Adrian Rivera tells the story about what it means to be a Mexican-American in Texas, the land of barbecue, oil and revisionist history.
As a little boy, I boldly renounced my Mexican ancestry — Mexican’s were “those” people. You know, the ones who cut yards and washed cars, the ones who worked in construction and out in the fields, the ones that were stealing our jobs and not paying any taxes. Why the self-hate at such a young age? I don’t think one single aspect of my life was to blame, but rather, a variety of aspects that, when taken together, caused a boy of eight to hate who he was and where he came from.
Maybe it was the fact that I grew up in Texas, world renowned for its barbecue, oil, and revisionist history. To be a Mexican in Texas was to be a part of those blood thirsty mongrels that slaughtered scores of people at the Alamo. To be Mexican was to have lost the war, to have lost California, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Colorado. To be Mexican was to be the loser.
Maybe it was the fact that the poorest parts of town, with their cracked and crumbling roads, their sporadic streetlights that were far too dim,and their gutters filled with empty beer bottles, seemed to be the most “Mexican” — that is filled with dark people that only spoke Spanish and that lived in what most people would consider aluminum shacks. The “houses” that filled these neighborhoods were filled with old people that had wizened and wrinkled faces, babies and toddlers that lacked shoes and shirts but always had a single dirty diaper on them, and were filled with more people than could possibly be comfortable.
Maybe I was so quick to say that I wasn’t a Mexican-American because of the fact that these shacks or houses or barrios or ghettos or whatever you want to call them weren’t just relegated to one area of the Rio Grande Valley; they were The Valley. Like weeds that couldn’t be rooted or removed, they were perpetual, static — they were sure to be there as sure as the sun would shine on them, day in and day out. Who would want to live in a place like that? Who would want to live like a weed, unwanted, dirty, and valueless?
Who would want to be Mexican?
Maybe, just maybe, I renounced my Mexican heritage because I just didn’t feel Mexican. I didn’t speak Spanish in a place where it was equally as prevalent as English. I had never been to Mexico when it was literally five minutes away. I didn’t like spicy food in an environment where everyone loved Hot Cheetos, Takis, and Tapatio sauce, things that set my mouth on fire. And I wasn’t poor, which seemed to be a prerequisite to being Mexican.
It wasn’t until I had my first girlfriend that I realized what it meant to be “Mexican.”
When I met the family of my girlfriend, for the first time that I realized how warped and twisted my views had been some eight years earlier. Her parents had crossed into the United States some twenty years ago, almost one hundred years after my own ancestors did the same. In her parents and in her family, I saw the typical struggles that I was able to recognize as little boy: The inability to speak English, the limited financial resources, the dark skin. But as we grow older, we are able to see beyond the superficial; we can read between the lines.
While I saw the struggle, I also saw success; three daughters, one with a Master’s degree in Counseling, one at college to become a News Broadcaster, and one on her way to a private university in New York (my girlfriend.) I saw a mother who loved watching movies about history, a father who worked tirelessly to provide for his family in terms of money and emotional support. I saw a family that loved each other, that laughed often, that cooked delicious food (although often too spicy for my taste,) I saw a family just like mine. I realized that these people were of the type that I had once pitied, abhorred, avoided. Renounced. When we are children, it is difficult to remember that every single person out there is just like us, with thoughts and feelings and fears and hopes and dreams. As children, it is nigh impossible to realize that at one point in the history of our lineage our family faced the struggle. Perhaps if we were looking to our own history, to our own struggles, we would see that with a little time, struggle gives way to success.
From immigrant ancestors to Yale University
My great-grandparents were immigrants to this country, who came to work the fields and play music; my grandparents, office managers and clerks; my parents, regional managers and teachers, who were the first to go to college, four hours from their home; and me? I am just beginning my journey into the world. I will leave my isolated, homogeneous community for Yale University, in New Haven, Connecticut.
To be admitted to such a great and wonderful place will have people assume that I have things figured out — and while that is true to an extent, I know that I have merely scratched the surface of the knowledge that I seek to obtain, of the experience I hope to gain, and of the person I wish to discover. The little boy only just recently grew up, only just realized how wrong his assumptions were, and how wrong he could be.
While primarily using this outlet as a source for commentary on the events of the United States and of the World, I also hope to use it as a chronicle of my path to self-discovery. Because isn’t that the question we all seek to answer? Who we are? As a person, as a country, as a race? I hope you’ll join me in my quest to answer that question.
What does it mean to be an immigrant in America? Share your perspectives with us!