SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2003        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Debra Baca
¿Qué soy?
(What am I?)
I grew up in El Paso, Tejas in the 60’s & 70’s in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood.  Friends all spoke Spanish to each other before, during and after school.  English was just for our teachers.  We were proud to be Mexican-Americans and by no means a minority in our neighborhood.  My husband and I grew up together, got married young and moved to Phoenix into a “White” neighborhood.  At first, it was difficult to adjust to only speaking English to avoid the stares and rudeness we encountered when we spoke Spanish to each other.  At one point someone even told us that when we speak Spanish, English speakers believe that we are talking about them.

My husband was attending school and soon made friends, some of whom were Hispanic.  It was great to start using our Spanish again, or so I thought.  I soon realized this was a completely different environment for us.  Although our friends were Hispanic and spoke Spanish, they did not embrace their heritage.

We’d frequently get together for cookouts with our friends.  Each family would bring a variety of dishes to feed our large groups.  We’d set up large tables and put our dishes of frijoles, arroz, chile con carne, tamales, carnitas, pico de gallo and tortillas.  The hosting family would set up games for the kids and adults.  We’d do relay races, soccer (parents against children), and charades.

Toward the end of the evening, all the adults exhausted from the day’s activities, settled down to discuss our lives and current events.  One evening someone asked, “What are we, Chicanos or Mexicanos?  Is there a difference?” A friend voiced her opinion and said she most definitely was Chicana because Mexicans were greedy and just expected the United States to take care of them.

“Mexicans come to the US for a better life yet they try to convert neighborhoods into Mexico, just take a walk down South Phoenix,” she said.

Many others chimed in with similar opinions.  I sat there and listened for a while not sure exactly what I felt.  Did I want to go with the flow or did I object?  I remembered a quote from the movie Selena, where the dad tells them they are not Mexican enough for the Mexicans and not American enough for the “Whites.” Growing up I was proud to say I was Mexican, my family came from Mexico and Spain. When I moved to Phoenix, I then became Hispanic, a term widely used in the west.  I grew up in the U.S.; does that make me Chicana? What was I?  ¿Qué soy?

I finally did object, I went against the flow.  “I don’t agree,” I said, “This is why there is racism.  We generalize.  We say Mexicans, blacks, whites, do this or do that, but we are all still individuals, we are not all alike even within our own race.  A few bad apples don’t spoil the whole bunch.  I don’t think a particular race sets out to segregate themselves from others.  We’re just afraid of change, although we desire it.  We’re afraid of rejection.  We stick with the familiar, which in turn is misread. We don’t try to convert our neighborhood into Mexico; we just speak Spanish and do what our culture taught us.”

Carmen, whose job is to organize functions for the Mexican / American community, said:

“All the Mexicans I’ve seen are always looking out for themselves, they step on others to get what they want.  They push their children to the front of the lines to get the best and when I’ve tried to tell them, there is enough for everyone, I get told to @#$@$.  I generalize because I’ve yet to see a Mexican that helps out another.  I work with them everyday, you only see them when you go to eat on the south side.”

I’ve witnessed what she was talking about and I didn’t quite understand why so many Mexicans feel the need to be the first and act as though they may not get anything, until I read Borderlands by Anzaldúa.  She reminds us of Mexican history and the many things taken from Mexican people.  However, I’ve also seen kind, caring Mexicans who extend their hand to those in need.  Some have come from poor beginnings and know what it’s like.  So again I say, “One bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bunch.”

 I realized the lack of support those of us that are born American, with Hispanic backgrounds, get from our government.  We are hard working tax payers and still, we are poor but make too much money to get help from the government.  Yet, even illegal immigrants get financial aide. However, sitting in a group of my peers that evening, I knew I didn’t belong because I didn’t agree with their stereotyping.  I began to have a feeling of solitude, a feeling of not belonging.

 Growing up in a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood, these culture issues were in a different realm for me, one I never knew existed, until I moved to Arizona.  I thought Mexican, Mexican/American, Chicano, Latino, all meant the same thing, “La Raza.” I see now how wrong I was and how I must now choose.  I continue to ask myself, “Where do I belong?

What am I?  ¿Que Soy?”

¿Qué soy?  An individual eager to help any and everyone she can.  I am Mexican, I am Chicana, I am Latina, I am any respective Hispanic title you want to give me.  I just ask, get to know me before you label me. Recognize my cultural differences and learn about them, as I am eager to learn all the cultures surrounding me.

¿Qué soy?  Una individual que vive en los estados unidos.  Un país lleno de muchas culturas.  ¿Te gustaría aprender de ellos?

 Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage