It's lunchtime and I'm sitting at one of the tables in the cafeteria with some of my guy friends. We're probably talking about the upcoming weekend, or how much classes suck, when the conversation turns from English to Spanish. That's about the time when I usually look at my phone or try to start a convo with someone else at the table. Sometimes the guys ask why I'm not talking but then I think they forget that I don't speak Spanish. But I don't blame them, they're used to other Hispanics being able to speak Spanish with them, I just happen to be the exception. Often times when I meet other Hispanics they will start talking to me in Spanish expecting me to answer back but I am unable to. I then have to explain to them that I don't know Spanish and about 90% of the time they ask why. I either get asked "Did your mother not speak it to you growing up?" or "Really, how come you don't that's so odd." I then have to explain to them that although I am Hispanic I am also adopted and was raised by white parents.
My mom is Irish and Swedish decent and my dad is Italian. Growing up I always knew I was adopted and it never bothered me; I liked it because it made me seem special and it made me feel like my family was special. My parents would tell me all the time about how they flew all the way from CT to San Antonio Texas just to come and meet me and bring me home. I have always known that I was Mexican; however what being Mexican meant was a completely foreign concept to me. Even to this day as a twenty-one-year-old I am still learning things about the Mexican culture that surprise me. Throughout my childhood I have grown up in very diverse settings that I am very grateful for. My K-8 school took students from four different towns and celebrated other cultures and showed children to be proud of their heritage and who they are. My neighborhood was very unique in the fact that at one point there was about twelve adopted children in the neighborhood. It wasn't until I got to middle school where I began wondering more about why I felt different from other Hispanics in my school. And it wasn't until I got to high school where I learned what discrimination and racism was. College was where I learned what white privilege was. And when I realized that I experienced both discrimination along with white privilege.
I don't want my parents to think I am ungrateful for everything that I have been given. Words can't even begin to explain how grateful I am for everything they have done to me. Not many kids can say they have a beach house, or that they go on a vacation every year, sometimes more than once. Not many parents would spend hundreds of dollars on tennis lessons for their kids throughout the year. Things like paying bills and worrying about money were never an issue for me because I knew that my parents would take care of anything. The lifestyle I lived was that of a white privileged person, in a sense not a care in the world. But that doesn't matter when you live in a world where people will still judge you based on what you look like. That beach house is in a neighborhood full of predominately white upper-class families who stare at me when I walk around the neighborhood. It is a neighborhood where the only interaction with minorities they have are me and the cleaning staff they hire for their houses. Those vacations that we go on always start and end with me being "randomly selected" by airport staff and being questioned if my parents are actually my parents. And during those vacations are looks from people when they see us as a family, looks of confusion. Because, why would a Hispanic child be with a white family? Those tennis lessons where I was the only non-white person at the clinics and got stared at by the other children. Where as a junior I heard a girl get made fun of because the "illegal immigrant" beat her in a match. It doesn't matter that my parents are white; I am still victim to prejudice like every other Hispanic person, I am no exception.
At times I do get very sad because I don't feel like a true Hispanic. I wish I could sing the Mexican national anthem when I watch the soccer team plays. It would have been amazing to have a quinceaera where all my family and friends could celebrate me. It's things that I wish I could change but I can't and I have come to terms with it. I love my family and I wouldn't want to change or give them up for anything. I embrace that I am Mexican American because I believe it is something to be proud of, not ashamed of. Mexican Americans have a huge history in this country and have made amazing strides to prove that we deserve to be treated as equals. The Chicano walkouts in East L.A in 1968 inspire me and fill me with pride because they fought for the education I am receiving today. Selena Quintanilla Rodriguez is a role model for me and so many others because she didn't let her ethnicity be a barrier to her. She embraced it and made a career out of it and gave Mexican Americans someone to be proud of. The guys I worked with at the deli who immigrated from multiple Latin American countries who work more than multiple jobs seven days a week to provide for their families give me hope. They reminded me that I have an opportunity that they would give the world for. They told me to use this opportunity to show people that we are better than what the world portrays us as. Through these people I feel a connection.
Election night I cried, the morning after I woke up crying. I was in pure shock and disbelief that a country that I loved had voted for a man who spreads nothing but hate. I have so many friends who are immigrants or children of immigrants, I may even have friends who are undocumented. I have friends who are Muslim, black, and LGBTQ and I was scared for all of them. I knew I was upset but I wasn't sure why I was so upset I was on the verge of tears all day. That morning I called my mom crying and she told me to get a grip and that nothing was going to immediately happen and that I was safe. I knew she was right but I didn't feel any better. It wasn't until later that day that I realized why I was so upset. That day on my campus I attended an Anti-Trump rally where fellow students shared stories of discrimination and others shared hope and positivity for overcoming this. It made me feel a lot better because I knew I was surrounded by people who felt the same way as me. It wasn't until I got back to my apartment and realized that the real threat was literally anywhere outside my school and home. With Trump being elected people can now show their true colors without being scared. Stories of blatant racism, sexism, homophobia, and Islamophobia were already being shared on social media only hours after the president elect was announced. I know my mom thinks I was overreacting but I wasn't; as a white woman she is facing a different problem than I am as a Hispanic woman. In her eyes I am safe because I am her child and she will protect me, but the world does not know she is my mother and that makes me vulnerable, and that is why I am scared. As you see I face a very interesting dilemma here. I don't know what is going to happen to me these next few years but all I know is that I am a Latina woman. I have white privilege. I am safe. I am also scared.