We are all born into a family we have not chosen. It is one thing in life we have no control over. We may despise our family at times, but in the end, they are the people we love. They are part of our identity. Their history and life inspires us and makes us who we are. Without them it would be impossible to live. But most importantly, what they pass down to us impacts us the most.
When I was younger, I thought my family was the best because they were so loving and caring. But as I grew older and started learning about race and ethnicity, I began to despise my family. I felt like negative Mexican stereotypes defined me. I started viewing being Mexican as bad, and I felt like I had to prove to people that I did not fit their negative stereotypes. My insecurities about my heritage were an obstacle that I had to overcome to accept myself and be proud of who I am.
I was born into a loving Mexican family. Growing up in a Mexican family is one of the toughest parts of my life, but also the fact that I am most thankful for. Being Mexican, or any race except white, is a challenge in America. I have faced discrimination and stereotyping. But thankfully, I had a loving family to support me through it all. I tried to not burden them too much with these issues, because being Mexican is part of who I am and I should be proud of it.
One time my mom advised me, “Be proud of who you are and stand up for your people.”
I answered, “I know, but it’s not that easy.” She always encouraged me to see being Mexican as something that made me unique and never inferior to others. My family helped me overcome the obstacle of viewing my ethnicity as a negative part of my identity.
In a country that prides itself on being made up of people from all over the world, why do Americans judge each other on skin color, race, religion, and ethnicity? Why do we expect everyone to look, eat, dress, and live like “Americans”? As I grew up, I often asked myself these questions.
I am an American citizen, but because my skin is not white and I speak Spanish and am Latina, I am treated as un-American. When a family member and I walk into a business, the first question they ask is if we speak English. If law enforcement officers see us they may question our legal status. Although my siblings and I are U.S. citizens and my mother and father are legal residents, we are still scrutinized because of our skin color. When we walk into a high-end store, employees stare. We know they either think we are going to steal something or we’re too poor to shop there.
It is these moments that make me question the world. Why are we treated differently because of something we have no control over? These are the moments in life that once made me embarrassed to be Mexican. Nevertheless, I am thankful I experienced them because they have made me who I am. I consider myself lucky to have a family who teaches me to accept and be proud of my culture and heritage.
It wasn’t until seventh grade that I was finally able to accept my culture. That year, I had a wonderful teacher for language arts. He grew up as a privileged white boy in a rich neighborhood, but he was always open-minded.
When he asked about my plans for the future, I told him, “I want to go to college and maybe go into the medical field, but I’m not sure.”
“What makes you unsure,” he asked.
“Well, I feel like it is really competitive, especially for Latina women,” I replied.
He gave me an appalled expression. “Well, every career for a Latina woman is competitive in our society right now, but that shouldn’t stop you from achieving your goals.”
He proceeded to tell me stories about his high school and college years and his experiences with minorities. After this conversation I was determined to reach for my goals despite my worries about the cultural barriers I might face.
I have learned to embrace my ethnicity, and that has made me a strong, independent, hard-working, and determined person. I will work to change the negative stereotypes people have of minority groups. Our ethnicity does not define our success or our failure. We need to make a path of our own and fight to contradict negative stereotypes. It is time that we have equal justice. Our country has surpassed the time of Jim Crow Laws, slavery, and segregation, but we still continue to treat people differently based on their cultural background.
It is time for everyone to open their eyes and make a difference in the world for the better. I am hopeful that one day being a different race, ethnicity, color, or whatever will not be viewed as an obstacle, but simply as something that makes a person unique.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.