By Arleny Vargas '18
The first time I ever felt American I was 15. I was on my way to México to meet my relatives for the first time, a scared and anxious young girl, filled with doubts. What would they think of me? Would I live up to their standards? Would they love me?
Of course they would - we were blood after all. Like my mother likes to say, la sangre jala. Only that my blood wasn’t pulling me towards them. I didn’t know who was my uncle, or my grandparent, or my cousin, unless someone explicitly told me. I was a stranger and an outsider. Here I was, this girl they had heard stories about since I was a child, finally standing right in front of them. They no longer had to imagine what I looked like or what I sounded like. I could finally be a part of the family.
Except that I wasn’t. I couldn’t relate and connect to anyone. Sure, I could communicate perfectly with them(I understood every word they spoke and laughed at all their jokes) but there was this huge barrier between us. I couldn’t talk about my favorite shows or my favorite musicians with my cousins. They had never seen or listened to any of the names I was throwing at them because they were in English. We couldn’t bond over shared memories or experiences because we didn’t have any. Through every interaction I realized that my upbringing in the U.S. made me different. Yes, I was Mexican but when they looked at me, they saw American.
The first time I ever felt Mexican, I was 18. I had just arrived at college. I was so eager and excited. This was it: what I had worked so hard for all throughout high school. This was the reason my parents had immigrated to this country. Now, it was my turn to make them proud. I had to make their sacrifices worthwhile.
My first interactions with people were awkward. I was trying to make friends but I couldn’t help but feel completely out of my element. I was in a new state, far away from home, and completely on my own. The culture shock hit me hard! I had never missed my mom’s cooking before. I had never seen so many white people in my life. I had never felt so self-conscious about the color of my skin.
The first week of classes I sat around and desperately looked around for other Latinxs in my class, for other people of color. Sometimes it was just me and I felt so alone. I walked around the town of Wellesley and didn’t see anyone like me. I finally understood what it meant to be a minority.
Someone once over heard me speak Spanish and asked when I had arrived to this country. Their question took me by surprise, and I said, “I was born here.” I could see the embarrassment in her eyes. There was no mistaking that this would only be the first of these interactions during my time at Wellesley. When people looked at me, they didn’t see American. They saw my brown skin and dark brown eyes that matched my thick hair and assumed Mexican.
So what am I? What group can I claim as my own? Which one will realize that I am one of them without asking me to prove it? Am I enough for either group?
There is no simple answer. I am both, yet at the same time I am neither. I am forced to present the identity that is most comforting for each group only to still be seen as the other. I have to learn to exist in these spaces as only one identity and to some extent I’m forced to neglect the other. My identity is a constant negotiation between the two identities I was given at birth. My parents’ Mexican blood runs through my veins yet my only official nationality is American.
I am confident that one day I’ll be able to bridge the gap between both identities and find comfort in them. For now, I am Xicana. I live in between both identities. Xicana doesn’t make me choose.
From March 2016 issue