Growing up, I didn’t really fit in. My father, who I talk to almost every day, is Mexican and has never lived in the US. My mother is Anglo-American. They married in Mexico in 1967, the same year that anti-miscegenation laws were banned across the US. I was born five years later in Mexico City with red hair, white skin, and blue eyes. When I was one year old my parents divorced and my mom, my sister and I moved to California where we have lived ever since.
In third grade, my sister and I were taunted by neighborhood boys who called me Burrito, and my sister Taco Tits. Growing up in the Reagan Era, I can’t tell you how many people upon learning that I am Mexican said, “You can’t be. You must be Spanish.” As if being Mexican was one of the worst things a person could be.
In high-school when I got into Berkeley, my college advisor told me that it must have been because of Affirmative Action. The implication being that I had no reason for acceptance except for the fact that people of color were granted priority entrance regardless of their merits–a truly false understanding of Affirmative Action. In reality, race counted as an additional merit when student’s were considered for admission, but it didn’t give them priority entrance. And later when I dated a young Black man and the LA riots hit, he told me he couldn’t date any more white girls. “I guess that means we can’t date anymore”, I said. “You’re not white”, he smiled. “You’re Mexican”. How convenient–for him.
Growing up with others imposing their views on me about my identity led me to hide who I was for a long time. But in college I started learning about the history and politics of race in our country. I realized that so many people of color had it a lot worse than me. My Mexican heritage gave me just a taste of what others who can’t pass for white go through. I became acutely aware of the privilege that came with the white color of my skin.
Instead of letting others tell me who I was, I started to grapple with how I wanted to classify myself. Did the One-drop rule apply to me? Or was I a white Mexican? Well, not really because I’m also Anglo-American. Was I Mexican-American? Not quite as that label has been assigned to Americans who are of pure Mexican decent. Maybe I was half Mexican and half American? Hmmm…that implies that the my upper half is one ethnicity and my legs and feet the other.
In my early 30s, I had an epiphany. I realized that I don’t have to choose one over the other. I’m not either/or. I’m both/and, without a doubt and damn proud of it, thank you very much!