It is important in our society for everyone to know who they are. This identifies them as a member of a larger group; and this grouping enables society to put them into commonly understood categories so everyone can say with certainty, “Oh, they’re one of those." My wife, Linda, has never been sure of what she really is or what to call herself when someone asks. Here’s her story. You decide.
She spent her early years on Larimer Street in Denver, Colorado. Back then Larimer Street was the run-down, older part of town populated with people similar in appearance and culture to her parents. She never wondered who she was because she was a little-girl version of everybody else; a little girl, much like all of the other girls in her large family, her neighborhood, her church, and the girls at the school around the corner.
The boom of the early 50s enabled Linda’s folks to buy a new tract house in Denver’s first large suburban development. It was a brand new town; a town where her skin was a bit darker than all of her neighbors and all of the other kids in school. People called her a Mexican but she knew that couldn’t be right because she had never been to Mexico, nor had her parents or their parents before them. In fact, there weren’t any Mexicans in her family tree at all. As far as anyone can remember her ancestors have always lived along the border between Colorado and New Mexico.
How can she be Mexican if her family didn’t come from Mexico? And if she’s not a Mexican-American what kind of -American is she? She’s obviously something different from the European-American mainstream because everyone keeps telling her so. Over the years she’s been called a Mexican, a beaner, a Mexican-American, a Hispanic, a Chicana, a Mestiza, and more recently, a Latina. Other than beaner (she was raised on frijoles) none of these other labels seem to apply.
She went searching for definitions of the things she has been called and found that a Hispanic is someone who hails from a Spanish-speaking country. Although a lot of people in the U.S. speak Spanish, no one would ever call the U.S. a Spanish speaking-country. Chicana doesn’t fit either because it means a woman born in the U.S. of Mexican decent. She’s knows she’s not a descendant of anyone from Mexico.
Maybe she could be a Mestiza like many people call themselves in New Mexico. No again. Mestizas claim to have significant amounts of Spanish and Native-American ancestry. Linda is not really sure that she has any of these ancestries let alone a significant amount. Latina is a term for a woman of a Latin-American background. Her folks definitely spoke Spanish, rolled tortillas and danced the pachanga, but they’ve never been to, or had anything to do with, any part of Latin America.
Maybe the answer to this riddle lies in her native land and not with her ancestors. As best she knows, southern Colorado and New Mexico were claimed by Spain way back when and later given to Mexico when they won their independence just a few generations ago. Mexico then ceded this land by treaty to the U.S. around the time her great grandmothers were born. Given this history, it would seem that the peoples of this land were Native American for many centuries, Spanish for a couple hundred years, Mexican for twenty years or so, and eventually ended up Americans.
These people became Americans not because they moved, immigrated, swam a river or snuck across a border. They were simply living their lives and the border moved around them. She guesses she can claim to be an American acquired as spoils of U.S.'s war with Mexico. No one would want to go through life identifying themselves as spoils.
She’ll have to come up with a more politically correct way to say all this. In the meantime, she thinks she’ll stick to being a slightly darker-skinned American from Colorado.
©2007 by Bob Rockwell