I’m not Spanish. I’m Mexican. Although, I wish people would ask me if I’m from somewhere else besides Mexico because some people need to realize that not every Hispanic person is Mexican, sometimes I even wish I was from somewhere besides Mexico so when people ask me if I’m Mexican I can say, “No, I’m Cuban,” or “No, I’m Costa Rican,” or “No, I’m from Outer Space,” then they definitely wouldn’t know what to expect from me. But since I say “yeah, I’m Mexican,” people’s expressions on their face quickly go to, “Oh. interesting,” or “Wow, yeah, I see that now.” I wish it was just a known thing and I didn’t need to be asked and have to face it like it’s a bad thing. Being Mexican is not a bad thing, it’s who I am, it is me. But it’s also not all that I am, there’s so much to everyone it’s unfair and nearly impossible to describe anyone in one word. Being Mexican is definitely a big part of who I am, but there are, to me, more important parts of me, mostly parts of me that I’m comfortable talking about. In elementary school, I was too busy worrying about my playdates and thick hair, now realizing that my thick hair was a result of my Hispanic background. Everyday I wore my hair in a ponytail, wearing my hair down would lead to an absolute, horrible day. Wearing my hair down would mean I’d have to wear shorts and a short sleeve. Otherwise I’d overheat and possibly die. Eventually, once I got past the overheating stage, wearing my hair down was such a big deal to my friends as it was to me. I would only wear it down on special occasions, like my birthday.
My birthday in the second grade is something I always seem to remember. My friends were invited to my house after school to celebrate. It wasn’t until they arrived that I realized how much color my house had. As soon as you enter, the porch was orange and, almost neon, green, the foyer was yellow and red. The living room was painted a red orange color, the dining room was two different shades of green, two walls one shade, the other two walls, the other shade. The kitchen was the best of all the rooms, it was red with some left over green from the dining room, still pretty bad, but I did like the backsplash. Square tan tiles arranged in shapes of diamonds against the small space in between the cabinets and our dark brown and black marble counter top. But could I blame my mom for just not having the best taste? She wasn’t an interior designer who knew what was “in.” She owned a daycare at the time which was probably one of the reasons why the porch, cluttered with toys and junk, was painted neon green and orange. Flashing forward to now, I finally convinced my parents to paint the whole house a color that didn’t stand out so much, a nice beige. Nowhere near as bad as what it used to be. I find it weird that I even thought it was bad, and still think so. As if my home was supposed to look a certain was. Like the way an average white person’s house looks like. Somehow in my mind, anything that was different in my life, felt wrong.
My friends walked in, and I tried to recall what we’d normally do at their houses since that was where we would normally go. My friends at the time were white and Dominican. Jenna and Claire (who were white) and Seihla (who was Dominican). I didn’t realize it at the time (I was in elementary school), but maybe their parents did the few times they had to drop my friends off at my house. My house was not located in the most Southern part of Oak Park, unlike my friends. I just happened to go to Irving even though I lived in the Longfellow district. This line would come into play quite often in the future when introducing myself to new people. They would be confused as to why I lived where I lived, and I could tell their opinion of me somewhat changed simply because of where I resided in Oak Park. The rest of the team lived in Cicero and Berwyn. I remember the way my soccer team, at the time, would be taken aback when I’d tell them my address and all it would take for me to say was “Oak Park.” They all lived in Cicero and Berwyn and they made me feel like it was something to be proud of, they would say, “Wowww. Raquel you live where the rich people live. Mmm must be nice.” Hearing that gave me a sort of good feeling.
It felt good the few times my teammates had to drop me off, but all of this quickly changed when I was exposed to every part of Oak Park. The new friends I made lived no where near me. The furthest south they lived on was the 300 block. Getting dropped off by them and their parents and seeing where my house was was no surprise. It was like I could hear them thinking, of course this is where she lives. This is the opposite than what I assume my friends’ parents from elementary school thought of where I lived.
On the first day of middle school, I met my best friend, although I was unaware of it at the time. I was in my first period advisory class, and a girl named Micah asked me, “Are you Misael’s sister?” I responded with a “yeah” and she responded back saying, “I’m Micah, Nicholas’ sister” I gave her a half smile, I was very shy and didn’t think of anything good enough to say back. Our brothers had been friends before Micah and I met. Micah and I would soon get to know one another very well and we told each other everything. She thought it was so cool that I was bilingual which confused me since I saw it as a big flaw seeing as it messed up my english on the occasion, and made me choke on my words, and messed up my pronunciation of words I knew how to pronounce. I would think of something in my head and something completely different would come out of my mouth. I thought it was a struggle and nothing near cool.
In class I kept quiet, didn’t raise my hand to answer a question and didn’t raise my hand to ask one. I was scared to ask a question many would think was obvious and easy. I was scared that I might pronounce something completely wrong than how it should be pronounced. One day in my 6th grade spanish class, we were to work with partners on a worksheet and my partner began to catch on as to why I was flying by every question on the worksheet. She was one of the people who asked me, “Are you spanish?” In that moment I realized I could save myself the trouble of explaining my whole life story or I could simply say yes because that would be the same as me saying “No, I’m Mexican” to her. I don’t remember how I responded but she got her answer. I realized that maybe not everybody knew exactly who I was or where I came from. Middle School was way bigger than grade school and no one knew everybody’s story. Sometimes I didn’t want anyone finding out that I was Mexican and other times I wanted everyone to just know so I wouldn’t have face it so often if they asked. Was I trying to avoid the question or trying to avoid who I really am?
I’m in my years of high school now and I still can’t answer that question. Some days, specifically at family events, I can get really into the music. I can dance for hours to spanish music, not music from Spain, just music sung in spanish. I’ve gone to hundreds of quinceñeras and have had the time of my life. In a way, I live two different lives. One life consists of talking in spanish with all of my family members, coming home to home cooked Mexican meals, going to church on Sundays, feeling content and not having to change for the people around me. The other life consists of texting my mom instead of calling her because otherwise I’ll have to talk to her in spanish in front of all of my friends while they stare at me in awe, which I used to hate but now find really funny. Also going to soccer games on weekends without a thought of church on my mind, hanging out with my friends at their houses without bringing any part of my other life into this one. In this life, my dear friend, Micah, who is wise beyond her years, reminds me how proud I should be of my culture and background. I tell her that I am proud of it, but I don’t want either of my two lives to crossover. So am I really proud of it?