Well, 100th person that has asked me in the past 2 months, no I am not Middle Eastern, I am not Asian. I am an American. Yes my skin is not white my eyes are not blue my hair is not blonde. But to be honest I only know about 30 people personally that can fit into that category of an American.
The first time I was asked why I was not white I found it funny. I just smiled and said, “yes I’m an American.” Then the response was,
“oh so your parents are not American!” “Yes my parents are Americans.” They were not convinced with my answer. I could tell I was going to have to explain for the first time why my skin was the color that it was, and what my heritage was. “I am American and my parents are American, but my parents were born in Mexico. I am a Mexican-American.” Wait hold up, what the hell did I just do. Now I was being introduced to people in the village as being from Mexico. No I am not from Mexico, I am from America, I was born in America but I am also Mexican because of my heritage. I could understand their confusion at first, but eventually it became frustrating trying to explain that not all Americans are white.
When someone would ask if one of the volunteers was from China and if another was from Africa, here came the next explanation that I will have to have ready to go for the next two years about how America is a diverse country with people with heritages from all over the world, and there is not one physical feature that defines an American.
I can now tell that not having white skin is going to be a struggle and a blessing.
A struggle because I will have to find patience within myself to explain, and a blessing for the same reason. I get to tell my story, I get to explain that I am an American. That my family is American.
Why am I an American if my skin is not white?
I am an American, and not only because I was born in America.
I am the embodiment of the American dream my grandparents first sought out for over 40 years ago. I am the face of the sacrifices, struggles, and stereotypes that my parents had to overcome to be considered Americans.
Now look deeper.
Look deep into my eyes, past the dreams and thoughts, go straight to my memories. There you will see the sweat dripping down the forehead of a Latino farm worker in America as he finishes a 15-hour shift, but hold that stare for a second longer and you will see the satisfaction and contentment as he knows he will have a check at the end of the week to send his family back home, even if it means he must share a one-bedroom apartment with 8-10 other men to keep as little as possible for himself. You will see the dismay in a little girl’s eyes as she rides around a white pick-up truck with her father and sees these farm workers in 100-degree weather filling sacks with potatoes, onions, or more. You will see the anger in this girl’s stare as she does not understand why her father does not let her work in the fields with her people. If they are struggling, why can’t she help them? But now look closer…look past this naive girl and into her father’s eyes. He is sad that she does not understand, maybe even angry, but he smiles at her and lets out a laugh as he tells her, “You wouldn’t last one day in the fields mija.” But that’s not really what he wanted to say. He knows his daughter well enough to accept that she could do it, but that would crush his American dream.
Behind that tired face lies the face of a young 15 year old boy that came to America with a dream. Got his first job in the fields at a young age and worked hard to help provide for his single mother and sisters. Then this man fell in love, with a young woman who had endured even more struggles that he had ever had to face, because she was a Mexican woman. Together they were stronger. Soon after they brought that little girl in the white pick-up truck to this world. The day she was born they vowed to never let anything bad happen to her, and to make sure that she was never in a position to have to face what they did, or work in the fields as they had as teens and young adults. To always work hard to provide for her and give her the opportunities that they had only dreamed of. They would find joy and happiness in her joys and accomplishments. Maybe one day the little girl would understand.
Maybe one day she would understand that if she wanted to help her people she could. But it was not in the fields where she would be making the difference.
Imagine if she could help educate people about America. Help change the perspectives of what people see America as? She could follow her role models and help break the stereotype of the Latina woman. She could leave her hometown to receive her degree in the male dominant field of Architecture. She could travel the world and showcase the Mexican-American woman to the countries that she would visit. She could show the world the outcome of a Mother and Father’s hard work to help raise an American Girl with a Mexican heart.
Luckily, she can do this. That little girl in the white pick-up truck joined the Peace Corps and it is her job to help educate her host country about America. The real America. Not the one where everyone has blond hair and blue eyes, but the one that is diverse in culture, religion, sexual orientation, and opinion, (because Americans sure as hell have opinions, and we like to make sure our voice is heard.) So here is my opinion, and I would like to be heard.
I am an American. I am a Mexican. I am a Mexican-American. But I am human, and the color of my skin does not tell you my story or where I am from, look into my eyes, that’s where you will find your answer.
Que Viva la Raza.
The Little Girl in the white pick-up truck
p.s. F#@& Donald Trump.
Extra thoughts: I feel blessed to have other Latinos in the PCV Community. Because they understand the struggle with no tortillas and happiness when we finally find tacos. I am thankful to know that if I start feeling over whelmed having to explain that I am a brown American that I am not alone. I can at least bug someone else who is having issues or mixed feelings (get it, because we are mixed race Americans). Special shout out to Richard though because he understands the struggle of the freakin daisy sour cream tub, or when your mom would decide to wake up at the crack of dawn to do chores while blasting Juan Gabriel. #mexicanproblems