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The challenges of not fitting into your Latino culture

By Beatriz Garay

Not being “Mexican enough” or “American enough” is something that many young Latinos struggle with every day. This does not pertain to just the Mexican culture but to every race and culture. But is it truly a struggle? Is it truly a bad thing, or is it a positive lifestyle?

“Most of my family speaks Spanish and sometimes it can be hard to communicate with them because either I don’t know what to say or I just don’t understand what they’re saying,” says 21-year-old Juan Lomeli.

Many Latinos face this language barrier on a daily basis. As a person born into such a diverse culture, is one expected to be devoted to all of the traditions and cultures that surround them? Is it acceptable to not be familiar with your surrounding cultures?

“I have felt excluded not knowing my native language. People would look at my skin and assume I speak Spanish, but when I stay quiet, they tell me, ‘How could you not know your own language?’ I still identify myself as Mexican-American because I love this country and I love my family’s native country,” Lomeli says.

With every barrier comes a challenge: from being stereotyped and insulted to being excluded in family conversations. How does one cope with a cultural and linguistic barrier? Lomeli says it is “hard to overcome the language barrier. I have tried harder to learn more about my family and my traditions.”

“Some Brown folks don’t even care to learn the language in an attempt to assimilate into a white America that will inevitably fail to accept them.” – Khristyan Trejo.

But why does this gap between individuals and their culture and language exist in the first place? For Kimberly Bueno, it was the way she was raised. “My parents weren’t the ‘traditional Mexican parents.’ I never grew up listening to banda, rancheras, or any Spanish music. I grew up with the Beatles, Bee Gees, and Sting. They never put me in Mexican arts like Folklorico so I never knew much of my Mexican culture. With language, I always spoke with my parents in Spanish but since I grew up with older sisters who talk to me in English, I didn’t pick it up as well. Now I have a difficult time speaking Spanish to my parents. But even though I didn’t grow up in a traditional Mexican household, I am still proud of my culture.”

So what happens when it is made clear to you that you do not “fit in” because of those barriers?

Khristyan Trejo, a student at Tulane University, has faced challenges both in the community he grew up in and in his East Coast college community. “Knowing, or not knowing, Spanish does not change the color of my skin and the spaces I operate in. In East Los Angeles, I was always labeled ‘not Mexican or Xicanx enough’ for my community. In New Orleans, I’m constantly getting asked to translate something, or being told to go back to my home country, or asked, “Where are you from?” I identify as a gay Brown man. For someone growing up with a speech impediment and limited reading skills, I put all of my focus into understanding the English language. I’m Mexican-American, and there’s a notion that Spanish is synonymous with my culture/tradition, but I’m also native to this land, and Spanish is also a colonized culture. My criticism of the language is just, in my eyes, frustration with a larger system that determines my community because I’m also aware that knowing Spanish also connects me to a larger community that I’m a part of, even if I’m told that I’m not. If I had the chance, I would learn Spanish. Some Brown folks don’t even care to learn the language in an attempt to assimilate into a white America that will inevitably fail to accept them.”

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