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The Mexican Name Game




I have to admit that the first time I called myself a Chicana, I winced a little.  I left one eye open to look around for people who might tell me I had no right identifying with such a politically charged term unless I had originated in Crystal City and was there for the making of La Raza Unida or lived in California at the height of the Brown Pride and civil rights movimiento.  Because I hadn't been there for any of it. 

For most of my young (read: naive) life, I called myself Hispanic or simply Mexican.  When I was trying to exude a more scholarly air, I called myself Mexican-American, which sometimes sounded better because it seemed like a bigger word. 

Keep in mind that these were the thoughts of an 11-year-old me.  My mom was a teacher who sacrificed who-knows-what to send me to Catholic school, and while I wouldn't trade the experience for the world, I have to admit that I spent more time at church than I did learning about our cultural history - even though my class was solely comprised of mostly low-income, Mexican kids like me. 

It wasn't until I started opening books and reading newspapers that I realized I had a choice in the matter of identification.  I began to understand that I didn't agree with the all-encompassing nature of the term "Hispanic."  It had been designed by the government to lump us all - that is, the folks from Mexico, El Salvador, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Spain, and everywhere in between - into one Brown category.  But we're not all the same.  We have different traditions, different histories, different variations of language, different political leaders - so why give us all one name?  It just didn't work for me. 

And then there was the underlying feeling of dissent that came along with that revelation.  What was happening in my mind?  I knew I wanted to claim my Mexican heritage, but I was also a U.S. citizen.  I loved my Mexican traditions and history, but the only national anthem I knew was "The Star-Spangled Banner."  I was an American, but I saw things happening around me that just didn't seem fair to my Mexican family and friends.  Without knowing it, I had been thrust into an existential crisis of my own making. 

When I got to college, I found that my internal conflict had already been articulated by people like Gloria Anzaldua, Sandra Cisneros, and Cherrie Moraga.  There were people out there, like me, who were living in two different worlds at the same time and were doing something to carve out their political causes in the interim.  They didn't call themselves Latina, or Hispanic, or even American.   And I knew they were on to something. 

The word "Hispanic" was dropped from my vocabulary, I struck out the term "Latino," and while I still identify as an American of Mexican descent, my political and cultural identity is now centered around being a Chicana, loud and proud. 

So I ask you, my dear readers, with what term do you identify?  Are you American?  Mexican American?  Hispanic?  Chican@?  Latin@?  What experiences have defined your identity?

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