I have never considered myself “Mexican”. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against Mexicans and I’m not ashamed of my heritage, although I am often accused of both of those things. I speak Spanish badly, and while it is true that I am more likely to eat a quesadilla than a grilled cheese sandwich, I would be hard pressed to say that I am familiar with any aspect of the culture. I never even really thought I looked Mexican, but I’m hearing a lot more often that I do, which is strange to me.
And to those of you who have corrected me and said, “Oh, you’re Mexican-American.” -no, I’m not. I’ve never been to Mexico, my parents are not from Mexico, I have nothing to do with Mexico. I’m American, 100%. And yes, my heritage is important, but I have a problem with people valuing my heritage, which I don’t think impacts my life very much, over my cultural identity*, which has shaped most of my personality. If you’re a citizen of the US, you become an American. I don’t believe in hyphenated ethnicity.
The hyphenated thing was probably invented by the PC police to annoy me, like so many other things in the world. When we first started learning the nationalities in Russian, people were trying to say that they were German, or they were Irish and Italian, or Polish, or whatever, and my teacher stopped them and said, “You cannot be two nationalities. In Russia, you are American. Just American.” Why can’t we all be just Americans? When did the melting pot become a compartment plate?
One of my biggest issues is with the “check your ethnicity” box on forms. My inclination is to check “Caucasian” (which is my other half, so it’s just as correct as Latina), but more often than not, the box doesn’t say “Caucasian”, it says “Caucasian (not of Latino origin)” and then I feel like I’m denying my other half. At the same time, I feel strange checking Latino/a and since I live in California, it now usually says “Chicano/a”, “Latino/a”, and “Hispanic” and since I don’t even know what the difference is between those terms, I don’t feel right checking any of those.
Ethnicity is based on cultural identification, in which case American would be the correct box, but that isn’t a choice. And even if it were, why lump all the white people together under Caucasian? I can tell you, just from my few days at MIIS orientation, that American Latinas (like myself) have more in common with white Americans than white Americans have in common with Germans and Russians. If the goal is cultural diversity, you would be better off bringing in more foreign students than students of different heritages within the United States. That would be true diversity.
I’ve been told it’s intolerant of me to deny people their right to self-identify as hyphenated Americans, but I think it’s more intolerant to insist that I identify myself as a hyphenated American, as if I’m not a full American.
*If you’re one of those “Americans don’t have a culture” type (*ahem* my sister), you can’t have it both ways – either we’re trying to force American culture on the “unwilling” world or we don’t have a culture. Pick one and stick to it.