On the streets of New York City, people approach me speaking Spanish.
I understand them and I have answers to their questions, but I keep silent as I struggle to remember specific Spanish words. English is my first language, which ultimately pushed Spanish to the back burner. At home, I am surrounded by my three sisters and parents who speak fluent Spanish. On a regular basis, I have ideas and opinions I want to communicate with my Spanish-speaking parents, but I can’t. My thoughts become fragments as I try to grasp proper grammar. My parents have become accustomed to my indefinite mid-sentence pauses throughout our conversations. Although they’re patient with me, my sisters aren’t. In their eyes, I’m not Hispanic.
Starting from the age of 13, I stopped going to family parties. When my immediate family converged with aunts, uncles, and cousins, it was like being transported to a distant world. There was Mexican music, dances, and food, and Spanish was the only language spoken. Extended family members eventually began assuming my absence was because I had been married off, but my parents brought them back to the reality that I was a busy student with a separate life – one away from my Mexican heritage.
I consciously distanced myself away from my Mexican culture early on. Within years, I couldn’t relate to my sisters and parents anymore. I rejected eating warmed tortilla and would scoff when my parents criticized my American life. I became “una niña de la calle.” A girl from the streets who had no real home. My Mexican father expected me to stay home and learn how to take care of a family. Instead I chose to come home late with takeout food and didn’t bother to make up an excuse. I wanted to have a different life from my family, who freely surrounded themselves with Hispanic culture every day.
When Donald Trump announced his presidential candidacy in summer 2015, I was quickly taken aback by his hateful rhetoric towards Mexicans.
“When Mexico sends its people they’re not sending their best,” Trump said. “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”
As I stood in front of the TV listening to these words being repeated on various channels, I knew Trump was wrong and so was I. My father immigrated to the United States when he was 14 years old, while my mother waited until she was an adult to make the journey. My parents have worked demanding jobs since their arrival. Although they obtained legal residence years ago, they haven’t forgotten where they came from.
My father prefers to keep the past to himself, but my mother openly talks about her experience crossing the US-Mexico border in the '90s. It was a difficult journey filled with uncertainty, bad weather, danger, and death.
My extended family, who all slowly immigrated through the years, may have questionable morals, but they are not rapists or criminals. A person can’t be illegal. We are all immigrants. We are all children of immigrants, including myself. I’ve travelled to Mexico to see the mountains where my father grew up among sheep and cattle. I walked the road that my mother took to go to school, wearing tattered clothing and without lunch. My parents have jumped over countless obstacles that I will never experience. They are open, caring, strong individuals who have successfully passed along their beliefs, food, stories, and language.
My Mexican parents are incredible people, so why was I actively separating myself from their culture?
Donald Trump made me realize that by separating myself from my Mexican heritage, I was discriminating and rejecting my identity. I’m a Mexican-American young woman who speaks to her family in Spanglish. I enjoy binge-watching shows on Netflix, but I also love watching classic Spanish soap operas with my mother late at night. I was named after a famous Tex-Mex singer who died a week before I was born. I grew up listening to Cumbia and I take pride in being able to eat spicy food without chugging milk afterwards.
I’m proud of my Mexican heritage, and I firmly stand against Trump’s false opinions about Hispanics and immigrants.