Have you ever asked yourself this?
I have. Sometimes every day. If you have ever seen the movie Selena you have definitely heard the phrase “we gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans both at the same time.” Yes, I know I am not Mexican, but I think it still applies so well. I have seen this movie maybe a dozen times, but not until I was older did I really understand this quote.
My familia migrated to the US when I was eight. I grew up in a predominantly white American community. When my parents enrolled me in public school my mother had to choose one of 3 different programs for me to be in. The translator advised her of the one that had the least Hispanic kids if I wanted to learn English fast. I was the only Latina in my 4th-grade class for the first three weeks and I didn’t have a translator or anyone to help. I had to learn to communicate with my teacher over a picture directory book. She tried so hard! I am eternally grateful for her kindness and help. After three weeks and an English placement exam, I was placed in English as a Second Language (ESL) class first level with all other 4th graders in the 3 academies. I quickly excelled and by 6th grade, I was all on my own without ESL. This is when I became the only girl like me in the room.
Not always. I would find other Latinos in my middle school classes, but usually, I was the only Latina in the room. I will always remember when my 10th-grade history teacher called me out and asked me how it was possible that I attained the highest score in the standardized exam. This made me feel proud and strange at the same time because the real question was how someone like “me”, an immigrant, had the highest score of the whole school. It made me proud to be considered the top of my community by Americans, but during the time is when I most struggled to find my identity. Due to the minority of Latinos in the community, my overachieving self, and my mother who always wanted me to be above and beyond perfect, I ended up in the higher-level classes as the only Latinx person. My parents didn’t know many other families that lived there nor did they have a big group of friends. They have always kept to themselves so I didn’t have instant friendships with other kids like me. I always felt alone and judged. I felt I was not Latina enough for the Latinos or American enough for the Americans. I found myself feeling like I didn’t belong here nor there.
I find myself looking back at this and my college experience. Having gone to a small private college didn’t bring a lot of diversity to my life either. I think at the time I felt like I had become too American to even fit in with the Latinos. Although, when I did find others like myself, I felt this huge sense of relief and I loved that I could share experiences with them.
Now, working in corporate America I still find myself as the only brown girl in the room. Even outside of work, I don’t meet many people like myself. When I do I get so excited and passionate to speak up. I still struggle with finding my identity. I don’t speak Spanish as often as I should, which leads to Madre correcting my pronunciation. In my personal life, my group of friends is all American, I married a Dutch guy and sometimes when people ask me where I am from it’s easier to say Hilton Head. The first time I did that is when I realized how that was untrue and I remembered those words, “You have to be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more Americans than the Americans…twice as perfect”
That is when I realized I had to make a change.
I am a Venezuelan immigrant in the US and a DACA recipient. I like country music and my Spanish is not always perfect. Really, my English isn’t either and instead of trying to figure out how I fit into this puzzle, I need to embrace who I am. Be proud and help others in my community find a way to navigate it. To embrace that we are different, not fully “Mexicans” or “Americans”, but just ourselves – a perfectly imperfect, unique mix of both.