As a junior it feels like I’m constantly filling out applications or background questions for jobs, clubs, and standardized tests.
After about my tenth one this year, I complained to my friend, but what she said threw me off. She proclaimed that I shouldn’t complain because I’m “lucky” I get to put a check in the latino box, making me more desirable for scholarships.
What she didn’t know was that for years I felt trapped in that box, to the point where I limited everything from how I expressed myself to even how I spoke.
It’s no secret Dripping Springs isn’t a very diverse town. In fact, in elementary school, I could count the number of Hispanic kids in my grade on one hand. However, I’ve lived here my entire life, so when I was young I didn’t know anything different.
It wasn’t until I was in fourth or fifth grade when I saw the distinct separation between the Hispanic kids and the rest of the school. This became apparent when I was sleeping over at my friend’s house and she described the Founders Day Festival as fun despite there being a lot of “Mexicans” there.
It was the first time I witnessed someone blatantly refer to the Hispanic population as less than or other. I remember feeling angry and ashamed, wondering if everyone saw us like that—saw me like that. The worse part was, I knew she didn’t feel that way about me.
At 10 years old, I realized I was given a pass because I didn’t speak Spanish and my parents didn’t speak broken English. Her words stayed with me for long time and although I didn’t notice at the time, it was then I started to separate myself from that part of my identity.
In middle school, instead of just worrying about acne and my body changing like everyone else, I also was hyper-aware of the way people viewed me and the “Mexican kids” at our school. For example, as ridiculous as it sounds, I specifically never wore eyeliner in fear I’d look like one of the “trashy Mexican girls” portrayed on TV. I hung out with the country/preppy kids in my class, pretending I love the idea of fishing and hunting in effort to distance myself from the Hispanic label.
I must’ve driven my parents crazy, intentionally accentuating my southern accent and religiously listening to country music. I completely submerged myself in a culture that wasn’t mine, because I was embarrassed of my own. That’s not to say I didn’t love my family or the amazing pan dulce my grandpa would bring me, but my heritage became a joke between my friends and I. They’d make fun of me when I talked to another Hispanic kid, saying I’m with my “own kind,” and tell me I’m a fake Mexican if I did poorly on my Spanish homework. After a while, I didn’t recognize myself. It took all of freshman year to reevaluate my beliefs and what was important to me.
Looking back now, I’m sad I spent so much time hating one of the most beautiful and special parts of who I am. It took years for me to truly love and appreciate the sense of home I feel when someone speaks to me in Spanish, or when I smell fallejo on the stove.
It’s still hard hearing peers or even adults lower their voice to a whisper when describing a student as “Mexican” as if it’s an indicator of their character. It makes me wonder how in this year there are still people wary of those different than them. I have white passing privilege that allows me to seem unique to colleges but also escape the hatred grown from that fear.
Unfortunately, a lot of kids aren’t that “lucky” and are whispered about, labeled, and abused. I just hope they love themselves like I have learned to.
Written by Liliana Reyes