By: Gabriella De Leon
Photo credit: Viva Mexico!
Identity. What is it? Is it who I see when I look at myself or what others see when they see me walking down the street? I wish I could answer these questions for you but frankly, I can’t even answer them for myself. You see, I struggle with the ultimate identity crisis. Who am I?
I grew up as a second generation child of Mexican immigrants. Both my mother and father grew up and were cultured in Tepechitlan, a small rural town in the providence of Zacatecas, Mexico. My mother barely spoke or understood English when I was born. I had to learn from my peers in preschool and kindergarten. Later, when my brother was born, he had to come to me for help in the language. To this day both of my parents hold on tight to their values, ideas, and culture – everything they picked up from my grandparents and what my grandparents picked up from their parents and so on. I am the broken link. I am the first to have severed ties to Mexico.
Here I am, alone in the world, like the hundreds of thousands of us second generation kids. I go from being a proud American to a proud Mexican to a confused Mexican-American. Half of me loves this country for all it has given my parents and me, the opportunities this land of hope has handed me, and the future it will cradle me with. The other half of me has its heart rooted in the motherland. The rich culture, the food, the language, the history – it all flows deep in my veins. I am two parts of a greater whole. I am complex. Yet no one seems to see it, for I am the ambiguous child of this Melting Pot.
When I travel to Mexico people think I am American and treat me as such. I am too white, too American, to fit in. When I come back home I am told by big names like Trump to go back “home” to Mexico – my people do not belong – and others follow and tell me the same. Since we live in a racially-charged society here in the United States, it is not uncommon to be treated like I am from other races as well. I have been called black and treated as such. I have been called French, Italian, and Indian before I was even asked what I consider myself.
But what can I say to them? I consider myself equal parts Mexican and American. I am, by definition, Mexican-American. Yet, to either country, that name is a slur. I am impure to both countries and unwanted by those who should embrace me. I can no longer count on my fingers and toes the amount of times I have been told by each side that “my people” are dirty and ruining what is good in the country. I need to pick one. Mexican or American? I need to be one and only one. But what can I do when I love both and both flow through me?