When did you realize you were black? That’s a question in a new book I am reading, “How to be Black.” It got me thinking, when did I realize I am Mexican?
I spent the first ten years of my life in Mexico, where everyone is Mexican. Mexico has a significant Lebanese population, and a growing Asian one, but we never called them Lebanese-Mexicans, or Asian-Mexicans they were just Mexicans. I never thought of myself as Mexican, I just was. My parents never told me I was Mexican, when they moved me to San Antonio, or that other kids were White, or Black or Indian, or Asian. I introduced myself as being from Mexico not as a personal identity statement, but as a geographical one.
My parents did no explicitly teach me Mexican pride or culture, their ways were more subtle. We never missed a Mexican National Team soccer game, ever. My dad told me stories, told to him by his indigenous mother, of the exploitation of our people by the Spanish (Spanish people are those born in Spain, not those who are Hispanic, or speak Spanish). My mother values family more than anything else in the world. Both my mom and dad were incredibly welcoming and hard-working, and yes, they fed me really spicy food. They never said, “You are Mexican, therefore: eat the spicy food, love your aunts and uncles, work hard, enjoy yourself at parties, throw a party for any occasion, invite a lot of people, enjoy yourself at weddings that last all night—all because you are Mexican”.
The height of my Mexican pride came when I was nine years old and before I moved to the United States full time. My parents took my sisters and I to visit the Texas Capitol and I made a huge declaration. I had just learned in History class how Mexico lost Texas (told from the Mexico side of things) and I was mad. How could we lose half our land, how could we just give it up? Hadn’t we just gotten back our land from the Spain? So, as a nine-year old, facing the Texas Capitol and my arms raised in my best political stance, I told my parents that one day I would be the President of Mexico and take back our land. My dad said I scared him, and gave me a hug. Then my parents brought me to live in the USA, and my dreams of being the Mexican President and my dad’s fears faded.
In middle school, when White kids asked me where I was from, I too would wonder where are they from? When they said they were from the U.S. I thought, are they Native American? But I could barely speak English and I had a hard time making new friends so I just smiled and kept those thoughts to myself. But I always wondered, if I am Mexican, what were they? White and Black are blanco y negro and those words meant colors to me.
Recently, I was told to go back to my country of origin, over twitter, and I wondered what’s their country of origin? And why are they telling me to go back? I am an American Citizen and this is my country. Someone else asked me if I am illegal based on a picture of my good friend, Jose Antonio Vargas, and me.
It’s only in the last two months, since leaving Corporate America, that I have realized just how Mexican I really am. That’s saying a whole lot, because Corporate America also let me know I was Mexican many times.
I love being Mexican and I love being able to express myself in a different language, some things don’t translate. The Mexican culture is beautiful and rich and colorful. I’ve learned that Mexican in America means something different for some people.
Pictured: Not all things Mexican.