The problem with assuming identity during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond

The problem with assuming identity during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond

The problem with assuming identity during Hispanic Heritage Month and beyond
September 27
01:00 2018

“I mean there’s a ton of dressed up Mexican girls. You’re not that special.” I stood motionless, feathers poking out of my gold head piece, dressed in brown embroidered cloth, remembering everything my mother told me the night before. I was supposed to resemble my ancestors from the stories, the ones who belonged to a great empire that once was. Feeling defeated, I ran to my mother who was standing behind a table that read “Peru.” Embracing me, she softly muttered, “Get used to it, hija.”

That was the closest I came to an identity crisis — the age of 8 in the middle of my third grade culture day. Learning about my heritage,  I dressed like the Sapa Inca from my mom’s stories and was beaming with pride until I was ridiculed by people who were so quick to label me as someone I wasn’t.

In that moment, I questioned why my mother would encourage me to accept society’s branding of “Mexican.” Just because I resembled the same tanned shade of brown with dark long hair, does that automatically mean I’m no longer me? Does my appearance trump all other characteristics that make up my identity, my culture? Why must I sacrifice who I am just because it’s convenient for people to squeeze every Hispanic under the title of Mexican?

Being called Mexican is by no means an insult — their culture is beautiful and significant. But it’s problematic to jump to the conclusion that every person who speaks Spanish must be Mexican. By classifying Hispanics as belonging in one homogeneous group, it’s as if the whole notion of  “latinx” is completely obliterated. Every Hispanic culture is unique in its own way, whether it be the way we dress or even our dialects, and it’s unfair to turn a blind eye to those loud distinctions.

Though diversity among Hispanic origin groups do vary between major metropolitan areas, some areas like New York are dominantly Puerto Rican. But that doesn’t mean every Spanish person walking down the street is Puerto Rican. Understandably, people of Mexican origin do make up more than half of Hispanic population in the U.S., according to Pew Research Center, but statistics shouldn’t provide leeway to convey ignorance.

Personally, being Peruvian, I make up only 1.2 percent of Hispanics in this country. Statistics prove that my ethnicity is a rare sight in this nation, but the perception and expectations created for me say the opposite.

It’s now 10 years later, and people still lump us all into one category, except now it has a heavier connotation. It means not seeing your parents until their 11-hour shift is over and folding your mama’s dirty, wrinkled-up apron she tossed on the floor. It means having to translate conversations your parents have because they don’t speak English. It means growing up listening to music most people wouldn’t recognize and eating food that reflects your parent’s beliefs.

The Mexican identity has now come to include being afraid to speak your own language at work, questioning why people look down on your mother while asking for “her papers” or feeling like the place you call home doesn’t want you anymore.

As a Latina, I respect every Hispanic culture I come in contact with because we all encounter the same kinds of discrimination. When we discuss race, it’s naive to portray the same microaggressions toward Hispanics and their many ethnicities.

This Hispanic Heritage Month, we should remember to embrace what makes us special despite the stereotypes. We come from the same substantial tree, but the branches are endless and colorful in their own way.

Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon

About Author

Angelina Oliva

Angelina Oliva

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1 Comment

  1. Allen
    Allen October 13, 23:35

    I’m sorry that happened to you at such a young age. This is one of the big problems with identity politics

    Reply to this comment

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