As a young child growing up, I used to very verdantly envy Caucasians. I longed for fair skin, sky-blue eyes, and feathery, golden hair. I shamed my tan complexion, my dark eyes, and my thick, brown hair. I admonished my heritage, interrogating my parents as to why they gave me these common traits, and threw a melodramatic fit at the universe, silently, just in my head, asking why I was doomed to be born this way. I wished for white parents, wished for one of those American families displayed in the media, where the mother was model fit, and the father ravishingly good looking, and they all went on camping trips every other weekend and hosted elegant Sunday martini fiestas with the neighbors. And then my childish mind would tell me, nope, I was destined to have the Latin American family. To have a father with a large nose and growing tummy, a mother who forgot she was on diet, and relatives who loved to leave a huge mess after rowdy parties. Nothing like the elegant Sunday martini and BBQ get-together.
During the interrogations, my mother would repeat, beauty is not everything.
And my father would comment, being Hispanic is better than you think.
Before reading Victor Verdugo’s essay “When My Parents Came To The US, They Gave Me The Opportunity to Have A Voice”, I speculated that this would be about the struggle of immigration. About how so many Latin Americans risked so much to give their family an opportunity for a satisfactory life, as well as represent Latin Americans in the government in order for there to be more favorable immigration regulations. But as I began to read, I noticed this was about the appreciation of Hispanic culture, or more specifically, the Spanish language. This young man, whose parents were Mexican immigrants, recounted his frustration of having to translate everything for his parents, ever since his learning of English at the age of four. His frustration led to his creating a facade outside of home where he chose “to pronounce common Spanish words the American way.” But after his high school graduation, he says this: “I began to appreciate my Latin culture and the beauty of the Spanish language. I soon made friends from all over Latin America, like Colombia and the Dominican Republic, and began to speak Spanish beyond just with my family.”
I remember that as a child, I would most haughtily retaliate those who couldn’t speak Spanish well. After reading Verdugo’s article, I realized that I always had some sort of unconscious pride in my culture, even when I used to unreasonably shame it for its giving me less than ideal physical traits. My parents would always remind me that being bilingual was beneficial in a melting pot like California, where I was more likely to be employed. But besides economic advantage, I think I found it an honor and distinction to be able to speak my people’s language and represent them here in the US.
And my appreciation of the Spanish language is what led to the sluggish and incoming appreciation of my Hispanic culture. By the time I was in ninth grade, even with insecurities, I had become well aware of the diversity and eminence of Latin American culture. How our people came from several aspects of the world, how we fought for independence from the imperial and capitalistic societies, and how we currently are persistent to give our families a better life here in the US, is what has made me proud to be Mexican and Peruvian. Even though I was fortunate enough to have a father who came educated as a doctor and gave his family comfortable living, I have relatives who diligently work to give their sons and daughters that opportunity for success.
I remember once when close friends came over to our house, there was a Chinese piano tuner in the living room. At the dinner table, we were all in camaraderie and laughing at all the jokes made. In the family room, the kids would be playing with my sister’s toys. After his work was finished, the piano tuner came to me and asked,
“Are they all your family?”
“Not all of them” I responded.
The piano tuner then said with admiration, “I just love how you guys are all there so happy and peaceful.”
Perhaps peaceful was a hyperbole, where everywhere was cackling through the roofs, but I understood. After his leaving, I sat down and realized that what my culture revolves around is family. All that we’ve done ever since the Spanish conquistadors took over the indigenous people’s land, was to strive for a proper ambient for our family. And now, with filial love and friendship in front of my eyes, I could see this embodiment.
Even though I may not have Caucasian features or be part of the Hollywood American family, I know that my flamboyant and colorful culture is something distinct, and my ability to speak the Spanish language allows me to be part of the great Hispanic tradition.