The Value of Community in My Ethnic Identity Journey

“So you and your family are from Mexico, huh?” Emily, my freshman roommate asked soon after I moved into the dorm room my first semester in college.

“Yes, but I grew up in Deer Park, a suburb of Houston,” I replied, trying to deflect the question. In fact I had moved to Deer Park at the age of seven, where the majority of people at my school, as well as my friends, were white.

Her curiosity persisted, “So this must be very different for you. Do y’all have running water in Mexico?” Her face was completely serious, and from her expression I couldn’t figure out if she knew she was being offensive or not. This had never happened to me.

“Monterrey is a huge, very modern and industrialized city. We have running water,” I replied slightly annoyed. She went on to ask if my parents knew how to read and write and if we used donkeys as our main mode of transportation. I couldn’t believe she was seriously asking any of these things.

I had never felt insecure about my ethnic identity until that moment.

Can I just blend in?

Immediately I could tell I was very different to the majority of students on campus, and that it was a bad thing. I looked around my economics class from the back of a large auditorium and started wondering how many Latinos were in the class. I began to feel so insecure about being one of the few Latinos on campus; I wished so badly at that moment that I could blend in and be like the majority of students in class.

Although I didn’t consciously decide I wanted to look more white, I dyed my hair platinum blonde and put light colored contacts in my eyes because that’s what most girls in my classes looked like. I was not ready to admit to the world who I really was. I wanted to be accepted.

No more hiding

It wasn’t until I joined Destino that I realized I had been desperately trying to hide my ethnic identity from the world. It was then that I knew I was in a safe environment that accepted who I really was and not who I had to pretend to be in order to blend in and be accepted. I could unashamedly admit that my favorite breakfast is barbacoa with tortillas de harina, and that I like listening to Luis Miguel.

I even became aware that when I prayed silently I did so in Spanish, so when I was asked to pray aloud in English I became tongue-tied. The language I use to communicate with God is Spanish.  My Destino friends didn’t mind however, in fact they understood, because some of them felt the same way.

Ana Villarreal Bush served as an intern with Destino in Texas.

photo courtesy: jorislouwes

Leave a Reply