I frequently get asked where I am from, and since I claim Las Vegas as my home I usually (sometimes I choose a wild location just for kicks) reply that I am from Las Vegas. Often, that question is followed by another inquiry asking me where I was born, and since I was born in Texas, that’s what I reply. For some people, these responses are enough to end the line of questioning. But from many others, I get yet another follow-up question asking me where my parents were born. At this point, it becomes very clear that identifying as an American will not end this mini-interrogation, and so I inform them that my parents are American and that we are of Mexican descent.
These interactions don’t bother me as often now as they did when I was younger, especially since I’ve come to understand that although the questions may appear condescending and racist in nature, the intent is not always malicious but often sincere curiosity and admiration for other cultures. When I was younger, this conflict of identity presented a problem for me as it did for many children of immigrants growing up in the United States. When I visited family in Mexico, they identified me as an American; growing up in the United States, I was identified as a Mexican.
Like other children struggling with this identity problem, I found a way to enjoy the best of both worlds. I grew up playing football and living futbol. I ate cheesecake and yearned for flan. I listened to hip-hop and danced to merengue. It was a glorious balance of cultures and communities.
As a young student, I obsessed over information and history. I learned that these experiences were very similar to that of other immigrant waves in American history, and that one of the great things about living in the United States is that you can create your own identity. I don’t have to live in some sort of limbo where I am not accepted as a Mexican in some places and not accepted as an American in others.
For decades, the U.S. government referred to people like me as Hispanics. It was a category created by the government to describe people who are from Spanish-speaking countries. However, this label didn’t really capture who we are but what language we spoke. My generation chose another identity: We chose Latino. This label encompasses our cultures, our ethnicities and our independence. It lets us to be proud of who we are, and allows us freedom from having to choose between our culture and our identities. We are not either or – we are both.
As a professional, I advise clients on how to connect with the Latino community. They ask me if they should advertise in English or Spanish, if they should us the same message as to the general market or customize it, if they should use television or new media. And my answer to them is always simple. It’s not either or, it’s both.