“And we got to prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are and we got to prove to the Americans how American we are. We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans both at the same time. It's exhausting! Man, nobody knows how tough it is to be a Mexican-American.”
I laughed when I first saw that scene in Selena because it was true. Yet in 2018, I've realized that it's not only still true, it's exhausting.
My whole life has been this scene.
I came across a documentary through a Facebook ad called Being Eñye about Latinos who were born in America but have at least one parent who was born in a Spanish-speaking country. The three-part documentary explores the struggle with balancing the two cultures.
Co-Director Denise Soler Cox shares more of her personal story in the film, but it's relatable. I'm technically not an eñye because my parents and grandparents were born in the US, but I understand the struggle.
I grew up eating arroz con pollo, homemade tortillas, tamales and menudo. I've performed as Selena at a high school talent show. I grew up in a predominately Mexican neighborhood in East Austin, but it wasn't until I moved to the small town of Lockhart that I learned what it felt like to be a minority.
I've had white friends laugh at my heritage, dismiss any form of racism thrown at me and call me “an exception” when I call them out for saying racist things about my culture. Some treat me as the spokesperson for my race.
But Mexicans and Mexican-Americans aren't exactly perfect either. I've been told I'm not really a Mexican because I don't speak Spanish. I feel out of place in most Spanish-speaking communities and events.
This movie spoke to me because I feel like I found my community. It's reassuring to know I am not alone. I teared up with actor Luis Guzmán when he shared that his children get on him about not teaching them Spanish.
“I wish I had done a better job when it came to my kids,” Guzman said.
There's a whole generation of Mexican-Americans who don't know Spanish because our parents and grandparents attended school when Spanish was forbidden in the classroom. They were disciplined if a teacher heard them. In the documentary Children of Giant, they talk about how the school held a ceremony to “bury Mr. Spanish” to signify that the language wouldn't be used on campus again.
Some of our parents and grandparents didn't want us to go through the same thing.
Soler Cox mentioned that meeting other eñyes made it clear to her that her struggles were not her mother's fault. Just like it's not my parents fault for what I've gone through.
There's a scene where her brothers told her that they assumed because she was light-skinned and pretty that Soler Cox was able to avoid racism growing up, but she shared that she didn't. She was harassed for most of her teen years, which upset the guys because they had no idea. They were also upset that she never told them. And that's the thing. We keep the harassment to ourselves with some thinking that this is just the card we dealt. It's not and it's not ok.
I hope films like Being Eñye and Selena allow us - both Americans and Mexicans – to talk about this more so there is a little more understanding and compassion.