There is so much cultural richness that comes with being Latina. I can only be “Latina” in this country and no where else in the world. Anywhere else I could say that I am Americana and I wouldn’t feel challenged, but in this country the perception that I am Americana is challenged because I don’t look like what others would expect to be “American”. I love being Latina because to me this represents someone who by our mere appearance challenges the status quo. I love that being Latina means that I do have this direct link to my parents homeland—Mexico. Being Latina is something unique and I love the complexities that the word embodies.
What I love about being Americana: being Americana with Mexican roots makes me special, especially here in the south. I like enlightening folks that “American” also encompasses the dulce de leche skin, brown haired girl like me who can easily navigate between English and Spanish. Growing up I didn’t know of anyone else who was like me (besides my siblings)—bicultural. Being Americana means having privileges not even conceivable in other places in the world. I recognize these privileges and hope to use them to the betterment of my comunidad.
My biggest challenge in growing up Latina in America: Perhaps my experiences growing up Latina would’ve been much different had I grown up in New York, California or Texas. But growing up in the Southeast, the so called “Bible-belt” meant coming upon people in my childhood and even my adult life who had never met a Latina. Perhaps the biggest challenge was realizing that I had to be my own trailblazer. There was no one telling me how to do things or informing me of what to expect being Latina in the South. I felt lonely a lot and felt that no one understood what it was like traversing the immigrant world and mainstream US America. Now I’ve discovered an entire Hermandad who knows this very well and with whom my story resonates intimately.
My biggest support in growing up Latina in America: Familia! Even though my parents could not understand what it was like for me to be the cultural broker in the family, they have always been my biggest support. My parents are my inspiration and my drive to become a better person. I remember calling my Papi recently to tell him that I had gone to a meeting with other Mexicanos and at that meeting when I raised my voice in an effort to advocate for our community I was told that unless I was born in Mexico and raised there that I could not proclaim being Mexican, much less speak for this community. I was hurt by the comment and complained about it to my Papi. He reminded me that I would always face ignorant people who could never comprehend what it’s like living caught between two worlds. He told me to hold my head high and not let these comments sidetrack me or distract me from my purpose of helping our community.
Why I am beautiful: because a look at me is a reminder of where I come from, of where my roots are very well implanted—Mexico. My hair reminds me of my indigenous grandmother who has never cut her hair and who beared 16 children and who to this day stands strong and proud. My eyes are those of my Papi, a man who has worked since he was 5 years old and never received a formal education but you would never be able to tell because he’s brilliant! My naturally pink lips remind me of both my abuelitos whose European ancestry is very evident in their own appearance. My height reminds me of my Mami who made the decision at 16 to come to this country, the place where she gave birth to me and because of the nutrition she provided me, I was able to grow taller than most women in our family. I am beautiful because all I need to do is look in the mirror to remind myself of where I come from and what makes me so very special.