Truth be told: My girls need to know what it means to be Mexican
Recently, I spent a few days at a press event with a group of Latinos and it was the first time in a very long time that I have been with a group filled predominantly with only Latinos. I was born in the United States. We all came here at some point and we assimilated. Eventually, we all begin to look alike and sound alike and who even knows what race is anymore? Who cares? We are all Americans. Only it does matter, in some ways.
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I grew up biracial and multicultural, my mother's heritage is English, Irish, French, Italian and Cherokee and my father is Mexican. I never quite fit any place but I didn't stand out either. I sort of blended in around the fringes. I have dark hair and darkish eyes, high cheekbones, a curvy body and wavy hair. I speak with no accent, unless you count my slightly nasally pronunciation of some words that comes from growing up near Chicago. My skin is milky and sometimes caramel colored yet I have freckles. I speak Spanish and English but I can also speak French and Italian. You see, it is hard to keep it all straight sometimes. I don't fit in any box you can check off on an enrollment card. It's easy to forget where your roots lie when you are in a constant state of assimilation.
I grew up with my Latino family always around me. That is the culture that dominated my childhood. I took for granted that large family gatherings and extended family were not the norm. Slipping between English and Spanish, this country and that one was my normal. The love I was surrounded with by uncles, aunts, cousins and comadres y compadres, it felt natural and I never felt alone even when I felt like a minority.
As I grew up and moved away, I adjusted and grew into myself, learned to blend in even more so. Not until I was back among people who spoke the language of my father and saw my own skin and eyes reflected in their eyes did I realize how much I missed that. But it was not just about physical traits, because Latinos come in every color combination of hair and eyes, it was something more. It was like after years, I could finaly exhale. I missed people who were raised with the same values, food, music and culture that I was raised with; people who knowingly nodded as I spoke of "Sana, Sana" and how proud it makes me to hear my daughters claim their Latina-ness with pride and love.
It is important that while we are all Americans, we make sure that our children know the cultures of their ancestors (no matter what that might be), learn the language, eat the food, and know the stories of where they came from. There is a comfort, security and freedom in spending time with people who share your history, culture, beliefs, religion; way of life. I had forgotten how important that was until this past week. I want that for my children.
Image via Cliff1066/Flickr