My mom’s family and my dad’s family are complete opposites.
My mom’s family is from a small town in West Texas, a farming community with a population of slightly under 10,000 people. Despite the size, there are approximately thirty churches. I once asked my aunt where everyone was. It was a Friday night, and we were driving through the square in the middle of town. Her answer was “Bible Study”. Besides Jesus, football is king, and “Democrat” is a dirty word. My mom grew up with her daddy rising very early in the morning to tend to the fields, her driving to school amongst pastureland that stretches as far as one can see. She lived 30 miles out of town where there are no trees and no hills, just miles of blue sky.
I’m the only one from my generation that didn’t grow up there. I was raised in San Antonio, Texas, a city that is just a little bigger with 1.3 million people and is located in south central Texas. San Antonio is predominately Hispanic. This is a big part of the city’s culture, with attractions like El Mercado, the largest Mexican market outside of Mexico, as well as celebrations like Fiesta (which means party in Spanish) that is thought of as San Antonio’s Mardi Gras and is held annually to honor the culture here.
My dad’s family is also predominately Hispanic. I say predominately because my dad and all of his siblings married white people, and neither my cousins nor I look like we are of mixed race at all. None of us can speak fluent Spanish either, although all those that have come before us have been able to. My great-grandparents are actually both from Mexico. Their immigration stories are both very interesting – my great-grandmother had to come to the United States because her father got killed by Pancho Villa!
Mom’s side of the family tends to forget that I’m half Hispanic, making comments about the town getting taken over by “Spanish” people. It seems that my mother and father’s families have no common ground; from religion and politics to just what they consider normal within their particular worldview.
So where does this leave me? I don’t seem to fit in with either side, although I’ve desperately tried to my whole life. Not to stereotype or generalize southern culture, but when I was younger I went around for months wearing a cowgirl hat, boots, and only listening to country music. I purposely tried to give myself a twang, more than just what I had picked up from my mom – something noticeable. And I wore her sweater from high school, imagining myself living there. When that didn’t work, I tried to immerse myself into my dad’s family’s beliefs and values, but that felt even more wrong.
To give you all a visual, it’s like each side has their own house, and I’m just standing in the middle floating, with no cultural roots or identity to call my own, occasionally running back and forth just to feel like I belong somewhere. I cannot be both, can I? I’ve been asking myself this question my whole life. How do I be myself and find peace in both places? I’m a vegan, for Pete’s sake. I’m liberal. I listen to pop music, and like to talk about feminist theory and call myself an activist.
I don’t have a cultural identity. Consequently, feelings of belonging and a sense of community have always been painfully absent. A strong cultural identity can contribute to a person’s overall wellbeing and as a result, their mental health, whereas the opposite can have an adverse effect.
I definitely felt this when I recently took a trip to San Antonio’s Institute of Texan Cultures. As the name of the museum suggests, it talks about the different cultures that have been present in Texas throughout history. I had no exhibit to point at and say, “That’s me!” even though there were exhibits that do apply to my heritage. Nothing felt right.
So what is the solution? I believe it is owning a sense of self, concentrating on individual identity, and building confidence and self-esteem. If one really believes in the person that they are, feeling like an outsider won’t affect them as much, and will allow them to create their own cultural identity. I am working on both. Maybe my identity simply comes from my own soul.