Sunday, October 18, 2015

You Know You're Mexican, Right?

I asked my nephew if he knew he was Mexican.

I was driving him to soccer practice. I had been wondering if my nephew and nieces knew or understood that they were Mexican@s. That is, if they knew that both of their parents were Mexicanos, therefore that they were also Mexican and that the Spanish spoken in their family, was because they were Mexicanos. Or that their family engaged in certain traditions, like say, a rosca during the holidays, or the celebration of Tres Reyes Magos. They were Mexcianos, and they simply growing up in the U.S. and speaking English didn't make them American in the eyes of others.  Not only this, but I wondered if they would lose their Mexican identity through assimilation.

I guess I was wondering this because I noticed that my nieces and nephew mainly spoke English. They understand Spanish when it's spoken to them, but they reply exclusively in English. Well, unless it's their grandfather, who only knows Spanish, so my two older nieces reply in Spanish (mostly), but my nephew will either respond in English or he'll shrug his shoulders or make some other gesture that shows he gets what his grandfather is saying (kinda sorta).

This is somewhat strange to me. Especially considering how me, my sisters, primi@s have all grown up speaking Spanish as our first language. We are all for the most part bilingual, and Spanish was the dominant language in our homes. English was the for the school, the teachers and our friends. It's even more strange to me that they mostly speak English, because my nephew's father is a Mexicano, who came not speaking a word of English. He's a laborer. A roofer to be exact. I'm guessing over the years he might have picked up some English along the way being around his boss, an Anglo. Or maybe from being around his children who all mainly speak English. I hear him speak to his kids in English, and he does have an accent. Somewhat thick. But his English isn't very choppy. Unlike my own father who still does not speak a word of English and similar to my nephew has to gesture to show that he understands, but has difficulty communicating his own thoughts in English.

It's not just an issue of language though. To get into everything that it means to be a Mexican@ through language, culture and history would be burdernsome. And something that we all would not agree on. Mexicano from Mexico versus Mexicano from the United States, anybody?

But knowing the history, culture, and language  are simply surface-level things, we can't just understand that we are Mexicanos, or know names and dates learned through Chicano/a Studies courses, without thinking critically about larger social issues, historically and presently.

But I had to wonder if my nephew and nieces know and understand that they are Mexican@s. As it is my nephew's father has had to adjust his language to accomadate his childrens preference. Will my nieces and nephew assimilate at such an early age that they will never know what it means to be a Mexican@. Or maybe I should rephrase that. Will they ever know what it means to be Mexican@ to me? Will they ever be as introspective as I am about the things I noticed and associated with my parents as Mexican@s? Such as hardworking, labor activists, Spanish speakers, La Virgen de Guadalupe, Catolicos, etc.

Maybe it was also the Xicano in me that was hoping his nephew would understand that he is Mexicano. Hoping that he wasn't so far gone thanks to assimilation that he considered himself just an American. And yes, by all intents and purposes he could be just an American . . . well, you know if a certain sect of America is okay with a Mexicano born in the United States, calling himself an American. You know, because he's not Anglo.

Calling himself American would be fine, but not knowing that he is a Mexicano does bring me a sense of bewilderment. I hear him speaking in English to all his friends, chatting with fellow gamers in English, and watching the Cartoon Network/Nicktoons/DisneyXD. So the thought crossed my mind, "Will he grow up thinking he's simply American, and never understand that he is in reality a Mexicano? Is my family over the next few generations going to lose it's Mexican identity, through children and grandchildren that grow up in an English speaking counry and everything that entails its popular culture?"

Maybe that would never happen, because as I've seen over the years. Those who want to embrace everything that encompasses our Mexican identity (history, culture, language, etc.), will do so, because they will meet others who have already done this, or they will take a Mexican-American/Chican@ Studies class at the university, and learn about their culture and history, and possibly begin to remember and (re)embrace not only their Mexican identity, but their familys as well.

So as I drove my nephew, I wondered, and evevntually asked, "You know you're Mexican, right?"

My nephew, looked at me, nodded his head and said, "Yeah."

I smiled.

That was all I needed to hear.

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