My White Privilege as a Second Generation Mexican-American

When I was in middle school, my dad would offer a prize if we could learn Spanish sufficiently enough to hold a conversation. I remember thinking it was a fun game because I wanted the prize, but I got busy, and I never got the prize. That’s the point. Learning Spanish was a fun game at the time, but being fluent in English in America was necessary. Learning English wasn’t a fun game, as the prize was to be on the same playing field as everyone else. It was a skill that I didn’t need to want, I had to have.

Recently I read the sentence, "The American obsession with race is fascinating." I thought that was such a strange way to put it, but it opened my eyes. This man-made construct has defined us for so long, the role it plays now is rather an outcome of all that came before it. As a child, race played a huge role in my development and my own self-identity. I’m sure that many other children all over the world feel the same way. I knew my mom was white, and that my dad was Mexican. For some reason, I never really thought much about it, that was my normal. Since I was brought into the world, I looked and benefited from every system of white privilege America had to offer. It didn’t matter that my dad wasn’t a legal citizen yet, and it didn’t matter the struggles he had to go through for me to benefit from this privilege.

Now don’t get me wrong, this sounds like a good thing. Most white people never think about the systems of privilege that they are born into. When it’s all you’ve ever known, it’s harder to notice the differences between the advantages you have and the disadvantages that others have. My white privilege allowed me an advantage that part of my family was never given. I went to class with kids that looked like me, spoke the same language as me, and even lived a similar life to mine.

I’ve always grown up with stares as my siblings and I looked nothing like my dad who was clearly a much darker complexion than all of us. It is a fact I can’t deny that my white complexion has accompanied me all my life. The reality is that my ‘whiteness’ makes me sweeter to society. It’s easier for people to digest; it’s easier for people to listen when I speak.

The reality is that no matter what culture I identified with, I would constantly benefit from this privilege due to my pale complexion.

That privilege troubled me and made me question my own cultural identity. I used to always believe I was an imposter to my own identity.  I’ve never been to Mexico. I know just enough Spanish to vaguely follow a telenovela, but not nearly enough to hold a decent conversation. I wasn’t fully white, but I had all the advantages of being so. I understood the familial struggles that came with being Mexican. That was my common ground with my friends, and it did help touch into my cultural identity. I never had many white friends, but I never fully fit in though with my Mexican friends. In retrospect, I understand why eating Pozole on Christmas and watching Coco wasn’t enough to pass.

I remember envying them though. I always thought that it must be so easy to not have to struggle, they knew who they were, the culture they came from. Even though I felt this way at one point, I understand now that the white privilege I benefited from, they couldn’t have. It’s easy to think the grass is greener on the other side. People could tell me jokes about my race, and it would never hurt as bad, because these jokes held no institutional power from keeping me from anything in life. 

I remember realizing that from my generation to my fathers, things were different. I inherited the privilege that comes with growing up in as a second-generation Mexican-American. College was never a question of "if", it was more of a "where?" My parents knew English, so I could learn it effortlessly before I ever started schooling. I was living the American Dream that my grandparents had dreamed of their grandchildren living. I essentially got the culture without dealing with any of the struggles, and that made me feel even more unworthy and question my cultural identity even more.

Was I so different that I really just had no common ground?

The truth of the matter is that suffering being intertwined with a non-white experience is the problem. You don’t lose culture because you didn’t grow up oppressed. Enduring suffering won’t make you any more Hispanic. The goal is that suffering should not be essential to culture. The fact that I have so many privileges that come with white privilege and being a second-generation Mexican-American should be used to speak out. My privilege has allowed me to help my heritage, and I need to recognize all the good I can do with acknowledging and using that privilege.