Hispanic Heritage Month and Growing Up As a Mexican-American

Hispanic Heritage Month is a month dedicated to celebrating Hispanic and Latino culture, while embracing their contribution to the United States. Being Hispanic has taught me the value of family, good music and incredible food. I grew up listening to Selena, helping my grandma make tortillas and spending countless weekends with my nearly 30 cousins. I respect and appreciate my culture, despite being called a “fake-Mexican”.

We hear about cultural appropriation, but not enough about the opposite of that. I have been told I am not a “real Mexican” because I do not speak Spanish. My parents speak Spanish, but they did not teach my siblings and me. It is not that my parents do not want us to speak it, it is that they grew up in a time when it was looked down upon to speak Spanish in school or in public.

I remember my grandma on my mom’s side speaking only Spanish because she was embarrassed of the way she spoke English. She told me not speaking clear English held her back from pursuing different jobs or speaking up. Though it would have been easier for her if I learned Spanish, she never pressured or looked down on us because we did not speak Spanish.

At my job, I encounter people weekly who automatically greet me in Spanish or look at me to try and translate what my boss is telling them. I tell them that I do not speak Spanish. Sometimes they say, “okay” and speak English to me. Other times, it is stares of confusion or frustration as to why I do not speak Spanish. It is times like those when I feel disconnected from my culture.

I am proud to be Mexican-American. I am proud my great-grandparents moved to the United States for the sake of my grandparents and parents.

I am proud of my parents for encouraging my siblings and me to go to college and get degrees. My siblings and I are first generation of college students in my family. Two of my sisters are attending the university my grandpa used to cook and clean at. This is what we now expect for future generations of our family. We want to give them more than what we have. We want them to dream bigger than us and know nothing can hold them back.

To me, I am more than my skin color. Being Mexican is what I am, but it does not define who I am.

My great-grandparents came to the United States from Mexico to give my parents and me the life we have now. To them, it does not matter if we do not like spicy foods, or if we did not have a quinceañera. In moments when I feel out of place, I remember that I am the reason my great-grandparents moved to the United States.

There is no right or wrong way to be Hispanic, and that is what Hispanic Heritage Month is about. There is more than one way to be Hispanic. We all have stories, and we should praise each other’s differences, achievements, and the legacy each of us will leave.

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