S/C: A LETTER TO CULTURAL MUTANTS
Ni de aquí, ni de allá (not from here, not from there - Spanish) is a feeling a lot of us here on the Necia platform feel. Despite the ubiquity of this sense of displacement, each of our stories is different. We all grow up with different privileges, types of oppression we face, ethnic backgrounds “y todo eso,” (and all that - Spanish). Some of us have white skin. Some of us are Black. Some of us were raised in, and maybe still live in, poverty. Some of us grew up in the borderlands. Some of us are Jewish. And so on and so forth. This month, Silvia writes a letter sharing her personal upbringing and how that has impacted the way she interprets and navigates the world today. She envisions us building a better world for each other.
I am too Mexican for “Americans” and too “American” for Mexicans. To manipulate some stereotypes, let’s say I am too beaner for the gringos and too gringa for the beaners. I once unloaded my cultural identity issues on a friend and she cautiously asked, “do you feel like you don’t belong to either of those cultures?” After thinking about it for a second I confidently answered, “no, I feel like I belong to both!” Despite the constant cultural tug of war that is living between two nations, I am proud to say I feel a part of both.
I was born in the USA but lived in Mexico until the age of nine, at which point I moved back to the USA. When I arrived to the USA, I spoke no English; Spanish was my first and only language up until that point. This was no problem when it came to socializing, since in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas the Latinx population is 91%. So yeah, it was safe to say, 91% of my classmates spoke Spanish to some degree. When it came to school, I struggled a bit, but not for long, as my young brain was able to absorb the foreign language with sufficient ease. I came out the other side pretty much accent-less. Being accent-less in both Spanish and English helps me blend in quickly; it is not until later that my cluelessness to some aspects of Mexican and mainstream US culture are exposed.
Since 1999, I never once again set foot in a Mexican school. It is safe to say my education is US American. I guess since my entire family is Mexican, that makes me Mexican. However, I do not feel comfortable saying I am solely culturally Mexican: I have lived most of my life in USA, and I feel very culturally “American” as well.
I can explain ideas, concepts and theories better in English, but I express myself better in Spanish. If you hear me and my closest friends speak, we transition from English to Spanish as easily as we change channels on TV. When I need to count in my head, I do it in Spanish. When I structure my dreams for the future, I do it English.
However, this goes beyond the linguistic combat that co-exists seamlessly, and most of the time efficiently, in my brain. This is about the opposing poles within me, the different worlds I wholeheartedly inhabit, and how that can make me feel inadequate. For when hanging out with American US-born friends, I totally miss cultural notes which I didn’t learn at home, like TV shows, or music or cultural traditions like Thanksgiving. I understand US history better than Mexican history, so I feel closer to it. When I am with Mexicans, I know all about the music, telenovelas, slang, and traditions but I totally miss the experiences that living in Mexico brings, and therefore I cannot fully identify. In addition, not knowing much about the history nor politics of Mexico, exposes my “Americanness” in conversations. I guess, I am a cultural chameleon, who occasionally is not so good at camouflage.
Surely, I am not the only one who feels this. If you are child growing up in a country that is foreign to your parents, you like myself, have felt the pull of your two worlds. But this is not about the feeling of inadequacy that this cultural tug of war may trigger. This about the feeling of adequacy we should feel! Too many times, especially when I was younger, I held back because of my slight accent, or I would feel at times deficient in both cultures. However, the more I live, the more I travel, the more I see, the more confident I become in both of my cultural identities. I belong to both.
My desire is for all first generation “Americans” to feel confident and powerful in both, to be proud to be American and Mexican or Chinese, Pakistani, Ethiopian, Indian, Venezuelan, Vietnamese, and so on.
I believe we should embrace both our cultures, or all three or four of our cultures along with the pros and cons that come with them. I am hopeful enough to believe we are powerful, for we can see two sides of a coin. We grew up with multiple realities, multiple languages that have wired our brains in unique ways. By inhabiting multiple worlds at a time we have special tools, elevated vision, heightened cultural awareness. We are not inadequate in our respective cultures; we are beyond adequate in both. We are cultural fucking mutants! Let’s own it! Let’s go out and be the change and the powerhouses we can be. Let’s use our voice and our privileges to fight for space for those who don’t have it, to stand up for our communities, for we can see the needs of multiple worlds and we can cater, serve and be compassionate to both. Rise up cultural mutants, let’s mutate into the bridge our respective cultures and communities need.