Personal Narratives

After many struggles, I finally embrace my Mexican identity

Jan. 7, 2024

By Adriana Dominguez-Toxtli
Staff Writer

It always annoys me when people ask me “Where are you from?” When people try to guess where I’m from, Mexican is rarely their first guess. As awful as the stereotypes are against Mexicans, I’d rather have people assume I’m Mexican than take forever to guess.

Unfortunately, people make a lot of assumptions about Mexicans. People talk about “Mexicans hopping the border” and assume all Mexicans are tan, speak fluent Spanish and love eating spicy foods, especially tacos. Just because sometimes those statements are true does not mean it applies to every Mexican. These are the most common stereotypes people assign to those who come from Mexico or any Hispanic country, and it has always bothered me.

I was born in the Bronx, New York and moved to a Hispanic neighborhood in Passaic at the age of five. Since moving to Passaic, my parents often complained about how I didn’t speak Spanish fluently, and I often argued back saying it was their fault because they usually spoke English to me. 

Since I lacked practice speaking Spanish, it was hard for me to hold a basic conversation with relatives. A lot of my mom’s side of the family lives in Passaic, but luckily, my relatives mainly spoke to my mom, so all I needed to say was “hi,” which was good enough for me.

It was also difficult for me to go to the store and request specific items in Spanish. The language barrier progressed as I got older. 

Growing up, I’ve been told I look like my father, which is true. The only problem is that my dad has a lighter skin tone than my mom, and since I am like a replica of my dad, I inherited my dad’s light skin tone, which is the main reason people can never guess I’m Mexican. 

Ironically, even though my dad is on the lighter scale, people can tell he’s Mexican, and a reason for that is that I have my mom’s eyes. My mom has thin, small eyes, which people sometimes call “Asian eyes.” I hate this phrase because there is no such thing, but as I got older, I became aware of my eye shape and how they confuse people about my ethnicity. Having a lighter complexion and thin small eyes, people guess I’m some sort of East Asian, white or any other type of Hispanic, and when I tell them I’m Mexican, they dramatically gasp and say, “I would have never guessed that.” 

Being a first-generation Mexican-American feels amazing because both of my parents came from nothing, and they push me to accomplish everything.

With everyone thinking I’m anything but Mexican, I always felt out of place going to any event that I knew my relatives were going to be at. People could always guess that they’re Mexican, and they don’t realize I am part of their family. Especially in these situations, I never felt “Mexican enough,” and I wished that I “looked more Mexican” or wished my ethnicity matched my appearance so people could guess it right. 

In seventh grade, I moved from Passaic to Lyndhurst, and that change helped me figure out who I truly am. All my life, I lived in predominantly Hispanic towns, but Lyndhurst, in contrast, has a large Italian population. People are more quiet and respectful in Lyndhurst, and I don’t see a large amount of homeless people as I did in the Bronx. 

When I started school in Lyndhurst as an eighth grader, I noticed a lot of students trying to act like people of color because it is now considered “trendy” and “cool.” This struck me as gross because they hadn’t lived the struggles of being in a minority, and for them to want to have the “aesthetic” of it disgusted me. 

Despite my frustrations with these behaviors, I have come to understand that being Mexican is a good thing because that’s what made me special. I have traditions and cultures that separate me from the rest, and I love that. Ninth grade is when I realized that just because I don’t look Mexican doesn’t mean I’m not Mexican. I started to ignore when people said, “I would have never guessed you’re Mexican” because I now know that looks don’t define a person’s identity. I began to ask my dad about his experiences growing up in Mexico since he lived there for a third of his life, and I also asked him to tell me about his first few years in the United States because I knew it wasn’t easy having to move away from his family. 

Being a first-generation Mexican-American feels amazing because both of my parents came from nothing, and they push me to accomplish everything. At first, I didn’t like it because I didn’t know any better, but now I want to become the person my parents dreamed of being. I understand what my parents were trying to tell me years ago. Though it took years for me to come to terms with my identity, I now can be comfortable with being who I am, and though I didn’t enjoy being stereotyped, it just pushed me to embrace where I came from.  

Though stereotyping helped me figure out who I am, it doesn’t mean it’s okay. Stereotyping has become so normalized in society that people joke about it like it’s nothing, which it isn’t. It can be a person’s entire life, and for someone to joke about it makes it harder for the person who is living the stereotypes. Just because a stereotype is true for some people doesn’t mean it is for everyone else. Instead of stereotyping, people should make it their goal to get to know each other because there is a lot more to a person than one may notice at first glance.

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