Raising Mexican-American Children

Dear Diary,

The school bell rang and signaled the end of recess. As I got in line with Mrs. Ohnoki’s 3rd grade class, I repeated to myself a conversation I just had with a little boy. You’re not black. You’re not white. So what are you? I’m brown! But it took years to come to that conclusion. Now that I’m am raising Mexican-Salvadoran children in an anti-illegal society, I’m trying to articulate the answer of what race we are to my children. When the little boy questioned my racial makeup decades ago, I didn’t ask anyone for the answer–not my mom or my friends. Instead, I felt ashamed. I should have known what I was, right? But I was embarrassed that I had no clue. I was 8-years-old and struggling with my identity.

I later, learned I wasn’t alone, even though it was a lonely process. It wasn’t until weeks later that I asked my other Latino friends what they considered themselves to be. Little did I know, I was about to open Pandora’s box. What seemed to be an easy question turned into a complicated conversation.

As children, we are taught that things are black or white, good or bad, wrong or right. This contributed to our identity crisis in a major way, but in this growing pain, I did feel comfort knowing I wasn’t alone.

The answers I received from kids ranged from Mexican-American, Chicano, American, Central American, Salvadoran, Guatemalan, güero, prieto, morena, pocha, Hispanic, Latino and many, many more. I decided to finally take the topic home and ask my mom.

She said that people like to call us Hispanic, but we are Chicanos. What? That was it. She didn’t expand any further.

It could have been, because I was only eight, but it was enough for me. I’ve since been asked, Well, what’s the difference? Don’t we just call all of you the same thing? There’s a big difference. We come from different countries that have their own unique customs, dialects and traditions. Unfortunately, there are consequences of the historical colonization and warfare amongst Latin American countries. We don’t always see eye to eye, but nonetheless are a family.  Many layers of conflict exist within the Latino community; some of which has been created for us by non-Latinos, like the hot topic of immigration. Forget the fact that there are already strong anti-immigration views from conservative politicians and constituents, we have our own views on each other. There are those that came here the right way, or at the right time, and are residents or citizens;  those who no longer consider themselves immigrants because they are citizens; and those who live in this country as undocumented immigrants. This divide creates more animosity and feeds to deeper split in an already struggling community.

Brown people are not allowed to be brown. We have to choose the check box that says: black or white. This reality is hard for me, especially, now that I am a mom, I have to explain to my three children what we are and what we’re not.

My son was 3-years-old when he told me his classmate was black. I asked him, Mijo, who told you that? He responded, I don’t know. It was a teacher. Not my teacher, but a teacher. I wondered how this conversation came about. My decades long battle to accept myself and my identity issues resurfaced, and although I had thought about how I would approach race and class with my children many times, I didn’t know what to say. So I told him he was right and asked what color was his skin. His answer—I’m peach! I laughed with relief, and told him he was brown… like me. He then pointed out that I was more brown, and I reassured him that he’d get darker when he got older.

He’ll grow up in a world where race matters, yet we are unable to address it. We are constantly told that slavery is over, and racism no longer exists. We are ceaselessly silenced with anecdotes of living in a modern time where we should be color blind.

I will raise my children, who are resilient and eager to learn about their culture, by instilling in them their cultural pride. My partner and I speak Spanish to our children daily, take them to their grandparent’s every week and eat authentic meals.

A culture clash exists even in my own home. My partner, an immigrant from El Salvador and I, a U.S. born Mexican, see through our own conflicts and do the best we can to incorporate both traditions in our parenting, as most couples do. We butt heads, but we can both agree that our own cultural pride is important to instill in our children. My son is a picky eater, but his favorite foods are quesadillas and pupusas. He loves to help me shred the cheese. My daughters lean more towards their Mexican side and eat everything off my plate. Spicy? No biggie. I also explain why and how our traditions are different from others. The most difficult to distinguish for them is Halloween. Go figure. For my kids, Halloween seems like a weeklong celebration. We have Halloween and trick or treating, All Saints Day immediately after and finally the Day of the Dead. Christmas is similar in its marathon of activities and celebrations, except it’s a month long celebration.

I try to provide them with age appropriate answers. They haven’t been on earth very long, and well, the human race has tackled these issues for centuries, and it seems that we’re moving at a very slow pace. I can definitely understand that it will take time for my children to understand themselves, their cultures and issues, like immigration. As they grow up, I’ll make sure they embrace their uniqueness. The last thing I want for my children and our community is to feel that they have to be part of a melting pot. I want them to understand that they come from somewhere, and that somewhere is real.

HEY DFTM Fam–What are you teaching your children about your culture? What questions do they ask about race and identity?

About The Author

Marcelle Alvarado
Multicultural Mom

Marcelle is a mom raising four children all under four with her partner in Los Angeles, CA. She writes about issues impacting Latino mothers and entertainment. She loves motherhood, which has proven to be the greatest challenge and highest privilege in her life. When not writing for DFTM, Marcelle blogs at Chicana Momma. A former labor organizer, Marcelle is committed to working on social justice issues for the working class and women of color.

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