Thursday, February 2, 2012

Growing up Confused of Ethnic Background.



As a child I thought that being born in The United States Of America meant I was American. When I reached the age of 10, my parents decided to relocate back to Mexico. My mom packed all our clothes and all of a sudden we moved. Our opinion didn’t matter. We were not asked if we wanted to go. I left friends that I had known since kindergarten. My language at home was Spanish but in school I spoke English. In school I was an A student, with honors and even on the spelling bee team. All of that was gone!

My parents decision had drastic effects on me. In school I was no longer the A student. Everything was in Spanish with an advanced curriculum. For a sixth grader to be learning geometry and learning how to make cold cream in chemistry lab wasn’t easy. So when do I start being confused?
Typical conversation at the beginning of the school year in Mexico:
Mexican classmate (MC): De donde tu eres? (Where are you from?)
Me: New York
MC: Eres American? Pero tu no te vez Americana! (Your American? But you don’t look American!)
Me: Si, mis padres son de Puebla, Puebla. (Yes my parents are from Puebla, Puebla)
MC: look of confusion on her face. Oigan tenemos una gringa aqui! (hey, we got a gringa here!)

From sixth grade up until 9th grade, I studied in Mexico. I was "la gringa" not Mexican. Somehow I didn't belong with them. Sometimes the kids would make jokes or 'albures" and unfortunately I wouldn't get it.  When it came time to sing the Mexican National Anthem some kids would seem upset if I held my arm up. They would say " Why are you singing? Your not even Mexican! My Spanish teacher didnt think I had to learn the National Anthem because I wasn't Mexican. However, I still memorized it because I wanted to fit in. It was in 1996 when my parents decide to return to The United States. Finally back to my country or so I thought!

Typical Conversation in High School as a 10th grader in the NY public school systems: The high school consisted of mostly Hispanic and black kids.
H.S Classmate(HSC): Hey where are you from?
Me: New York
HSC: No, where are you from?
Me: the Bronx
HSC: No, de donde tu eres? De donde son tus padres? ( No, where are you from? Where are your parents from?)
Me: Oh, Mexico
HSC: Hey yo, we got a border jumper in class. She gonna pick out tomatoes later on. She a mexicanita.
Me: But I was born in the Bronx. I am American.
HSC: Ha, Ha, Ha. girl your crazy. You aint American, yuz a Mexican. Yu got Mexican blood in your veins girl!
Me: Sitting there thinking to myself: huh? What? but how can that be? I am Mexican? not American?

So that’s where it all started. I am in America, I should feel welcome. At last a place where I belong. Upsetting as can be, it didnt turned out like that. In high school everyone came from different backgrounds. It wasn’t like in Mexico. Everyone was Mexican and I was “la gringa.” Here in the United States you were Mexican, Dominican, Puerto Rican, Peruano, Guatemalteco, Salvadoreno, Asian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Hindu, African, Indian and a Mud (Mix of more then two ethnic backgrounds). It didn’t matter if you were born in the United States, that didn’t make you American.

As  time went by I felt ashamed and embarrassed for being “Mexican.” I didn’t have the accent nor did I have a Spanish name. I had the long straight hair and was tall compared to average Mexican's. Why would people think of me as Mexican when they didn't accept me in the first place? Mexican's in Mexico seen me as "gringa", why cant they see me as "gringa" too. They only see my skin color and hair. That’s when I started curling my hair. I no longer had it straight. People that didn’t know me thought I was either Puerto Rican or Dominican but not Mexican.

Typical conversation in high school with curly hair:
HSC: Where are you from?
Me: guess?
HSC: Puerto Rican
Me: Yeah, how did you know that?
HSC: Your curly hair and you speak English perfectly. Not like the other students.
Me: sitting there thinking to myself..Oh my, it’s a good thing he didn’t guess I was Mexican.

For the next two years I would deny my background. I was a shy, quiet, A student again…basically a geek in high school. The only time students would speak to me was the first week of school and during midterms or finals. Once they realized I was smart, my social life would be put in jeopardy. No one in high school wants to be friends with the smart girl. That’s another story. Back to my confusion.

Finally the two years in high school have passed and now I am attending college. College was also a mix of students. I went to a City University in New York.

Typical conversation with college student :
(I still had the curly hair.)

College student who is white, blond, light eye color(CS): Hi, where are you from?
Me: The Bronx
CS: I’m from Manhattan.
Me: Is this biology 101
CS: Yeah. hold on a minute, someone is calling me. Si, si cuando acabe te llamo. (Yes, yes when I'm done I will call you.) geez.
Me: You speak Spanish?
CS: Yeah , my parents are from Dominican Republic and yours?
Me: Oh, my parents are from Mexico.
CS: But you don’t look Mexican. I hate that everyone thinks I am white. I wish I had dark skin and long straight hair. I have to straightend my hair otherwise it gets all tangled. My hair is curly and I dont like it.
Me: Sitting there astonished that here was a woman my age who wished she had straight hair, dark skin like me. I was truly amazed. She wanted to look like me when I wanted to look like her.

Confusion seemed to go away as I met more people who were going through the same thing. Years went by and I graduated from College. I still kept my curly hair and as time went by it didn’t matter to me if people confused me with Puerto Rican or Dominican.

I began to fully accept my ethnicity once I started working in the  field. It was  rare to see a Hispanic, woman, Mexican – American who had an upper management position with a four year college degree.  My boss and co-workers would seem amazed once they found out I was Mexican- American with no accent. Most of the employees were Hispanics or black and my boss was white and so was her boss. It was then that I accepted who I was.

I was born in America but raised a la Mexicana! I sing Mexicanos Al Grito de Guerra and Oh! Say Can You See. I love tacos and hamburgers. My favorite singers are Vicente Fernandez and Toby Keith. My hair is straight, no longer curly. Growing up knowing two different cultures has been a blessing!

Do people judge me by how I look? Of course they do! That shall be another story too.

Have you been confused as to who you are? Feeling that your not from USA nor from your parents country of origin? Ni de aqui, ni de alla?


Thank you for reading!
Jeanette

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