Mexican-American, Me

Mexican-American, Me

Growing up Mexican-American is incredibly fun, always challenging, and different in every case.  For me my dad is from Mexico City and lived there until he was in his early twenties, my mom has been teaching high school Spanish for decades, and I am not fluent in Spanish.  I know, I suck.  I get it all the time from everyone and it is the thing I am most embarrassed about in my life and I’ve tried but when you get out of your early years when picking up a language is easy, it becomes incredibly difficult.  Not knowing Spanish has always made me less than, it has been the reason why people don’t think I’m ‘Mexican enough’, whatever that means.

During my Spring Break my last semester of college I went to Mexico.  And no I didn’t drink Margaritas on a white sand beach in Acapulco, although that does sound nice.  I spent the first 3 days of my Spring Break in Hermosillo, Sonora a northern town in Mexico with other AIESECers from the United States and Mexico.  We gathered together for a purpose larger than ourselves, to change how our countries perceive each other.  Together we decided that we need to write a story about us, about how Mexico and the United States need to cooperate and create a culture of understanding together.

Hermosillo, Mexico

In my own life I really see the need for Mexico and the United States to work together to better our countries.  Like I said earlier, each Mexican-American has a different personal experience.  For me being half-Mexican is probably my favorite thing about myself, I love my family in Mexico, I love the country, I love Mexican culture in the United States. When I was little I felt the same way, although I stuck to a handful of Mexican dishes I deemed safe enough to consume.  One time I was on the bus in elementary school and sitting in the back, because I was a very cool 3rd grader, and we drove past a construction site.  One of the kids sitting around me called the construction workers ‘beaners’, a word I’d never heard before.  And what a strange word to call someone too!  So being 8 or 9, I did some investigating what exactly did beaner mean?  Well it is a mean word you call Mexicans.  Now, it isn’t that original, but then again most people who say racial slurs on an elementary school bus aren’t exactly Oscar Wilde. But it was the first time I realized, some people didn’t think being Mexican was cool.  Between this, similar experiences growing up in the South, and the hateful tone of the media I really was confused about how I should feel about my identity.

Going to Hermosillo for this AIESEC Border Summit was an emotional experience for me in a lot of different ways.  It was the first time I had gone to Mexico since high school, it was my last AIESEC conference, but it was the first time I had ever seen a large group of people from the US and Mexico come together with peace on the brain.  Having such a large group of young people talk about the prejudices we had in our societies towards the others, our interconnectedness, and the problems within our own countries was incredibly moving.  But it was more than just moving to me, it was purposeful.  We planned how we would do exchanges to better the problems between our countries, to improve our relations, and change our countries attitudes towards the other.  For me this conference was more than an organization or the people in the room, it was a group of young people who became committed to changing how our countries perceive the other.

After the Border Summit in Hermosillo I spent a week in Mexico City with my family.  And it was like falling back in love with part of myself.  I had always say I’m Mexican so people don’t say anything racist around me, although that doesn’t always work.  But I realized I need to be telling people I’m Mexican because there is nothing shameful in that.  All I can do now is hold on to that feeling and help other people to understand and accept that.  I had a lot of trouble writing this article because I didn’t know how to tell people that you are the only person in charge of your identity, no one can make you feel inferior, and that if you look hard enough you can find something bigger than yourself to be a part of.

Originally posted March 2016

Sarah Contreras

Sara is a lipstick enthusiast and expert on all things Larry David.  She is about to enter the abyss... post grad life that is.  She is attending Appalachian State University and studying International and Comparative Politics.