One of my biggest struggles growing up was knowing who I was. I knew my mom is American, with blonde hair and blue eyes. My dad is Mexican, with black hair and brown eyes. And people always said I took after him. But even though I looked a lot like him, I didn’t feel like I could be fully like him or my mom. It was hard at times because I saw the differences, like how my mom and I do not look alike, or that my dad and I do not have many personality traits in common. Personality-wise, my mom and I were more alike than my Dad and I were. Some of my siblings looked more like her, and I remember lots of people finding it hard to believe we were related because we looked so different.
I looked like my dad, but I didn’t feel like I fit into what he was either. Mostly because I did not know Spanish as a little kid. Culture is not fully centered around language, but it is a big part because I did not know the language. I felt a big disconnect to my heritage and even some of my family members who only spoke Spanish. Which is why in middle school, I decided I had to learn. It was not an easy path.
There’s this phrase “no sabo kid ” which is meant to refer to someone who has parents (or one parent in my case) that speak Spanish but don’t speak it themselves. The phrase is meant to be a joke because in Spanish the sentence “I don’t know” is “no sé.” The joke is that they don’t know Spanish well enough to know how to say a phrase as simple as “I don’t know” correctly.
I didn’t realize how much this phrase hurt me until years later. As a result of learning Spanish later in life, I do not speak it as well as I would like. I remember sometime in middle school, I realized I wanted to learn because Spanish is a big part of my culture, since it is one of the primary languages in Mexico. I felt embarrassed, like I couldn’t learn because I didn’t know it from birth. I got over it and pushed myself so I could be more immersed in my culture, but a lot of people don’t get past that. It can be hard to want to learn a language when you are being essentially made fun of for not knowing something or not sounding like a native speaker. It’s hard in any language.
I still wish I would have learned sooner, but later is better than never. I can now have conversations with relatives who only speak Spanish, and it feels good to know that even though it was not easy to get past some insecurities like having an accent or being “too American”, it was worth it to me. I learned that you don’t have to know the language to be in the culture too. There’s food, music, dancing, art, and so much more. You aren’t obligated to learn a language just because it is something that you are tied to. But if you truly want to learn, don’t let what other people say or what you sometimes tell yourself stop you from learning.
I don’t struggle as much with knowing my identity now. I am learning everyday about different ways I can feel close to both sides of who I am. I now know, I could never just be one or the other, being Mexican-American is a big part of who I am; at the end of the day I don’t have to choose between my parents, when it comes to who I identify more with. I’m my parents’ daughter. Not one or the other, even if I only “look” like one or “act” more like the one.
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