24 April 2011

What Does It Mean to be Mexican American, Latina, or Hispanica?

Not so undercover Mexican girl.
Recently, I've been inundated by films, stories, songs, panels, blogs, Q&A's, discussions, presentations, conversations and drunken ramblings about what it means to be a "Latina" (this is the most generally accepted self-referent label lately).  I've come close to relating to others' definitions, but never quite exactly. So here's my own take:
  • born in Los Angeles to parents from Mexico - one who spent all his life in Aguascalientes until moving to Southern California in his mid-20s and another who grew up in Chicago until moving to Aguascalientes in her early teens (and then also moving to S. CA in her mid-20s, with aforementioned parent shortly after getting married)
  • moving back to Mexico with my family at the age of 3 and first learning to read and write in Spanish
  • returning to the United States at the age 5 because the Mexican banks nationalized the peso, wiping out my parents' savings in U.S. dollars
  • going to summer school, being terrified of the English language, macaroni and cheese, and canned green beans
  • starting the 1st grade in further terror of the English language, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and milk that came in cartons instead of jars
  • learning English and all my other school subjects so quickly that I skipped 2nd grade
  • spending every single, entire summer through the 8th grade in Aguascalientes
  • moving back to Mexico (without my parents to go live with my aunt and uncle) at the age of 10 partly because I was traumatized by earthquakes, but also because I loved Timbiriche and Flans and didn't understand the appeal of Madonna or New Kids on the Block, and also because I preferred writing in my diary in Spanish
  • never really identifying with my 1st-8th grade classmates (majority Mexican American) and therefore deciding for the 9th grade to go to a boarding school in Claremont, California, where the majority were either of Asian heritage, culturally (but not religiously) Jewish, or just plain Anglo, and my best friends were a half Chinese-half Indian girl and a Sri Lankan girl who grew up in Hong Kong and had a British accent
  • from about the age of 8 until I was about 15, generally being embarrassed when my parents spoke Spanish to me in public
  • from about the age of 15 onward, being accused my mother of being "candil de la calle, oscuridad en la casa", wondering if developing strong bonds to my non-Mexican friends, including my first boyfriend who happened to be Jewish (culturally, but not religiously), meant that I was perhaps a traitor to my own culture
  • transferring to a Mexican-majority, Catholic high school near my parents' house for 11th and 12th grade, often being accused (in friendly fun) by my friends for being so "white" - although I spoke, read, and wrote Spanish much more fluently, and had spent more time in Mexico, than many of them
  • never falling in love with a Mexican boy (or man), unless you count the boy named Oscar who I only knew for an afternoon at my grandmother's friend's dairy ranch (just outside of Aguascalientes) as part of a dozen or so children with whom I played tag - I admired him for his cunning speed and light-colored eyes
  • since my early 20s, being so confused at what to call myself, that I eventually invented my own label (Undercover Mexican Girl), especially because so many people in Austin, Texas would tell me that I didn't look or act "Mexican"
  • at the age of 34, still not sure what it means to be Latina, Mexican American, Hispanic, Hispana, Hispanica, American with Mexican ancestry, Cholula, Tapatia, Sarape, or whatever - I guess I'll just have to keep exploring!


  1. I think we need a new word. Latina has been devoid of meaning...maybe fabulina?

  2. Good story-- maybe one day we will all just be citizens of the world.