Lately, I have begun to think about this a lot. Maybe it’s because I read my girlfriend’s Latina. Maybe it’s from hanging out with my girlfriend’s crew-one pocket is comprised of a good number of Spanish speaking people. So whether it has to do with somebody speaking Spanish or their last name being a Spanish one I have to ask myself, “So what is ‘Hispanic?’ ”
When I visit Mexicantown in Southwest Detroit, I sometime feel like I’m a world apart from its residents, which is funny because many of my childhood’s fondest memories are tied to some of Mexicantown’s well known locations. Around fifth grade, I lose the think Spanish accent that I carried from kindergarten up until that point. I don’t have a low rider and don’t have any real interest in them. I don’t have a single tattoo. I don’t have a Mexican flag flying off of my car or anything with the Mexican flag on it. I still speak the language and can read it, although I can definitely say that English is my stronger language. I wonder, “Am I still Hispanic?”
I can honestly say that some in the Hispanic community would consider people like me “sell-outs”-something comparable to the Hispanic version of an Uncle Tom. The moment that I learned to impeccably speak and write in English and lost my connection to those images that some associate with being Hispanic was the moment that I lost my culture. The funny thing is that it wasn’t anything conscious or anything imposed on me by my parents. My parents weren’t the type of Mexican parents that prize assimilation so much that they rob their children of any ties to their culture and instead leave them with the homogenization that is American culture.
For the record, I don’t consider myself assimilated. I’d prefer to call myself integrated. I say this because, while I consider myself as American as the rock music that I listen to, I also have a strong sense of my Mexican roots. I am fortunate enough that I have been to Mexico numerous times. I know who my family is over there and communicate semi-regularly with them. I’m very familiar with the food and have a working knowledge of the customs. I am Mexican and American at the same time.
I think that the excessive worry about what our culture is stems from the conflict between a culture (American) that devours elements of other cultures and another (Hispanic) that has a distinct sense of what it is. You have the fear of American culture and the sometime blind stubbornness of the Hispanic one for not accepting the other as much as they themselves would wish. Hispanics should worry about losing sense of themselves and Americans shouldn’t wish Hispanics to lose their connections.
Before Hispanics can fully reconcile their Americanness, I feel that they should recognize the fact that the definition of what it is to be Hispanic has been changed. For me, there isn’t one definition. Hispanics are those that immigrated to the United States. Hispanics are those that are children of immigrants. Hispanics are also a mixture of various bloods flowing through their veins. Hispanics are light-complected or as dark as dark can be. Hispanics are all of these things.