Gender & Identity, Life

I struggle to reconcile the two parts of my identity

You would never know by looking at me, but I am a first generation Mexican-American.

You would never know by looking at me, but I am a first generation Mexican-American. My dad is from a small town in the middle of Mexico, and he came to the states when he was in his late teens; eventually, he met and married my mom, an Oregonian of mostly european descent. Except for getting my dad’s height and love of puns, I am the spitting image of my mom. People never believe that I’m half Mexican until they see my dad, and then teasing ensues on how I’m not Mexican enough; I don’t speak Spanish. I can’t tan. I don’t like beans.

[bctt tweet=”You would never know by looking at me, but I am a first generation Mexican-American. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

I have always felt a little torn on where I belong. My dad didn’t teach me and my siblings Spanish and never really taught us much about our Mexican heritage. Family gatherings always involved my relatives chatting and laughing in Spanish, while my mom, siblings and I sat somewhere off to the side attempting to entertain ourselves. I always wished I could join in, but despite years of trying to learn Spanish, I have never been successful. But I’ve never felt like I fit in with the white side of my family, either. 

[bctt tweet=”I don’t speak Spanish. I can’t tan. I don’t like beans.” username=”wearethetempest”]

When filling out those census forms or Ethnicity surveys on job applications and HR forms, I always experience a mini identity crisis. Despite claims that “asking about Hispanic origin is relatively straightforward,” it’s always a struggle trying to choose which category I belong to. Am I “White – non hispanic” or “Hispanic – non white”? What do those even mean? I can’t choose one without feeling like I am purposefully excluding the other. Sometimes I don’t feel hispanic enough to claim “Hispanic – non white,” but if I choose ‘White – non-hispanic’, it feels like I’m rejecting a whole half of myself.

As white passing, I don’t encounter the direct and blatant racism that my siblings and my dad have. In a study done by the University of Cincinnati, young black and Hispanic males are at a higher risk for traffic stops, citations, searches, arrests, and uses of force than white male drivers. My brother and dad have been pulled over so many times in their lives for a myriad of non-reasons. It’s because of this that they’ve become the safest, most law-abiding drivers I’ve ever known. Never have I witnessed my dad exceed the speed limit by more than one mile. For about the first 5 years of my brother’s driving experience, he was always second guessing his driving, afraid he would get pulled over again for something as stupid as “you turned off your blinker after you got into the median to turn,” (which he didn’t) or “I see you have a crack in your windshield,” (along with the other 70% of cars in America). My sister used to be a cashier at a baby retailer, and a customer once refused to go through her line because she was of Mexican descent.

[bctt tweet=” I can’t choose one without feeling like I am purposefully excluding the other.” username=”wearethetempest”]

The very first instance of racism I can recall as a child directed toward my dad was in kindergarten. My dad had come to pick me up, and one of my classmates said to me “your daddy is scary.” I was so hurt and confused, and yelled back “no he’s not!” Up until then, I had never realized my dad was any different than other dads. I can only now imagine how that classmate was brought up to believe that up to that point; perhaps constant and less-than subtle shuffling away by her own parents from encounters with people of color.

When I worked at a retail store in college, my dad came to visit me. Before I saw him, I saw one of the store’s security guys watching and following him, and he continued to do so until I walked up to my dad and greeted him. Later, my brother began working at that same retail store, and security was always writing him up and getting on him about issues that wouldn’t normally affect other employees. One time, I borrowed his cellphone to call our mom; just as I was handing it back to him, the security guy started berating him right in front of me, despite my protests that I was the one using the cellphone.

[bctt tweet=”As white passing, I experience racism in the form of microagressions” username=”wearethetempest”]

As white passing, I experience racism in the form of microagressions. I often overhear the racist comments of white people who believe they are “in a safe place.” When I hear stuff like that, I call it out and acknowledge that I am one of the people they are commenting on. In response, I get a half-hearted “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Like that makes what they said okay.

I even got teased by my friends who knew about my mixed background. They would always remind me of my lack of Spanish knowledge – anytime we were near people speaking Spanish they would jokingly ask “Hey, Mila, what are they saying?” Every time, I would laugh it off, as if it wasn’t pouring salt on one of my biggest insecurities about being biracial. I have to pretend that I don’t get embarrassed and angry that I can’t understand it. 

[bctt tweet=”Never knowing quite where we belong is a universal experience among multiracial individuals. ” username=”wearethetempest”]

Every person I know who is multiracial has had a totally different experience from one another, including my own siblings. I believe, though, that never knowing quite where we belong is a universal experience among us. One thing for sure that we get is the unique benefit of is growing up knowing multiple cultures’ ways of thinking, ways of interacting, and ways of loving. That, I would never change.