On Being an Academically Inclined Latina and Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

You know, I do not talk about my heritage as often as I would enjoy.

For those of you who are unaware, I am a mixed bag of three races: Mexican (50%), African (25%), and European (25%). You can read all about my thoughts on being multi-racial in this post I wrote around this time last year.

Considering the main construction of my ethnic identity is Hispanic, my Latin roots have become doubly important to me over the last three years, and I have grown into my racial identity so much even since I wrote that aforementioned post.

Let’s be honest, I look way more Latina than I do African or British…right?

Yeah. 😉

My Mexican heritage is the one that is dearest to me. I identify primarily as Hispanic, or Mexican, or Latina, or Latinx—whatever you would like to call it.

Although my African and European heritages are still beautiful, I know most about my Hispanic heritage than I do about my other ethnic backgrounds, and from a young age I have been told so many stories about the ones who have gone before me.

I get all of my Mexican physicality from my mother, who is 100% Hispanic. Her hair-raising, hilarious, and sometimes downright frightening tales about being a young Mexican girl in California have inspired me to be someone just as brave and amazing, because she has been through so much to be who she is today. My Abuela (grandmother) has told me stories about helping her mother raise all sixteen of her brothers and sisters, working as a young woman in the strawberry fields, and how she met my grandfather, who was hired by the farmers to scare crop-stealing birds singlehandedly with a motorcycle and sombrero. I have also heard the tales of my great grandmother, who was born in Guadalajara, Mexico. As a young woman who already had multiple sons and daughters, she crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico into the United States when she was pregnant with my grandmother around the year 1945. It was only because of my great-grandmother’s bravery that my Abuela was born on American soil in El Paso, Texas.

If it had not been for her, I could have been born in Mexico. Who knows? I could have been married already with a bundle of children, like she was. I honor her and her sacrifices with my life, and her decision made all the difference for my future, even though she was never able to meet me, her great-granddaughter.

As you can imagine, I have a very soft place in my heart for immigrantes.

While I no longer live in California (my family moved when I was eight-years-old), it has not stopped my Mexican traditions and pride from following me everywhere I’ve gone.

Growing up, I remember the times when the shy, smiling corn man would come through my cousin’s neighborhood, wheeling his little cart of hot sweet corn and armed with the most delicious of toppings. *whispers* Chili, butter, and queso fresco are the best…

To this day, Christmas is not Christmas without Mexican sweet bread from the local Panaderia, my grandmother’s corn husk tamales (which she always sends in abundance every year), Mexican bingo with pinto beans for chips, or my mother’s pozole.

Learning how to cook from my mother would not have been complete without a full knowledge of how to fry tostada shells, properly roll a burrito (not Chipotle™ style, amigos), tell when an avocado was ripe for guacamole, or roast jalapeños and boil tomatillos to make fresh salsa. And, this year I even taught myself to make crispy pork carnitas tacos. 😉

I have grown into my Hispanic heritage over the last few years, and my love for my roots has grown stronger like a nice French brie—the longer it ages, the more potent it becomes.

However, loving my Mexican-ness was not always how I felt about my ancestry. Ashamedly, I will honestly admit that up until about two or maybe three years ago, I would often hide the fact that I was Hispanic, since being Mexican is not always associated with the best social image, especially with the current immigration politics in my country. I’ve been the brunt end of a few jokes and called slightly racist names at certain times. Those embarrassing moments, combined with my desires to pursue the “European” arts and philosophy, made me feel so out of place in certain environments and I felt wrongly compelled to tuck away my cultural background.

But in recent months, I have come to love the stories of the women who brought me into this world: the courage of my great-grandmother who crossed the Rio Grande, the strength of my abuelita as she found back-breaking ways to provide for my mother and her siblings, and the resilience of my mother, who pursued excellence against all odds and survived some pretty harrowing situations as a teenager. Their stories fill me with pride, and I have become so grateful to who they were and who they continue to be for me. I have come to adore my Hispanic family traditions.

As a student of English literature and writing (and hopefully Medieval studies for my Masters *fingers crossed*), I understand that I am in a predominately white field, but do not worry—I am not frightened, discriminated, or dissuaded from pursuing what I love. But I am also not worried about my desire to remember and cherish where I come from and who I am. Have there been many class room settings where I was the only person of color? Yes, but that did not stop be from being there. Because I am just as much Mexican as I am human, and to be human is to love beauty. And both my European academic interests and my Mexican history are equally beautiful to me, and they always will be.

Therefore, Hispanic Heritage month has been an absolutely stunning, aesthetic reminder of how sweet, spicy, and gorgeous mi cultura is, and how—even when others may not understand my pride in it—I can relish the truth that I am Mexican, regardless of what I wear, what I read, what I listen to, or what I love. My culture is and always will be eternally special to me.

As I am an English literature major, art enthusiast, and music lover, I would herein like to present a very small sampling of the Mexican artists who I sincerely cherish.

Yes, I know Despacito is a great song. I love that song. I had it on repeat earlier today *tu, tu eres la Imán y yo soy el metal…*), but, allow me to recommend some super authentic and not as mainstream art that showcases Latin culture for your pleasure and to give you an edge on celebrating the last few days of Hispanic Heritage month—you can still celebrate it even if you aren’t Hispanic!

Frida Kahlo

Obviously, I have to include the mother of all Mexican artists in this discussion. Frida Kahlo was a powerhouse of radical ideas, and her presence in the shaping of Mexican art cannot be exaggerated. While her life was plagued with constant suffering, she turned that suffering into art, and conveyed her heavy emotions through the power of her brush.

Yuyi Morales

Morales’s book Dreamers is one of my favorite picture books of all time. Her illustrations are absolutely gorgeous, and she tells the story of how her and her infant son came to America in search of a better life, but chose to bring their culture with them as they became American citizens…

Selena Quintanilla

No discussion of Hispanic Heritage month would be complete without Selena Quintanilla.

If you do not know who Selena is, you have been robbed of a very beautiful gift, friend. And that is simply a fact. My favorite tejana singer, Selena has been an inspiration to countless Hispanic girls, including myself. Not only is her voice beautiful, but so is her story. I would here like to heartily recommend the biopic about her that always makes me cry: Selena (1997). I will say no more for fear of giving away spoilers. Also, you will not have lived fully if you have not heard her songs Bidi Bidi Bom Bom or Como la Flor. They are my absolute favorite Selena songs, and I’m pretty sure everyone considers them as classic at this point. 😉

Mariachi Chavez

This. Video.

I stumbled across this a few weeks ago through my mother, who was teaching my little brothers all about mariachi music. Friends, this is some A+ music right here, and it is this kind of beauty that makes me so proud to be Latina. Please give it a watch, and let yourself be blown away. Mariachi Chavez is magnifico

Well, friends, I hope you have enjoyed my discussion on being Latina and coming to appreciate my cultural heritage and ethnic identity! If you would like some authentic recipes, feel free to send me an email, and I can set you up with some seriously delicious Mexican tasties!

Now, if you will excuse me, lovelies! I have, at present, more papers to write for my Christian literature class, and this week is the FINAL WEEK of my first fall term. I could not be more excited. I have a week off next week before the next term begins, and I am looking forward to relishing every moment of the free time. *sighs*

Until next time,

Emily 🙂

5 thoughts on “On Being an Academically Inclined Latina and Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month

  1. I loved learning a little about your background, Emily! What an amazing heritage you have. That’s really sad that people have made you feel like you should hide your ethnic identity. That should only be something to be proud of. Personally, I’ve always loved the Mexican culture and Mexico is on my bucket list to visit. Thank you so much for sharing this little post!

    1. Thank you so much, Kristianne! I am so happy and encouraged to hear that you’ve always loved the Mexican culture, and that you plan to see Mexico one day! I myself have never been to Mexico, but I have always wanted to go. Thank you so much for your kind words of edification, friend! So glad you loved the posty 😉

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