A Non-Immigrant Story: Does it make me any less Latina?

Although much of the talk is about Latinos, immigration, illegal entry into the United States and so many posts on what it is to be and come from a First Generation Immigrant but that’s not my story. We are not immigrants however I feel my story silenced and my connection to being Latino somehow deemed unworthy. I did not grow up speaking Spanish even though my grandparents did not speak English. They could understand English and somehow managed to navigate an America that was not open to them. Abuelo and Abuela on my Mom’s side never finished school.

In fact, my Abuelo Rudulfo was a field worker from the age of six. He married my grandmother when she turned 13. It was on or around 1935 when they were married. Abuelo was born in Zapata, Tx in 1912 and I cannot find a birth record since records were not kept accurately before 1930.

Abuelo Ambrosio from my father’s side was a Cantina owner. The bar was named El Indio and was nestled in the small town of Falfurrias, Tx. My father has traced our ancestry all the way back original Spanish landholders. This is my life, a Tejena, a mestiza, a mix of Spanish and Indian in a place where my family has been here for generations.

What do you do when your life is a mix of two worlds of old Tejano traditions born out of necessity and new American ideals? I was raised in a small  town world of knowing your neighbor and community. I lived by the conservative ideals of women becoming wives and mothers. I lived in a place where I was too dark and where I would not live up to the dreams set by a generation before me. A dream where they wanted us to be better than they were and it is this dream that bred my mother’s decision for us to be monolingual.

I once asked her why we never learned to speak spanish. It was with saddened eyes, head down, when she told me “It was because I was spanked in school for not knowing how to speak English.” Spanked as in literally spanked on the hand with rulers for not speaking English as a 5 year old.

Our first language became English and I abhorred Spanish as I was growing up. I felt as long as I said my name in perfect English and learned to enunciate correctly perhaps I would be seen as an equal. It was in that sort of feigned innocence where I dwelled until I turned 20 and was questioned about my citizenship as my Mexican born friend was allowed to cross through without question. She was pale skinned and I was the color of  cafe con leche.

It was that moment that made me realize I was no different from immigrants before me. I would be treated the same way because of my skin. It didn’t matter that I had a BA or an MA. It didn’t matter that I could only speak conversational Tex-Mex slang. what did matter was the that my indian roots betrayed me and proved that I was brown skinned. Brown began to feel like my only indication of my worth. I was always the brown one in most of my classes.

I have no migrant experience. My Abuelos were proud people and neither of my parents worked the field nor did they have to work much to support their parents. I didn’t work either until I went to college. I did not have the now stereotyped “Latino Upbringing”.  I don’t visit family in Mexico but does that make me any less Latino. In the end, I suppose it makes me more of a Pocho.

A person who is neither American or Mexican. I prefer Texan. I am Tejana, a meld of my two rich cultural upbringings without the lame 10 gallon hat or horses. I prefer to live in duality and not fight myself anymore but our stories need to be heard as well.


5 thoughts on “A Non-Immigrant Story: Does it make me any less Latina?

  1. Do you or anyone in your family identify as Xicana / Chicana?

    1. I am the only one in my entire family who identifies as Xicana/Chicana. My parents are much more conservative but probably due to the enviroment they were raised in. I was the reader and devoured everything I could find on Chicano Lit. I also was fortunate to have great professors who showed me the works of Paredes, Anzaldua, Villasenor, and Tomas Rivera. It seems here, where we are, there is a lack of identity to our indiginous roots because the border crossed us in Tejas. We have forgotten.

  2. This is such a beautiful post Jessica. <3 Really, this speaks to me also, since it's very much my husband's experience. It makes me sad that so many Texans probably feel this way.

    So glad that you are re-discovering your roots and damn anyone who doesn't think you're entitled to it. Keep that pride flying high amiga. <3

    1. Thanks Chantilly and I am glad the piece resonated with you. You would be surprised but many Tejanos do feel this way and are fickle at times about being labeled as “Mexican” or “Latino”. They will fight tooth and nail to just be able to slip through social norms and be viewed as white.

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