A few days after I posted my Friday reflection, My Identity, my mother and I had a long talk about the post and my understanding of why I have a “disconnect” from my Mexican heritage and thus identify as Black. This apparently raised a lot of questions for my mom and she sent me the following in an email: “…but i did think about our Friday convo and really my mind is full of thoughts regarding my heritage, and lack of spanish language skills, etc, funny how i had never examined this aspect of who i am…” Imagine that. Certainly, my mother’s identity has in part shaped mine, yet she had never explored it to the same degree as I had. So, I asked my mom to write a companion piece on how her upbringing shaped her perceptions of herself and how her racial/cultural identity has shaped her and her children (i.e. moi). And so I present to you a word from mi mama…
The issue of racial identity is an interesting one. Why does a person relate to one ethnic group over another? As a woman who has raised 2 biracial children (Mexican mother/Black fathers) it has been my impression that children take their cues from their mothers. How does my mom feel about my (black) dad? How does my mom feel about black people, black culture?
For me, born the child of 2 Mexican parents, both non-English speaking when they came to California from Texas, I was surrounded by a loving Mexican family, trying to assimilate into the “American” way. So only English was spoken in our home, and when we went to visit Grandma we were thrust into an environment where we did not speak the language and were not expected to. Who knew that being bi-lingual would come into fashion, and that being Mexican would not be a “curse” forever, as it was in the 1940’s & 50″s. For myself, I was happy being Mexican, it was easy, I looked Mexican, and while it did make me uncomfortable not being able to speak Spanish, I put that aside. As I grew older being Mexican grew harder because my parents were convinced that embracing the “white American way” was the only way for their offspring to be successful, so we moved into a predominately white neighborhood and the only Mexicans I had contact with were family who lived in another part of town and the ones bussed in from a nearby barrio, language remained an issue.
Now, I would probably say, I did not try hard enough to delve into my Mexican heritage, learning to speak Spanish and cultivating the customs within my family, so it is no surprise that my children view themselves as black, I could not impart what I had not cultivated in myself, and because I firmly believed that if you are part black, you are black (an idea widely held when I was growing up and one which I believed would hold them in a good place, when faced with prejudice). I, myself, never wanted to be white (though my husband swears Mexicans are white, but I maintain we are only white due to an act of congress, probably for districting purposes) and since my children would never pass for white, just as I had never passed as anything other than a person of color, I felt it best to begin the way you want to end… as a person of color… BLACK or BROWN. I loved their dark curly hair, their brown skin, just as I loved their fathers, madly and without end. If you are told you are beautiful from the inside out constantly from the time you are first held, you begin to get it, and if your mother asks nothing of you but to be a good person and an asset to humanity, what choice do you have? I did not get hung up on “light skin” or “good hair” or any of the silly things people can hang up on, I simply wanted my children to be all they could be, and that included the choice to be Mexican or Black or Blaxican or whatever, because the beauty of their position is that they could be whatever. I hope, in some way, this contributed to the way they see themselves, and perceive their places in the world. I regret we did not speak Spanish, and that I did not infuse more of the Mexican culture in them, but as i said, I could not give what I did not have. And being Black is a very good thing… 🙂