Am I Mexican enough? Am I American enough? Can you relate to this feeling of wanting to blend in and be enough of something? Growing up Mexican-American I was always fortunate to be part of two cultures at once. My first language was Spanish and I will forever be grateful of this. My second language is English and in reality this is the main language in my life. Does that mean Spanish is less and my Mexican heritage isn’t as important?! No way, Jose. (Also my grandpa’s name is Jose so there’s that…)
Growing up Mexican-American meant I grew up in a Mexican household full of Spanish and limited English. As soon as I learned how to speak English I was forbidden to speak it at home. My mami would immediately correct me and ask, “Y como se dice en Espanol?”, “And how do you say it in Spanish?”. Boy was that annoying as a child but I am so incredibly thankful for this! In school I was fortunate enough to take classes in both English and Spanish, learning how to properly read, write, and speak Spanish. The schools I attended from K-8 were bilingual and also predominantly Hispanic and Black. Once I started high school I got a cultural shock. I went to a predominantly White high school and this is not what I was used to at all. I started to feel like I wasn’t “American enough”. I was used to all of my Hispanic and Black friends, used to speaking Spanish randomly. I soon got accustomed to this only to find myself on the other side of it all. I was starting to feel like I wasn’t “Mexican enough”. It felt like I was shying away from my culture by not always speaking Spanish, not always listening to Spanish music, or not always watching Telenovelas. It truly was a cultural struggle.
The only thing I knew for certain was that I had one job, regardless of how I was feeling, and that was to make my parents proud. To make sure their hard work was not done in vain. My parents wanted a better life for me than they had for themselves. They wanted to make sure I was well educated and made a name for myself. They did not want me to go through the struggles they went through and wanted me to succeed. During my junior year in high school I decided to pursue the idea of going to nursing school and made the decision my senior year in high school to do so. After applying to a few different colleges I got an acceptance letter and probably made my parents the proudest parents. Their daughter was actually going to go to college, she was going to become someone and continue her education. The day I graduated high school was such a proud moment for them. They day I graduated nursing school was even that much better. A second-generation Mexican-American with an education, a career, a whole new life opportunity.
I am blessed to be a part of two cultures, two communities at once. I am proud to be bilingual and my Spanish-speaking patients are always excited to hear I speak Spanish. Growing up Mexican-American meant I was always my parents’, especially my mom’s, interpreter. Now as a nurse I am lucky to continue helping my parents with interpreting, especially with their medical needs and problems. If you are reading this as a Mexican-American, or any Hispanic-American, I am sure you can relate to this feeling as well. Being interpreters for our parents, grandparents, tios and tias, will never change. There’s a lot more to growing up Mexican-American than interpreting and translating though.
What about the things we watch, listen to, and eat? We were always watching Telenovelas, Sabado Gigante, and anything else on Univision. However, I also loved watching any cartoons and, as I got older, my dad and I loved watching Friends together. Many times my TV time was spent watching Nickelodeon or MTV before our dinner-time novelas on Univision. Listening to music meant Banda el Recodo, Los Temerarios, cumbias, or my mom’s favorite “El pavido navido”, (if you know you know). It also meant Backstreet boys, Brittney Spears, Destiny’s Child, and so much more. As far as food goes, that’s a whole other level of diversity!
In a Mexican household you will always find something spicy to add to your food whether it’s a spicy salsa, pickled jalapenos, or any other form of chile. Carne con chile was always a staple at my grandmas, something like this recipe found here. If we had sandwiches we always had pickled jalapenos on hand to add. Snacking on some Lays potato chips or plain popcorn? Always add a drizzle of salsa Valentina, of course. Eating some fresh fruit like watermelon? Always add some sort of chili powder mix like Tajin. To this day I will always add something spicy to my sandwiches or even some jalapenos to my pizza because that’s how I roll. Mornings sometimes consisted of pan dulce, or Mexican sweet bread, and chocolate Abuelita. Sometimes it meant donuts and regular hot chocolate. Grilling could mean burgers and hot dogs or traditional carne asada with a side of rice and tortillas. That’s something we can’t have missing at the table: tortillas. Better yet, homemade tortillas for any meal. Tortillas with eggs for breakfast, tortillas with bistec con papas for dinner. Talk to any Mexican, (at least any older generation), and they will say no meal is complete without tortillas and a little chile or salsa. Facts. With that said, we had all the traditional Mexican eats: tamales, pozole, menudo, tacos, etc. However, there were plenty of spaghetti nights, BBQ ribs and baked potatoes, fried chiciken, good ol McDonalds…all the American goods.
This is what growing up Mexican-American looks like. Diverse, full of flavor, a mix of languages, variety of foods and entertainment. It’s a life full of richness and double blessings in so many ways. I’m forever grateful for both of my cultures. I’m so proud of my Mexican heritage, my roots, my immigrant parents and grandparents. I am proud to say I am bilingual and speak both English and Spanish. I can even say I speak three languages because I definitely believe Spanglish counts! I embrace my skin color and my “look” that arises the question of what my ethnicity might be. I love to educate others on different types of foods and break people out of the norm. On the other hand I am proud to be American and the opportunities that brings. The education I have received and the career and life opportunities I have been presented with come down to living in this country. My mom and dad came here for this. To ensure their children would have better opportunities and live a better life. To live “The American Dream” they came to pursue. Here I am. Never knowing if I am “Mexican enough” or “American enough” but always proud to be both. Soy orgullosamente Mexicana and I am a proud American.