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A Letter about My Identity

Mexican-American. That’s my identity. 100 percent of the time people can guess I’m not white. But they never really guess Mexican. Growing up, I have always heard, “You look Native American” or “you look Filipino”. My response has always been the same, “I’m 100 percent Mexican.” Others’ responses have sometimes been, “Well why isn’t your name, or even your middle name Maria?” As if that stereotype would change what they thought my ethnicity was.

Being raised in America, people sometimes find it strange that English isn’t my first language. Growing up, Spanish was strictly spoken at home, especially when directed at my parents. I heard words in English now and again because my two older brothers spoke it and most of the television they watched was in English. At a young age my mom began to send me to Bible school on Sunday’s to learn to read and write Spanish.

I didn’t actually begin to learn English until I started to go to school. Traveling back home, to Mexico, my cousins began to make fun of the American accent behind my Spanish words. I never fully understood what they heard until I was older. As I’ve grown up, people have been surprised that I haven’t forgotten my Spanish. My family constantly says, “She actually knows Spanish very well!” Always directed at my parents, never at me. As if I still can’t understand them.

Most recently, I helped an Hispanic family move their daughter into the residence hall for her first year in college. When speaking to me, they spoke in English and when directed at their daughter, they spoke in Spanish. It came to the point where it would have been rude to say I spoke Spanish and to indirectly accuse them of assuming I didn’t speak Spanish.

I’m constantly torn between two worlds. The one that will never fully understand my family and I because our culture and traditions don’t align with theirs and the one where I’m not 100 percent seen as Mexican because I wasn’t raised within the country.

Growing up I always went with my parents to traditional Hispanic weddings and quinceañeras. As a child I loved when my dad would pull me onto the dance floor and have me dance on his feet. As I got older however, I found this embarrassing and danced less and less. Parties soon turned into my parents enjoying themselves out on the dance floor while I stayed back at the table and scrolled through my phone endlessly.

People always find it surprising that my mom never let me cut my hair until the age of 15. Before then, I typically wore it in a braid. But at the age of 15, about two weeks after my Quinceañera , which in the Mexican culture is an adolescents right to passage into womanhood, I practically begged my mom to take me to the nearest Fantastic Sams for my first real haircut. I left the salon that day with my hair at shoulder length and like I had actually been reborn.

As I got older I got more “white” as others would say. I didn’t have traditional long black hair, I didn’t go to bailes, and I didn’t listen to Spanish music as much.

I wasn’t your typical loud, fiery, and feisty Latina. But why do I have to fit a stereotype in order to be considered a real Mexican?

I love my culture and respect my traditions. I love the family I come from and understand the strength and power behind a family name.

My parents have never pressured me to be someone I’m not. They have always supported my brothers and I and have always wished us the best. I know how hard they fought, especially my father, to give us a life that we would be proud to share with others.

As I near graduation with a degree in Journalism, I am once again faced with a battle between two worlds, one whose political climate needs more journalist to report the truth and remain unbiased, and the other, that practically needs the same, but has a harsher reality. When my family back in Mexico hear what my education has been in, they fear for my future. All they know is a world where crime and cartels silence those who pursue a journalistic career.

My parents remain proud of the path I’ve chosen. Nevertheless, I am not their perfect Mexican daughter. I am not a perfect Mexican sister. But my parents remain proud of their Mexican American daughter who has taken the opportunities given to her in this country and hasn’t taken for granted the path they laid before her.

HCXOXO,

Vanessa Rivera 

Hey, I'm Vanessa! Im a senior at USFSP majoring in Mass Communications. I hope you enjoy my writing that will be about literally anything and everything. My goal after college is to find a career in the entertainment or music industry. To make that happen, I'm currently planning a big move from sunny Florida to sunny California! Follow me on my journey through my writing, enjoy!
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