To Those Who Have Suppressed Their Culture...

To those who suppressed their culture...

I would like to invite my fellow Mexican Americans/ Chicanos/ Latinos, or any other Hispanic ethnic groups to gather around and take a moment of silence for the culture we come from, and how gorgeous it is.

Now, I would like to take a moment of silence for those of us that have ever suppressed that culture for whatever reason.

I was born and raised in Midwest Kansas up until the age of 16 when I moved to diverse/ Tex-Mex San Antonio, Texas. The culture shock hit me so hard that I suddenly realized how hard I had suppressed my Mexican culture for the sake of fitting into a predominantly white society in Kansas. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing negative about learning and swimming in white culture, or any culture really. However, it becomes a problem when you forget your own.

For those of you who have been in my shoes, it’s not an easy thing to take ownership of your lack of cultural appreciation- you probably didn’t even realize you fell victim to this trauma. It feels shameful and disturbing. I would like to take a moment to relate to those of us who are finally internalizing and embracing our Hispanic culture after so long and to explain what might have happened along the way in your transition from a different culture to your own. 

I don’t look like my light-skinned, blonde friends. 

 

 

Ah, yes, the wrath of ignorance. For a long time, I felt that my dark skin, hairy arms, dark brown hair, and eyes did not compare to the beauty of lighter features seen on my best friends. It made me hide in a shell and feel that my lighter friends were on a higher social level than me, even if they spoke to me. Anytime I had a crush on a boy, I thought “He’d never go for the Mexican girl”. Yet every time the boys had crushes on me, I’d be astonished! The popular crew had those light features, they played sports, they wore Nike and spoke in certain tones. I painted a picture of what perfection looked like based on this and pop culture. I never felt like I could relate to anyone. It wasn’t until I moved to Texas that I not only appreciated my Mexican based traits, but I embraced them harder! I tanned longer, wore my Mexican jersey’s, let my hairy arms show in my short-sleeved shirts. My main idols began to be Frida Khalo, Salma Hayek, Sara Ramirez (Torres on Grey’s Anatomy) and Becky G. My self-esteem skyrocketed. I wish I could rewind time and embrace being different just a little bit more because it feels like walking on water. 

“What is THAT?”

 

Some of you have heard this phrase way too often growing up. I brought a flour tortilla with butter and sugar (a scrumptious nutritious breakfast) to eat one morning and the first question I got asked by a friend was, “What is that?! You like that? That’s disgusting,” Okay, so there are two types of Hispanics: ones that say, “A FLOUR TORTILLA CON AZÚCAR TRACEY what does it look like?”, and then there’s me who turned red and wrapped it into the napkin even more and responded, “It’s just a tortilla”. Being mocked for my food or music was a common theme, though I didn’t know as a child that this was a result of lack of culture on my friends' side, and had nothing to do with me. I now hang my head in shame for always hiding my guilty cultural pleasures because there was no guilt to be felt. Nowadays, I wish someone would try to ask me the same question because I'll gladly educate them. Will I do it nicely? Well, it depends on how respectful you ask me about my culture. 

Moral of the story: if you’re embarrassed by the tortilla, you’re not allowed to eat it. 

PERIODT

“Mexican music? Oh yeah I love La Macarena”

 

 

It wasn’t their fault, they didn’t know that my music was not La Macarena, but actually Cumbia, Bachata, Norteños, Banda, Mariachi...etc. Every time my parents blasted actual Mexican music from our car radio, I would get the craziest looks from friends. “That sounds like circus music!” I was once told. From then on, I wasn’t even sure if I actually liked Mexican music myself. I always hesitated to dance with my family at the parties, because I didn’t find it exciting to dance to music. “This isn’t Justin Bieber, it’s not fun to dance to”, I would think. Now, my biggest regret is not taking those moments to dance and be taught to dance. Now at age 20, I’m barely making up for the lost time and I'm actually embarrassed that I can’t dance with my family to certain Mexican music. I remember my first Norteno concert here in San Antonio, and the chills that ran down my spine at the accordions, the people dancing and spinning with their partners, and the unity of the entire scene. What was wrong with me for not feeling these same chills all my life before this? Luckily, I have some amazing dancers around me, and I’m taking baby steps to learn how to move my “caderas” again. As my boyfriend once told me, “Dancing this music is a feeling, not a skill”. I wish I had appreciated the beauty of this and how it unites our culture much sooner. 

BUT, it is never, ever, ever too late.

Too Mexican to be white, too white to be Mexican 

 

 

This is my all-time favorite quote from any movie. I remember visiting family in Mexico every other summer or so throughout my childhood. I always knew my family loved me, but the anxiety and pressure I felt when visiting was tremendous. I have never been a fluent Spanish speaker, though I understand all of it. That is the most frustrating feeling, and I’m sure I am not the first to say it. When I was younger, it was cute that my Spanish sucked. But as I got older, not speaking around my family much because I was embarrassed of my Spanish speaking skills meant I was “stuck up” or “shy”. There are so many instances where I feel like I want to explode because I am a very talkative person. I wanted to have meaningful conversations with my Spanish speaking family and those I love, but sometimes my hesitance of speaking it was portrayed the wrong way. You have one option only: speak, stutter, and laugh it off. It is something that I had to learn quickly. It is the best advice I can give anyone in my shoes. Your family and friends understand your struggle. Being mocked for your English accent is not worth not having those deep conversations with your loved ones, life is too short. My bond with my Mexican grandmother has grown immensely because of it. 

Make. The. Mistake. 

Oh yeah, my dad migrated here. That’s normal, right?

 

 

I still remember the day my dad got his citizenship when I was very young. Maybe I was too young to understand it, but it wasn’t until recently that I really valued and appreciated the hard work my father (and mother being a US born citizen) sacrificed for my family. My father literally went from low paid full time, to executive position high salary ever since he moved here. I will take this moment to gently demand that I want to hear one more time that Mexican Americans are “steal jobs” in the US, my dad (and several other Mexican American families) being proof that there’s nothing “stolen” about several years of hard work. Earning a position for a better life is not stealing. Feeding into an empire that has left you no choice but to flee your own homeland is not stealing. I sometimes wish that the United States would be stripped of people like my father and other hard labor workers to see the true impact of what my people have brought to this country economically, agriculturally and industrially. However, I never paid attention to the value of migration until it slapped me too hard in the face during the 2016 elections.

 

This is culture shock. 

Wow, people sure do stare a lot… I must be cute!

 

 

This part is called normalizing racist gestures. 

It’s true, just like any abusive/ toxic situation, you grow so used to it that you don’t even notice the bad in it. I remember wondering why my family and I got stared at when we entered restaurants or stores on the “wealthier” sides of town (usually predominantly white). I used to think it was a Kansas, small-town thing. I even thought it was because I looked oh, so good that day and the stares were admiration. It wasn’t just a quick glance, it was a prolonged stare that asked: “What are those brown people doing here?” Then, I moved to San Antonio. I walked into a predominantly white Bucees one day with my equally dark-complected boyfriend. In one aisle, a mother stared at us intently, disgustingly then turned and whispered something to her 3-year-old daughter. Hey… I recognize that look. It’s the same one I’ve gotten for 16 years. I finally woke up to racism. My heart hurt that I normalized that look of disgust for so long, and how foolish I was for barely recognizing it. 

A few months later, I experienced my first ever direct racist encounter. A physician I used to work alongside at a hospital found the courage to use the word “wetback” in front of my face. My body felt cold, palms sweaty, face warm, a feeling I had never experienced in my life. I realized this was not a joke in my era. This country had taken 12 steps back. It was now my time to make up for the discrimination I had faced all my life, and start defending my culture. Needless to say, I did not stay quiet that day. 

That’s not how you pronounce my name… never mind 

 

 

“Marianne”, “Mary Anna”, “Marina”, “Maria”... where are you guys finding these extra letters? This is a question I asked myself anytime teachers, peers, adults said my name incorrectly. Perhaps it was not their fault that they could not pronounce my simple name “Mariana”, perhaps it was carelessness, but I grew used to the way they pronounced it “ Mary-Anna”, when it was actually pronounced “Mah-di-Anna”. My last name? Forget it. Down the garbage disposal. I remember all the cringy ways my name was butchered, and I used to hate that I didn’t have a simple name. When I played “house” with my cousins as a child, we would create fake names for ourselves. I would use “Stephanie”, “Sam”, “Lola”. You could tell that I steered away from any name with a little Hispanic spice to it. This part was called being ashamed of my name. 

I moved to San Antonio and suddenly people of all ethnicities said my name right the first time! I was stunned.“You actually said it right! Even my complex last name!” The more I heard it pronounced right, the more beautiful my name sounded each time. Despite the compliments I began to receive on my name, I realized that I never needed other people’s approval of my name. I OWNED that. That was mine, and it was unique to my culture. Now, the way I google baby names goes something like “Unique Hispanic Baby Names 2019”. Yes, future daughter, your name will be Esabella De La Rosa Arredondo!

 

My story could go on and on. But this is what it’s like. This is the culture shock that hits some of us in the face a little too late. I hope this article finds itself with those with a similar story that can find comfort in knowing it’s never too late to embrace and relearn all that you ignored for awhile. Your culture has never left, and it is always a part of you. But I also hope this serves as a lesson of how to appreciate where you come from. To those who are outside of the Hispanic culture, I hope that it’s understood that respecting and understanding every culture is an incredible experience, and I truly encourage it, even for myself. 

Culture is a beautiful thing, and beautiful is an understatement of the intricate web of what actually makes up our history, language, workmanship, passion, music, food… the list goes on. Eat that Menudo and Instagram it, blast those Kumbia Kings, play that Lotería, learn your grandma’s tamale recipe, do that “Grito” and speak that Spanish the best you can. Show us that Hispanic spice! Learn your traditions, cry when you celebrate our independence, and love hard the way we do. 

Most importantly, go hug your Abuelita right now. 

Your culture is waiting.