Discovering a cultural identity
Viewpoint by Jacob Beltran
Published: Monday, March 5, 2012
Updated: Monday, March 5, 2012 18:03
After spending all 21 years of my life in San Antonio and only leaving Texas once to visit California at the age of 8, I've been raised in a place that has many Mexican traditions along with the traditions of other cultures such as German and Irish.
I've never actually been deep into any culture, and traditions such as making enchiladas and homemade tortillas have never been a big part of my life growing up.
Hispanic, Spanish, Latino and Chicano are all words I wouldn't use to describe myself. I'm not Spanish because I'm not from Spain; I'm not Latino because I don't relate to Latin America; and Chicano is a radical title, something I'm not.
Yet, I would fit into one of those categories on a government form or job application. The only reason I call myself a Mexican-American is because my lineage is based in Mexico, but that's far back in history.
During a family "what are we" discussion, my aunt said she never wanted us to call her Hispanic, rather Mexican-American. She felt the term Hispanic was a reference to people from Spain, and not to the Mexican-American population in general. My mother and grandmother agreed but didn't see us avoiding the classification.
When my mother went to Thomas Jefferson High School in 1962-63, there was still a large amount of prejudice against Mexican-Americans with pronounced accents.
My mother said she would pronounce her "sh" sound as a "ch" sound, and when she spoke, her teachers got mad at her for not speaking proper English and speaking Spanish.
So I wasn't forced to speak Spanish growing up. My family never passed down the tongue to my brothers because it wasn't socially accepted at the time.
We're not the only ones though.
During my ENGL 2322, British Literature 1, class I met other Mexican-Americans who were in the same situation.
We're Mexican-Americans, but we have neither the deep culture nor the language, and so we had to take it upon ourselves to learn Spanish on our own if we learned it at all.
I'm proud of what I've learned to speak thus far, but I still have a way to go before sounding natural.
When I was in grade school, I remember eating Spanish rice and asking my mother what it would be like to be Hispanic. She laughed and said, "But you are Hispanic," and that was how I discovered my heritage: by eating Spanish rice.
In high school, I was asked by my Spanish teacher to attend a Mexican culture celebration at Municipal Auditorium.
As a mariachi band performed, it seemed everyone in the audience sang along with songs they played, as I sat silent. I couldn't recognize a single song, aside from "Volver Volver," but even then, it was sung differently than I remembered.
Thankfully, I've never truly come under fire from any prejudices, especially living in San Antonio.
But I've never felt like a Mexican, or like I even belong to one specific culture for that matter. I've just felt like an American in these United States.