Being Hispanic or Latinx goes beyond the checkoff on a list of the many standardized tests I have taken. Oftentimes, the most confusing question on a standardized test is when I am asked to determine my ethnicity. The words Caucasian are always in parentheses next to Hispanic. Feelings of invalidation arise because I am not Caucasian nor do I have their privilege. Not only do these two origins not always mean the same thing, but the question of my ethnicity and who I am is more complex. As I live in a predominantly black and brown community, pride of one’s ethnicity and background has always surrounded me.
Along with pride came a sense of belonging. However, despite that sense of belonging, estrangement inevitably followed. For the longest time, I have experienced clouded feelings about what belonging actually meant. I either belonged in one culture and not the other; sometimes I even felt that I did not belong in either. Being born and raised in the United States, I have understood its privilege. A big part of “not-belonging” was rooted to the degree of connectedness I had with my roots. The separation between my immediate family in the U.S. and my other relatives in Mexico and Ecuador have made this feeling linger. The first time I met my paternal grandparents was in 2015, and it felt like they were strangers. Being able to make Ecuadorian empanadas with my grandma and take drives through the mountains of Cañar with my grandpa were moments that changed that initial estrangement. I also went to Mexico and met all my cousins and maternal grandma, and saw beautiful cascades my mom had swam in when she was little. I stayed for about a month in each country and was back here before I knew it. They were great experiences, but in the end, that’s all they were: experiences.
I first noticed the direct effect ethnicity had on our daily lives when I was four years old. My preschool held an International Day to celebrate cultures. Everyone had worn traditional clothing, brought cultural food, and performed cultural dances or songs. I wore my Chiapaneca dress — a traditional and beautifully colorful dress from the state of Chiapas, Mexico — along with this powerful symbol of my heritage, a Mexican flag. My preschool had been encouraging toddlers to show their pride and appreciation towards where we came from, and we did. I did.
My countries of origin felt more like vacation spots than a part of my heritage. But I’m coming to fully appreciate that they are so much more — they are the countries of my ancestors and where my family and I come from. I’m grateful for my ancestors. They made me who I am today. Not just literally of course, but they gave me my identities: indigenous, Chicana, Hispanic, Latina, etc. Despite my pride in these identities, I have been burdened with another. Being a minority is not exactly a plus, but it has given me the chance to be socially aware and progressive. I may not understand the struggles of every marginalized group of people, but I understand my own, and am therefore sympathetic to the hardships others go through. Because of this, I’ve been able to learn more about social inequity and inequality, and it has become something I’m passionate about.
Awareness goes both ways, of course, and I’ve learned to be critical of my own people. Issues within the Hispanic community tend to go unnoticed, ignored, and disregarded. Machismo, also known as toxic masculinity, is highly prevalent in Hispanic households, it’s practically normal. It’s difficult to address, much less fix, when mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, parents and children can barely acknowledge it. Colorism, ingrained into Latino culture since colonization, is still in play today, and heavily present. The more indigenous you look and the darker you are, the less you are seen as beautiful. Afro-Latinos are denied their identity as Latino or refuse to call themselves as such because it’s not the ideal, the standard, the desired. There is always room for improvement and enlightenment, and a lot of it.
Hispanic Heritage Month is about all of this. It is a shout-out almost, of everything I, and other Hispanics and Latinos experience, the good and the bad. It’s connecting ourselves with our roots. It’s a constant celebration of the beauty our culture contains and shares with the world. It’s exploring the history and struggles of our people. It’s a discussion of the future for Latino and Hispanic youth. It is so much more than just a month.