A personal reflection celebrating Latinx Heritage Month
Picture this, scrawny Shelby with her nearly black hair long enough to sit on, scooted up as close as possible to the heavy box TV playing on the VCR a very well-worn copy of “Selena.” I memorize the lines and cry as the rose falls on the empty stage, and one set of lines hits me every time: “Being Mexican American is tough.… We’ve gotta be twice as perfect as anybody else,” huffs a divisive Edward James Olmos as Abraham Quintanilla, “We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time. It’s exhausting!”
As a mixed race Mexican American woman living in the Midwest, I have received the question “where are you from?” more times than I can recall. My identity has been asked of me constantly and has just as often been denied of me. If I claim my white-passing privilege, it is often met with disbelief — “no, no, no there must be something else.” And if I take pride in my familial background, I begin the typical litmus test of “well, do you even speak Spanish? How good is your cooking?” I’ve been told by others that I am white, brown, Hispanic, Latina, Chicana, and many unseemly names that I often tried to play “cool” and laugh off. But here we are, it’s Latinx Heritage Month, and who am I to speak for a community with so much depth and richness when I am just trying to float through society everyday trying to be Mexican and American enough — often powered by the spirit of Selena herself.
So, who am I? Somedays I am the little girl who is trying to be twice as perfect as Abraham and my family pushed for me to be, but more days now I am trying to be the woman who is kind to herself and knows perfection is holding me back from what I could be. I am the oldest of four who all have our own levels of Spanglish that we use with our Abuelita in the house that we share with her for the half of the year she spends in the U.S. I am someone who is never as happy as when I am eating tamales with a fried egg on top with my little brother. I am as an adult still trying to connect to the parts of me that I hid away in my primarily white spaces, trying to spend what time I have left with my elders at rooftop dinners in Rio Verde. And I am still trying to forgive myself for thinking perfection was the only way to be accepted.
My experience as a Mexican American woman is one that I will spend the rest of my life learning the complexities of; recognizing the pains and the joys of being brown and colonized. And mine it is just one experience, Latinx/Hispanic culture spans countries and communities all over the world, we don’t have to be resigned to one story. If there is one common factor across experiences this Latinx Heritage Month: I hope it is deep, connected joy. That as we all celebrate this month and try to educate ourselves, if it all seems too deep and wide to find understanding of the richness of Latinx culture, then just lean into joy.
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