What Mexican Means to Me

IMG_6230With Donald Trump putting the spot light on Mexicans, I felt compelled to write this post. Here I am going to talk about my experiences with ethnic shaming and my journey to embracing my heritage.

Let me start with this: I am 25% Mexican. My grandmother, Maria Magdalena Angeles del Bosque Kimbell Ruiz, was born in Querétaro, Mexico. At the age of 21, my grandmother, who goes by Gelus (I know, as if her name wasn’t long enough! Gelus, pronounced “hell-us” is derived from the “Angeles” portion of her name) came to the United States for one summer to visit her aunt.

grandmamaWhile in San Diego visiting family, Gelus took night classes at an adult school. It was here that she met my grandfather Charlie. Charlie, who was stationed at the Marine Corps base Camp Pendleton in San Diego, was taking classes at the same night school. The attraction was mutual, but Charlie was timid, unwilling to make the first move. It wasn’t until Gelus’ friend went up to Charlie and asked when he was going to finally offer to escort Gelus home. Charlie replied that he didn’t have a car. The friend replied, “Well you have two good legs, don’t you?” With that indelible comment, their romance began.

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As the summer ended, Gelus prepared to return to Mexico and Charlie prepared to join the Korean War effort in Okinawa, Japan. After writing letters to each other, Charlie finished his service and flew himself and his mother to Querétaro. Despite their differences in nationality, ethnicity, and religion, they were married in Mexico. She was 23 and he was 24. Together, they settled in the United States and have been married for almost 60 years now. Side note, my grandfather now suffers from dementia, so they are basically the Mexican-American version of The Notebook.

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Cute story, right?! Now let me kill the romantic vibe I have created and talk about Donald Trump.

At a support rally, hopeful Presidential candidate Trump stated his views on immigration. He was quoted saying the following:

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.” – Donald Trump

As a Mexican, and the granddaughter of a Mexican immigrant, I was utterly astounded. For Trump to lump (see what I did there?!) an entire nation of people, with a current population of over 128 million people, into the category of criminals, drug traffickers, and rapists is prejudice, discriminatory, and unjust. This is ethnic shaming and it has to stop.

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Here is my personal experience with ethnic shaming:

As I do not outwardly meet the stereotypical Hispanic image, my heritage is often called into question when revealed. Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, my classmates often discounted my claims to a Mexican ethnicity. Citing my blondish hair and freckled skin, I was repeatedly told that I do not look like a Mexican and therefor I couldn’t possibly be one.

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I know now that this is just foolish kid logic, but keep in mind, I was a young kid, not even a pre-teen, as this was happening. When I was told that I was wrong to say that I was Mexican, my meek and timid baby self was unsure how to respond. Feeling affronted, attacked and confused, I downplayed my heritage. I bought into the predefined misconceptions of my classmates and felt that since I didn’t look Hispanic, then perhaps I really wasn’t Hispanic…? Despite where my grandmother was born and the blood that runs through my veins, I felt that I couldn’t honorably embrace this part of me because of the ignorant comments of the people around me. It wasn’t until later that I realized all I was doing was denying myself a connection with my very DNA.

IMG_3830With time and maturity, I began to question why my lack of a traditional Mexican outward appearance should prevent me from embracing my place within my Hispanic culture.

My feelings of self-doubt toward my heritage radically changed when I took a family vacation to Mexico at the age of 14. Although I had visited Mexico before, this time I was old enough to appreciate and question the culture. Upon being greeted by my family—the brothers, sisters, nieces, and nephews of my grandmother—I realized that I was not much different from those around me. Like myself, their height, skin tone, and hair color did not always match the stereotype my classmates and the popular media had put into my head. With this trip to Mexico I acquired a renewed sense of who I am and where I come from. Most importantly, I unearthed a new understanding of what being Hispanic means to me: the ability to defy preconceptions and challenge stereotypes.

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This eye-opening trip sparked my curiosity of and desire to learn more about this aspect of my vibrant and interesting heritage. I enrolled in Spanish classes at my high school and became extremely interested in experiencing other cultures. My textbook understanding of different mores and ethnicities was no longer enough; I wanted to experience first-hand other Hispanic peoples, traditions, and customs, to see if they too defy stereotypes.

I was able to participate in two study abroad programs. The first was in Costa Rica at the age of 15. Here, I learned about Costa Rican cuisine, wildlife, and diverse landscape. We hiked active volcanoes, toured the local towns and got to experience “Pura Vida” with the locals.

The second study abroad was in Spain. Here, I stayed with a host family and attended daily Spanish classes. We also got to go on many excursions, studying the architecture and history of Northern Spain. Living with locals provided me with an incomparable understanding of the Spanish culture.

I also made my third trip to Mexico, exploring further up the coastline with my family. In Cancun I got to experience for the first time the beautiful Mexican beaches and the ancient Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá.

Through these travels, I was able to see how diverse the Hispanic world is and how I, with my German, Irish, and Native American roots, further that diversity.

My Hispanic heritage was once a point of internal-conflict and cause of self-doubt, but has now become a source of unbridled pride. My experiences with ethnic shaming have greatly shaped my meaning of what it means to be Hispanic.

I am a Mexican American woman, and not a stereotype of one. I am proud to be Mexican, and I represent my Hispanic roots in a diverse way.

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No one should feel shameful of their diversity. Trump’s words, and future actions if elected President, will perpetuate ethnic shaming. I embrace defying preconceptions of what it means to be Hispanic and I wish everyone could be as proud of their heritage as I am.

-TM

Have you experienced ethnic shaming? What are your thoughts on Trump’s words? Let us know below.

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5 thoughts on “What Mexican Means to Me

  1. Living in central valley (California) where all of these very Hard working people come to work! I see hard working people, doing jobs that most of us would not even consider! These hard working people work, pay taxes, send their kids to school and purchase cars and homes! Someone needs to build a wall around Trumps mansion….He is out of touch.

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