Whether it’s our language, family, or foods, I’m proud of my roots and the culture that binds us together. I was born the second of four children to my parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They met in Fort Worth, started a family, began to learn English, and later became U.S. citizens. As a first-generation Mexican American, I want to share why I think it’s important to celebrate my Hispanic heritage.
My parents started their lives in the U.S. with very little. Dad worked at a metal shop, and my mom worked as a meatpacker. And though we lived modestly, in a small house with my three siblings – and sometimes, aunts, uncles, cousins, and my grandparents, too – it never felt like a hardship. There was always plenty of laughter, fun, and food to go around – and we all supported each other.
When I was 9 years old, my parents bought a new home in a nicer neighborhood, but they still own that small first home and rent it out today. They are truly living the American dream, and I couldn’t be prouder of them. Their hard work, perseverance and emphasis on family – and being there for one another – paid off.
I remember moving into our new home as a child, and noticing that other kids in the neighborhood did not look like me, nor painted their lives with a color palette I was accustomed to. Slowly but surely, I started to acclimate and integrate myself in my new environment. I soon embraced my new home, taking in a wide range of unseen colors, but the palette that painted my childhood was growing distant, fading with each passing day. Eventually, I realized that the vibrancy was no longer there, finding myself in a state of “nepantla” (not being here, nor there). But it wasn’t until fairly recently that I began to appreciate I was creating a false dichotomy, it doesn’t have to be “this or that.”
Today I keep a foot in both cultures. My heritage, while just a piece of who I am, helps me ground my identity. It tethers me to the world my parents come from, and their aspirations. Hispanic Heritage Month for me serves as a time for me to reflect, and appreciate this part of my identity, take solace others have shared similar experiences to mine, and to celebrate the wonderful foods we make and share as a family.
I like to have more conversations with my parents about their childhoods in Mexico. One thing is clear to me: growing up was much harder for them than it was for my sister, brothers and me. I lament what my parents had to endure in their childhood, but rejoice they enjoy life now. I get to see them be giddy and child-like as they get to see their children and grandchildren take advantage of opportunities they didn’t have.