. To her, I'm an American, plain and simple. Born and raised in the United States, how could I be anything else?

She's the Mexican. She came to the United States with her mother and three sisters when she was 9 years old. Later, she returned to Mexico for two years of high school, and she stayed there for four years of college before returning to the United States for graduate school. In addition to being fluent in English, she speaks, reads, and writes Spanish with an awesome proficiency that I could never attain.

"How can you be Mexican?" she asks. "If you went to Mexico and identified yourself that way, people would laugh. They'd ask where in Mexico you were from, and they'd expect you to answer in perfect Spanish with no accent."

She's right. It's like the old saying that a Mexican-American is treated as an American everywhere in the world except America, and as a Mexican everywhere except Mexico."
You can read the rest of Navarrette's post please click here.

For further insights on the struggle that Mexican Americans face, check out this clip from the movie Selena, a biopic about the late Tejano singer, featuring a young Jennifer Lopez.

Thanks to my friend, Jim Sautner, for the link to the article.

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