When I met my husband, I threw myself into every part of his Mexican culture. I learned to prepare traditional foods, like mole and capriotada for special occassions. I took Spanish in college, became the director of our church's annual Hispanic fiesta and eventually began planning our wedding that included items like a lazo, cojines and arras. There were so many new things to learn, but I never felt overwhelmed or out of place. I never saw myself as not fitting into the picture. And the reality is, my husband never left me out of the loop. He was always there to explain and when I brought home a new bit of cultural knowledge or Latino Lit novel that he wasn't aware of, it made him adore me that much more.
Bicultural Identity in the U.S.
Culture and history are two big pieces in the puzzle that brought us together. But my family hasn't always understood that. They were confused about why I would accept my husband's culture so readily and why I was so passionate in defending it. They didn’t understand how something could become such a big part of my life or why I invested so much time in a heritage that wasn’t my own.
"You're not Mexican, you know." I heard this often. It was a reminder…”know your place,” a kind of nod to the old days when people were “happy” to assimilate, a time when families didn’t have to feel awkward or lower themselves to invest their understanding in another person’s culture.
Those aren’t times that we should be longing for. We have a unique opportunity here in the U.S. to celebrate a diversity of cultures, to learn more than we ever have before about each other and to embrace our similarities and our differences.
When I met my husband, that’s all he was to my family… different. They didn’t know how alike them he really was.They didn’t know that he was born in Germany on a military base to a mother and father who had always been American citizens. They didn’t know that he grew up in Laredo, Texas (not in Mexico) and that his family had been there so long that the border crossed them. They didn’t know that many of his favorite foods are actually Italian dishes, like lasagna and spaghetti, or that he loves rock and country just as much as he likes mariachi. There is so much that they didn’t ask because they were too afraid of the differences that might lie between them.
But explaining biculturalism has always been a thing of difficulty. Most Americans still can’t fathom the idea of two identities or two cultures. There’s just something dirty about it here. You’re seen as a traitor, a poser, a ‘fake’.
Am I a traitor for loving Mexican culture? Is my husband a ‘fake’ Mexican because he’s not fluent in Spanish or because his favorite food isn’t burritos?
If you weren’t aware of the debate before, I’m sure many have become an insider on the discussion after all the buzz about Julian Castro’s supposed lack of fluency after his speech at the DNC, and what about Jennifer Lopez or Selena Gomez. All fakes, right?
Latinos work hard to keep their culture, and it doesn’t come easy in a country that doesn’t know which box to check for bicultural and multicultural individuals.
But I want to say something here: there is nothing ‘fake’ about celebrating more than one identity or culture. It’s not a betrayal to your heritage and one doesn’t have to take away from the other. The reality is that many families in the United States do celebrate more than one culture and that’s something we should be celebrating. It’s not ideal to assimilate and lose your heritage. If it was, those of us who have assimilated would not be grasping so desperately to the bits that are left.
The American perception that you have to “pick one” cultural heritage is false.The idea that learning someone else’s heritage is “unnecessary” is just as false and probably even more hurtful, because the reality is; Hispanic Heritage is our heritage. Hispanic Heritage belongs to all of us.
Hispanic Heritage is American Heritage
Hispanic American Heritage Month, which runs from September 15 to October 15, is one of several heritage months celebrated in the U.S. These months weren’t created to celebrate individuals who are different from Americans. They were created to celebrate those Americans who have not yet made it into our classroom history discussions, but are every bit as American as the individuals whose skin color meets the standard expectation of “American”.
Heritage months are about celebrating what we have forgotten, ignored or otherwise avoided over the centuries since this nation’s birth. It’s not all your fault, the stories have been buried and tarnished to intentionally discredit the contribution of those who don’t fit the European mold. But it’s on you now. It’s on each of us to educate ourselves and bridge the gaps that promote racism and hate and fear.
This is what heritage months were created for, to include Americans who have not been recognized in our history, but who have contributed to greater American culture. They were created to educate and to bridge the gap between our communities. This is the kind of education and community bridging that American activists like Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and John F. Kennedy spoke of often, because segregation doesn’t just exist in the streets, it exists in our minds. Racism thrives on our fears and it makes us believe that we are much more different than reality shows. But how will we ever know if we never learn the other side of the story? How will we ever know what will bring us together if we never take the leap to explore or ask questions? If we never have the passion to understand or the respect to embrace what is different? How will we tell Americans who are “different” that they are also Americans when we don’t celebrate their roles in our country’s history?
Celebrating all heritage months is important. It’s important because we are acknowledging that ALL Americans deserve a mention in our nation’s history books. It’s important because our sons and daughters need to see themselves as part of American history and culture… because they are part of the fabric of America, and that needs to be recognized.
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