I’ve been an instructor since 1998. I’ve been an instructor in English departments since that time. And by and large I’m just your average every day Mexican-American/Scotch Okie woman who cannot speak Spanish, from a feminist gay military family whose income has fluctuated between working poor and almost middle class my whole life. I’m the first on my mom’s side to graduate from college and the second on my dad’s side after my dad. I haven’t seen it all, but I’ve seen a great deal. You need that context for what I’m about to say.
At various points in my life research studies have been stacked against me. Marketing groups have told me I don’t exist. What do you mean you’re Mexican-American and you don’t live in a barrio and you graduated from college and you like to read? What do you mean that you prefer whiskey over tequila?
I’ve heard these questions too:
Are you the Spanish teacher? I don’t get why you know Japanese? Wow. You seem so smart and you guys are Mexican? Why don’t all Latinos vote Democrat? And once in Greenville… “You think your mom would be interested in cleaning our house and teaching our kids Spanish on the side?
Yeah. I know. I’m suppose to take this all from where it comes. I’m educated. I know how to be white polite and swallow it whole. But I often wonder why it is WE have to take it from where it comes. How come we can’t fight back? How come we can’t call a racist statement, a racist statement? How come we have to accept apologies because people ‘didn’t mean it that way?’ How come we can’t call a lie, a lie and have to call it a ‘miscommunication’ instead?
What’s clear is there’s still so much work to be done. The United States and its educated class can handle minorities when they are from a preconceived background. If my mother was a farm worker, I could be Mexican but because she’s a hospital manager, I’m white. That’s kinda bullshit.
Being Mexican American isn’t about being a certain economic class. Just because I’m not from a ghetto doesn’t mean I’m not Mexican American. Just because I wear giant hoop earrings doesn’t mean I’m a chola. The sooner we as a country realize that the ethnic experience in America while often the experience of the ‘other’ is not monolithic, the better.
Part of my frustration surrounds where I live. In Los ANgeles County, where I’m from, to be Mexican American means just being human. We have doctors and gang bangers. University professors and gardeners. Our ethnicity is not tied to class and education there. In Northern California however, the experience is not quite there yet. We are still just this imagined other.
Beware bringing that kind of thing up though—the champions of putting ethnic minorities into neat little boxes don’t really want to share the world with you. You’re just a trophy, a fetish. But I chose fresh mountain air and unaltered sky for my children so living here means dealing with the bigotry–however nice it is, however polite it is. But somedays? You just have to call bullshit on it all.