I write for all readers and backgrounds and I believe no matter your background it is important to learn about what you are made of and where that comes from. I am of Latino/Hispanic descent, Mexican-American in fact, and today I write specifically to that background. However, anyone can relate to this post so please keep reading. That said, having an understanding of your heritage, both cultural and personal, can help create a deep awareness of who you are. Yes, it is true that knowing your heritage doesn’t completely define you, but it can help you find and understand your starting point in life.
First, lets define Latino and Hispanic because contrary to popular belief it is not the same. Latino refers to all Latin American countries including Brazil (Portuguese Language). While Hispanic is a narrower term that only refers to persons of Spanish-speaking origin or ancestry. So for me I fall under both as Mexico is a Latin american country colonized by the Spanish. So, learning about my identity and my genetic background was and still is about tying up the loose ends about my self identity.
Yes, I am “Americanized” meaning I am in more understanding with American culture than Mexican. I was born in the US which can cause others who actually grew up in Latino countries to disagree on just how Latino I am. I can understand that, this has actually caused my desire and need to connect to with my ancestral culture. I am aware of the sacrifices made in the pursuit of mainstream and social American acceptance and I do not want that to be in vain.
I’ve always been proud of who I am. But, in all honesty most of my life I felt very disconnected from my heritage and my background. Sure, I grew up on traditional values, I knew of my indigenous roots, the pinatas and mariachis were present at parties, and every winter I had a stomach full of mi abuelas famous tamales. Family was the center-point of my home like many Latino households are and Spanish was spoken between my immediate family members. Yet, I only knew about 40% of language. I understood the simple things and could have a basic conversation but I couldn’t carry a deep one.
So, when my maternal grandpa passed in 2013 and I realized I was never able to form the relationship & bond so many grandchildren do with their grandparents, the rush of sadness and frustration overwhelmed me. See, all of my grandparents except him passed away when I was either baby or very young and because so I’ve always felt like I was missing something. This is where my identity crisis began. My grandpa only spoke Spanish and because of the language barrier I didn’t get know the important things about him. I missed out on learning about who he was, where his parents were from, the stories and sacrifices they made here in the U.S. and how it effected him and even my mother. I didn’t care at the time to know and because of that I missed out on a huge part of my family’s history. He was an amazing man, husband, father and friend and I was left with regret.
Why did Spanish run dry for me? Well, only a few decades ago were foreign languages discouraged in U.S. in school system, Spanish was only an elective unlike the requirement it is today. My mother would get “disciplined” by teachers if she spoke Spanish. So, when she had kids, we only learned English for the most part. Now 40 odd years later Spanish is much needed and encouraged for all. It’s unfortunate that languages were “washed” out in earlier American times (still is at times) but nevertheless I am happy about the new efforts given to future generations to become fluent in multiple languages. From experience it’s not easy learning as an adult, but through music, reading, television and practice I can proudly say I’ve come a long way and can finally carry a full conversation, not perfectly, but I am learning everyday.
So why is reconnecting with your roots so important? Well, those like me represent a pattern for young Latinos, according to the Pew Research center, the study says that although recent immigrants identify as Hispanic at a rate of about 90%, this number drops to around 50% after the fourth generation – causing many Hispanics to gradually disconnect from their back ground, even though Latinos will make up 24% of the US population by 2065. So what does that mean?
These trends in self-identity can affect the way we influence power in politics, the media, social trends and the impact of Hispanic identity in the future. If we move away from acknowledging and embracing where we come from then we potentially let down all the sacrifices our ancestors and for some us our own parents have made to the growing majority-minority in the United States.
I realize I am speaking to the many hispanic/latino/latinx community mainly because of the many stereotypes/misconceptions of us portrayed in the media right now. But I encourage all those from all backgrounds to dive into learning about who you are and where you come from so we can not only help make a difference but share to others the deeply rich cultures that makes America the colorful and amazing country it is.
So friends here are 5 ways I reconnected with my heritage and how you can reconnect with your roots too.
1. ASK QUESTIONS!
I can’t say this enough, go to the source. Ask you parents what they may know and if they don’t then ask who you can – grandparents, relatives, scholars, just ask questions! You will surprised about what you learn, and I can almost guarantee there will be some pretty cool stories.
2. READ/WATCH DOCUMENTARIES
This may sound like a chore, but read up on some history- or even a quick google search. EX: “How did Mexico become colonized by Spain?” Not a fan reading? Watch a documentary just do a quick search on youtube.com and BAM – you will get soaked in with a few videos, fun!
This was really fun for me, you can pay for a DNA kit to be sent to you that can pin point what area in the world your genetic background comes from, find distant relatives, or create a family tree that can help you find family information through public records, newspapers, history clippings and more all provided on the website – go ahead and find a long lost cousin!
My Favorite! Visit the country(s) you are most tied to. I absolutely enjoyed my trip to Mexico City (annual trip) I decided to take. Being engulfed by the culture and people really educates, humbles you it can definitely change your mindset.
5. GET INVOLVED
Go to events, museums, and make friends in your community that relate to who you are and invite others! Practicing traditions from time to time are ways to teach and share future generations about what their ancestors used to do and helps us to not forget.. I took up a dancing class (salsa) , and I love it. Knowledge and experiences can never be taken away from you – so have fun learning!
All this said, I hope you all find the motivation, encouragement and the importance of why holding on to who you are and where you come from is so important. We create the future, and educating ourselves and others will only make this country greater. I am a proud Mexican-American and I am proud of all the ethnic and cultures that make this country beautiful, I hope you are too. Lets continue to make America great by embracing all, no matter their background with love. Adios! Vanessa Fe. XoXo.
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