When it comes to race and culture, I am confused just like I am with most things in life. I have so many roots that it makes it very hard for anyone to put a label on me. It makes most people uncomfortable. We like our labels; we like to know exactly what or who we are dealing with so we can know who we are supposed to be.
I am a born and bred Texan. I’m Hispanic, but not Mexican. I’m Tejano which is a dying culture most people only know about thanks to Selena. I really don’t fit in anywhere, but I am most comfortable in the small Texas town south of San Antonio where I grew up. My family speaks Spanish with a Texas twang which is weird to explain to anyone who isn’t from here.
My grandparents, mom and her siblings and a lot of my cousins were migrant workers. They were often called Mexican because of it even though they were Americans.
I didn’t really know much about racism growing up, not because I didn’t witness it or was a victim of it, but because it was so common that it never occurred to me it was anything other than normal. I grew up in a small town in South Texas where I was told I could no longer speak Spanish when I started school. I learned English and never looked back. There were only a few black kids in our school and no Asians of any kind. I wasn’t exposed to anything other than what I knew and that was country music, chasing fireflies, avoiding skunks and reading in trees.
When I was 15 I moved back to the panhandle of Texas and that’s when things changed. I was sent to a school that was mostly Black, Asian and Hispanic. The white kids were the minority, and I was in culture shock. It was the first time I didn’t know where my place was when it came to my race or culture. I had been bullied in my old school but that was because I was weird and slept around a lot. I wasn’t rich and had been abused as a child. I also didn’t have a dad which meant that I was an outcast of sorts in a small conservative town. In my new school, none of that mattered, what mattered was my race. I had no idea how to find my place. I was Hispanic but didn’t speak Spanish and I was scared of the Black kids and didn’t even know what to think of Asians at all.
I was befriended by one of the star football players who realized at some point that I was never going to make it out of high school alive is someone didn’t help me. I was extremely racist and didn’t even know it. This guy took me in and introduced me to people and the black culture. I came out of my shell and started making friends with people of all different backgrounds. I loved soaking in everything I was learning, but I still didn’t really ever know where I fit in. People made fun of the kids wearing cowboy boots which made me think that was uncool although really I loved cowboy boots- I grew up in the sticks!
I went through many phases in trying to find my identity in my life. I tried to be a Bible thumping Christian who quoted Scripture and tried to warn everyone about “the world” (in fact, I did this twice in life, once as a Baptist and then again when I became Catholic 6 years ago), I tried to be a chola once, then tried to act like a gangsta and so on. You get the point. I had an identity crisis. A lot of it stemmed from not having a dad and being sexually abused as a child, but a lot of it also came from the fact that I had no clue what my culture was exactly. Where did I belong? That was the one question that hung over my head like a dark cloud as I grew up.
I’m almost 40 years old and I’ve seen the ugliness of racism, even from the Christian community. I have been asked if I came to the US legally more times than I can count. The fact that racism still exists isn’t a shocking thing to me. I am shocked that anyone thinks it was ever gone. Being a Hispanic Catholic woman who is against abortion and pro-immigrant is not an easy thing to be, but I know I am more than any label. Who I am is a child of God first and foremost. Then I am a wife, a mother, a grandmother and then we get to the rest of it. All of these things make up who I am and I refuse to be reduced to just one of them- like the color of my skin or trying to prove to people that I have a right to live in this country. Just like anyone else, yes, my ancestors were born here too.
The dark cloud has finally lifted, and I realize my place in this world isn’t based on any label, but on the fact that I have dignity given to me by God alone.