This summer changed my view of what it means to be Mexicana, Latina, Chicana. This is the last of three columns about my growth in this sense over the past couple months.
Look back at the title “Mi Raza.” What does that mean? Literally translated, my race. But it means much, much more.
“La Raza” is short for “La Raza Cosmica,” “The Cosmic Race,” an idea first expressed by José Vasconcelos in 1925. This “cosmic race” makes up the people of Latin America, who share roots with all the peoples around the world.
We are brown not only because our ancestors are the native peoples of the Americas, but also because our ancestors are slaves that were abducted from Africa. Our ancestors were the oppressed.
In Mexico City there are so many people who look Asian because our ancestors crossed to the Americas through the Bering Strait. Our ancestors were the refugees.
We are light-skinned because our ancestors, who were Spanish and Portuguese, came from Europe to dominate a continent. Our ancestors were not only the oppressed, but also the oppressors.
We are not one race. We are a mix of all the races on earth: we are the Cosmic Race.
This, of course, causes problems when filling out, let’s say, Advanced Placement test forms. They ask, Are you Latina/o?” And, since I am, I mark “yes” and fill out my ethnicity: Mexican and Salvadoran.
Their next question is “What is your race?” And the options are Caucasian, black, Asian, or Pacific Islander. One, theoretically, marks the race or races they identify with most (or which they identify with at all).
Well, I don’t consider myself white, black, Asian, or Pacific Islander. I consider myself a mix of these, but I don’t identify with any.
My great-great-grandfather was Jewish; he went to El Salvador from Europe. My great-great-grandmother was African. She came to El Salvador from Africa. I don’t consider myself white or black, despite these facts. So I leave that question blank and am irritated for the rest of the day.
So what am I? I am Latina. This means I have ethnic ties to Latin America. But, after this summer, I identify most as Chicana. What is the difference? Chican@ is a term of pride.
What else am I? I am not just Latina, not just Chicana. I am Quaker. I write poetry. I sing. I am a friend, a god-sister, a daughter, a niece, a cousin, a granddaughter (in no particular order of importance). I’ve been thinking of late just how many different qualities make up one person.
I’ve been thinking about how much I personally clash with stereotypes. I’m Chicana, and I love classic rock. I can jam to some Tom Petty or Bruce Springsteen or The Rolling Stones. I’m vegetarian and shy away from pork – which means carnitas. I’m Quaker, not Catholic; I don’t believe in God. I don’t watch shows in Spanish; in fact, I watch some pretty stereotypically “white” shows: “Supernatural,” “Gilmore Girls,” “Riverdale,” “Cheers” and “Friends,” to name a few (yeah … I watch a lot of shows). My point is: there is so much more to me than what meets the eye, than the color of my skin, than the school I attend.
I don’t know who I am – that’s a pretty “teenage” thing to say. After this summer, though, I have a better idea. I know where my priorities should be: in advocating for those without a voice; in being present with my friends and family; in doing well in school but not forgetting to take care of myself.
I know where I want to go, and I know what I want to do. I want to help others as much as I can. I want to pursue my writing and see what I can make of it. I want higher education, and I want to do something with that education to help give back to where I come from.
They told us at the Chicano Latino Youth Leadership Project this summer that by just going to college we make a difference – we have a positive impact.
They also told us that we stand on the shoulders of giants. That resonated with me a lot.
My maternal grandmother is one giant. She took a long, hard journey from El Salvador to the United States with six children.
My paternal grandfather is a giant. He worked almost his whole life to help provide for his family – he urged my dad and his siblings to go to college and make better lives for themselves.
My mother is a giant. She came from El Salvador at the age of 13 and worked so hard to get through high school.
My dad is a giant. He was born in East Los Angeles and got to where he wanted to go through endless hard work.
Of course I stand on the shoulders of giants – I stand on their shoulders.
It’s important to embrace where we come from. It gives us a better view of where we want to go and who we are.
They run west, across those golden fields
Of grass. And we love them, as they sweat
In the shining, falling sun.
So perfect and unreachable, leaving us alone again …
With those dark distant shadows that plague us
In the chilling night.
The slightly charred smell of hunters and lovers,
And bonfires. Wafting rhythmically,
Breathing, or perhaps …
The wholeness of those meals
Passed down, generation to generation.
Surviving taste in the purity of
Innocent memory. This will forever be gone,
Lost to time; having been altered: much rusted.
This love quickly given, but quickly stricken:
A lonely night is coming.
Wrinkled face: browned from years.
Crinkled eyes: shining bright no longer.
Into the abyss, the dark infinite void.
No longer sharing their presence.
They run west, through those
Golden fields of grass –
Shadows of our past.
We love them,
And we strive to reach for them:
We run as fast as we can.
We channel their strength,
Their courage, their pride,
As they perish –
To be reborn in a new generation
—By Gabi Alvarado