Tuesday Essay: De Aquí y de Allá

De Aquí y de Allá
By Nancy Flores

I struggled with defining my identity since I moved to Wisconsin. When I was 7 years old I moved to a town of about 7,000 people called Lake Geneva. I moved to this town from the city where I was born, East Los Angeles where I attended a bilingual Montessori school that I loved, where I had a lot of friends, and amazing teachers. In L.A. being bilingual was the norm; blending Mexican and American culture was the way of life. When I moved to Lake Geneva I spoke only English because I was the only person who spoke Spanish and I was one of two Latinos in my entire class. It was a culture shock so, I assimilated to my new environment. I only spoke Spanish at home, and watched movies, read books and magazines that had nothing to do with Chicano culture or any culture that wasn’t White. I did this because that was my environment. I wanted to fit in.

sin cultura

Looking non-white in a White culture can bring a slew of identity and self-esteem questions.  I couldn’t help but think that no matter how I acted, how smart I thought I was, I still wasn’t like everyone else, and racial microagressions by my peers reminded me of this nearly everyday. These comments ranged from “Wow, you speak really good English, how did you learn it?” to “You’re actually very pretty for a Mexican girl.” Well gee, I was born and raised in the U.S. so maybe that’s why I speak English and I’m sorry that I don’t fit your fucked up and unrealistic stereotype that Mexican girls aren’t pretty.

When I was that age I didn’t really question these comments, because I didn’t want a confrontation to result in me feeling like even more of an outcast; microagressions like these were (and are) destructive, they made me feel (and I’m sure many other young POC) like I didn’t belong. I went through phases of not accepting myself, self-loathing and feeling like I would never fit in. As if our teen years are not enough of a mess, add believing that you need to hide your ethnicity as best you can, so it’s not all up in someone’s face or risk getting called a “Taco”.

But let’s be real, tacos are delicious, and being Chicana is just as badass. This takes me into my real formative years: college.

Miguel came into my life at an interesting time. You know when people say, “don’t rush into a relationship, find yourself and then you’ll know what you really want.” It’s true, you need it to be able to value, have faith and love yourself before you can give that to any one else. I am my own person, and I love that. I am strong, resilient, passionate, smart and compassionate. I was this before Miguel. Because I loved myself, I was able to bring an added strength into our partnership. This is what has made us work, and has helped me continue to grow as an individual.

Miguel represented in many ways what I tried to hide about myself when I was growing up, not because I didn’t like it, but because I felt like that was my survival tactic. He was paisa, barely spoke English, was undocumented, yet he was the most fascinating and secure person I had ever met. From Miguel, I learned something very important: I deserve to be free and free means discovering and being completely in love with the mujer with a hell of a fighting spirit that I am. No more questions asked.

Don’t get me wrong; I acknowledge that I had a lot of opportunities, and privileges as I was growing up, and that the journey of finding myself to some people sounds like first-world problems type bullshit. However, I’ve learned that it’s about using the negativity and oppression to then fuel your ambitions to educate yourself (I don’t just mean school), and give opportunities to other POC when you are in a position to do so. It’s about creating change to systems that oppress us instead of conforming to them. On this journey one of the most important things that I learned is that staying true to your roots is imperative to loving yourself. Just think about how many sacrifices have been made by our parents/grandparents so that our lives could be better.

Pero, we still have a lot of work to do.

“Until we can all present ourselves to the world in our completeness, as fully and beautifully as we see ourselves naked in our bedrooms, we are not free.”- Merle Woo

For those that have ever felt that you’re not from here and also not quite from the motherland- take a step forward and challenge that! We are from here AND there. Somos de aquí y de allá.

It’s taken me 26 years but I now realize that I stand for equality and am an arduous fighter alongside womyn that ever thought they had to hate themselves while making a futile effort to be loved by others.

***

Originally from East Los Angeles, Nancy Flores is a Chicana raised in the midwest who currently resides in between Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Aguascalientes Mexico. She has two B.A’s and currently works as a Program Coordinator at Wisconsin’s leading low-wage worker and immigrant rights organization, Voces de la Frontera. She is married, the proud mommy of a Chinese Crested puppy named Kurt Cobain Lopez and her hobbies include blogging, feminist lit, agitating/organizing, and traveling. You can follow her blog here.

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