I was born in the United States. I grew up in Boise, ID. That’s where I went to school and where I made friends. Still, when I think of who I am, where I’m from, I think of a different country. My parents came to the United States as immigrants from Mexico. My mom read us books in Spanish as we learned to read; both my parents constantly spoke in Spanish. We listened to Mexican songs, we took Folkloric Dance classes.
I am a Mexican-American, and many days, the hyphen seems more significant than the words on either side of it. Overall, I feel privileged to be able to call myself both American and Mexican. However, it’s not all that simple.
Spanish, English, or Spanglish?
The biggest problem with belonging to multiple cultures is never feeling like you fully belong to either one of them. In elementary school, I never quite realized that I was in any way different from any of my classmates, much less did I think I was any less American; I stood up and recited every word of the Pledge of Allegiance, and I learned all the patriotic songs in music class.
At some point, however, I realized that I was in fact different. It wasn’t only the Mexican jokes, which were well-intended enough. Throughout the years, I just developed a self-awareness about differences between my Caucasian friends and their families, and me and mine.
Even speaking two languages came with its drawbacks. As I mentioned, my mom dedicated a lot of her time to making sure we learned Spanish and knew about our culture. The books she read us in Spanish taught us about our culture, she got us workbooks to practice writing in Spanish, and she would put on educational shows for kids, like Sesame Street, for us to watch in Spanish.
As I got older, when I spoke Spanish in the U.S., I felt like my accent was close to perfect. Speaking with my family in Mexico, however, proved different, and my family even told me that I have a gringo accent. Also, though I spoke and wrote really well in both English and Spanish, I used each language for different vocabularies. Spanish was more casual, since I spoke it with my parents at home, and English was more formal since I spoke it primarily at school.
In reading class in fifth grade, it was my turn to read and ask a vocabulary word that I didn’t know. I chose the word “gutter,” because I had never heard it before. Of course, a fifth grader should know what a gutter is, but I had always called it a “coladera,” in Spanish. The teacher looked at me incredulously, obviously questioning my intelligence, and I was embarrassed.
Looking back, I know that this teacher was culturally insensitive, and now I can reflect on the many benefits that come from being bilingual — even more so now that I can speak French as well. However, this thought did not cross my mind at such a young age.
Raising Your Kids in a Different Culture
Though there were many differences that I didn’t mind, like the homemade Mexican dishes my mom cooked for us, the ability to speak Spanish, the trips to Mexico, and more, there were other differences I didn’t like growing up. For example, my parents were much stricter than the parents of any white friend I had. Hanging out with my friends involved negotiating when I was lucky enough not to receive an upfront no. Looking back, I can see that my parents were just trying to protect me, but I sure didn’t see it that way when I was younger.
Of course, some differences are much more significant than that. There are some experiences my parents had that I will never have because we grew up in different countries. I never got to experience my family’s ranch the way my father did, spending summers with the extended family, riding horses day after day, living without electricity or hot water. Even smaller things, like going to the Mexican ice cream places my mom used to beg her parents to take her to, or eat the street food she used to eat.
I have visited Mexico many times. Most of my family lives in Arizona, on the border with Mexico, and every Christmas, we all meet up there. We always spend at least one day in Mexico, going shopping, to the movies, and to eat. I have even stayed with my family in Jalisco for weeks at a time. I treasure these visits as they let me experience a modern version of my parent’s childhood: I get small snippets and tiny bites here and there of what my life would have been like if my parents hadn’t decided to move.
Raising your family in a different culture also comes with risks. Discrimination, hate crimes, and other forms of racism are part of many immigrants daily lives. I was lucky enough never to have to face any intense form of this as I grew up, but my cousins in Arizona were not as lucky.
Fortunately, the world seems to be embracing diversity — despite political setbacks. As the world embraces globalization, coming from a different culture won’t feel so intensely foreign. Across college campuses, classes are filling with more and more international students every semester, there is more diverse representation in films, and projections show that the U.S. won’t even have a racial majority by 2045.
Ultimately, I am grateful to see the world through two perspectives that are equally my own. As I have grown older, I have realized that it’s a blessing to be able to be so widely part of both worlds. I am thankful to my parents for all and every opportunity I have because of them. I have grown to love the hyphen. I am a Mexican-American.
Photo from pexels – creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Geo Sique is a writer from Boise, ID with a bachelor’s’ degrees in Communication and French and a background in journalism. When she’s not travelling outside Idaho, she loves rock climbing, hot springs, camping, and exploring the world around her.
Website: Georgette Siqueiros