I have a confession to make, I haven’t always embraced my heritage as I do today. Perhaps, my cultural disconnect was based on personal ignorance. Perhaps it was rooted in the fact that I was born into privilege. And by “privilege”, I’m referring to the fact that, although being of Mexican descent, both of my parents were American born and raised. By “privilege”, I also refer to the fact that I had access to an American education. Because of our privilege, both of my parents had the right to work, or not work. They were free to support our family as they saw fit. Although my family was far cry from being wealthy, we did not experience many of the challenges that first generation immigrants do.
During my first year in elementary school, I developed a deep sense of American patriotism. I was taught to say the pledge of allegiance and how to sing “America the Beautiful”. I was privileged to have amazing teachers that went out of their way to instill in me a love for “All things USA.” As I continued in school, I fell in love with American history. The stories of oppressed colonists rising up against their oppressors and starting the American revolution resonated with me. How dare King George tax the colonist’s beverage of choice?…. Throw it all in the sea!!!…. Quick!….The British are coming!!! Let me ride my horse and tell everybody so I can go down in history as the person who warned them all!!!!…. Needless to say, I became enamored with my country and was quite proud to call myself an American.
It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I began to realize that I had a disconnect with my heritage. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed of who I was or where I came from. It’s that I knew very little about it. As a young student, at New Mexico State University, I began to encounter stories of brave warriors like Montezuma and Father Hidalgo. I was introduced to the art of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera…. I soon realized that I had minimized my Mexican experience to my dinner menu and to occasionally tuning in to KBNA 97.5 (Radio Que Buena). Heck, even my Spanish was as butchered as a becerro at my family’s bi-annual matanza. I knew that something had to be done.
Fast forward to today: I’m learning how to embrace my culture as much as I embrace my country of birth. I’m making it a point to surround myself with people who take pride in their cultural heritage and who are willing to teach me more about it. I’m taking the initiative to learn and speak Spanish boldly, and ignore the criticism of people who do not appreciate it. Now, I appreciate “Cielito Lindo” just as much as “America the Beautiful.” I sit on the edge of my seat leaning in to hear the stories of Mexican legends while still leaning in to learn more about the USA. Most of all I am embracing traditions; quinceañeras, días festivos, música, and anything else I can grasp a hold of. I am learning more about who I am, and where I come from, day by day… and I’m loving it.
Proud to be American. Proud to be a Mexican. Proud to be Chicano. Vamonos!