Growing up, my Mexicanidad kept me grounded. The word "minority" is not in my vocabulary as a concept for how I define myself, but as a little girl I often felt that way; we were the only Mexican family in our neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago. Still, I never felt ashamed of my Mexican identity growing up. In fact, quite the opposite. Most of my grammar school essays and book reports were all about our annual month-long trip to Mexico. My parents would pile us into the car and drive us down through the United States until we got there.
My parents never expected to leave Mexico, but they fell in love with it even more after they moved to the U.S. They felt a profound responsibility to connect us with our indigenous roots. The spirit of entire civilizations reverberated in the pyramids and ruins we visited. We went to El Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City at least once a year. In fifth grade, I carried a notebook with the names of el dios de maíz, del sol, y de la luna.
In the early 1980’s, I left Chicago and ended up going to college in New York City. Everything about moving away from home and arriving in a big complicated city like New York was scary. More than anything, I was not prepared for how the city would impact my identity as a Midwestern Mexicana.
One of the central ways that I became borderless was because my family crossed borders for my entire life. Whether I was leaving Hyde Park and going to Pilsen, traveling from Chicago into Mexico, or moving from Illinois to New York, I always had a sense of crossing borders.
Borderless but still defined by borders.
When I arrived in New York City, I began to understand that the borders that I had brought with me needed to be dissolved. I struggled feeling fully at home, but at the same time, I was surrounded by more Latinos than I had ever been back in Chicago. But there were no Mexicans. In fact, Mexicans began to arrive in New York en masse starting in the 1980s, when I had just arrived.
Losing the idea of borders, this geopolitical definition of land devised by people of power, granted me more freedom in my identity. The concept of being borderless, one that I grew up with, became one that I had to embody in my daily life. I could no longer find the kind of security and safety in wrapping myself with a Mexican flag. I began to see Puerto Ricans,
Domincans, and Colombians as my paisanos, my brothers and sisters.
I was no longer confined to just Mexican patriotism, rather it was me identifying with the suffering of my Chilean sisters, who were seeking refuge from a dictatorship. Or identifying with the revolutionary spirit of Nicaraguans who were fighting against corruption. It was analyzing my relationship with Afro-latinidad and understanding the geographical relationship between Africa and Latin America. I was fighting for the women of El Salvador. My bachelor's thesis was written on Central American refugee women living in Long Island. This all led me to become a proud pan-latin american activist.
When you're able to move in a borderless manner your heart is open. It allowed me to fall in love with the most important human being in the world to me (besides my kids), my Dominican husband, German Perez. Together we raised two Domini-Mex kids, now young adults, who each define themselves in beautiful and substantial ways. They know the significance of their identity, but it doesn't hold them back from finding solidarity beyond it.
During Hispanic/Latinx Heritage Month, there is an innate struggle that occurs when people try to homogenize Latina/o/x people under the term Hispanic.
Latinas/os/x accounted for a total of half of the population growth of the United States over the last decade. And that's going to increase because we like to get it on and we're getting it on amongst ourselves and with people beyond our borders, because again, nationalism, ethnic and racial identity only go so far.
The specificity of this moment in history has put us solidly on one side, the side that wants to dismantle structural white supremacy. The issue of justice, equality, and freedom to exist are what really binds us together. That's how we end Hispanic/Latinx Heritage month, by being completely self critical. We must show people that we are ready to do that difficult work because we know that Latinas/os/x people are the future of this country. Our future is tied to everyone else who sees the world in the same way, not just those of us who speak the same language.