I'm quite possibly the “whitest” person you know. I have yet to find makeup that is light enough for my skin; I sunburn if I’m not careful; and, my friends often compare arms with me to feel better about their tans.
But, I’m also Mexican.
I can eat a ten-pack of Pelon Pelo Rico in less than hour; I make tamalés with my abuelita at Christmas; and, you can often hear me ranting about the abomination that is the chimichanga.
To try and say I’m simply one of these extremes or the other would be erasing part of who I am. And yet, it’s taken almost my entire to life to accept my blend of cultures.
My mother was born in Ohio to the children of European immigrants and my dad crossed into the U.S. from Mexico when he was 15. Somehow they managed to meet right here in Lincoln, the city where I was born and raised. My parents worked hard. My dad took night shifts, and while he was very much present in my life, somehow neither my brother nor I managed to learn Spanish fluently.
I can pick up words here and there, but try and ask me anything more complicated than “how are you” or “where is the bathroom” and I’m lost.
Does this make me less Hispanic?
As a kid I vividly remember taking a standardized test and not being sure what little box to fill in for the race/ethnicity question. My teacher pointed at the caucasian/white box.
I squiggled it in and moved on.
Later, at home, I asked my mom what category I fit into. For the first time in my short life, I was told that I was in fact Hispanic and should identify myself as such.
Even though I knew my dad is Mexican, thereby making me half-Mexican, I never thought twice about being more than white, more than American. White is how my friends, teachers and even strangers at the store saw me. And, in turn, white was how I saw myself. Nevermind that the side of the family I spent the most time with was brown, that I ate mole and tamales and machaca con huevos or even that my last name was Escobar.
I was white on the outside. White is all I could possibly be, right?
For a very long time I accepted that misconception as fact. I even embraced it. It’s much easier being white, accompanied with less hoops to jump through and prejudices to fight.
I shunned learning Spanish in high school, forsaking my correct pronunciations for the American accent. When my parents wanted to go out for Mexican food, I griped and moaned the entire time. I chose to ignore half of who I was unless it granted me an advantage or until my family was insulted.
Living this way, I was content—until a few years ago.
What changed, I can’t exactly tell. But, it started as I noticed how my family was treated and talked about. Not directly, but as “immigrants,” “illegals” or other offensive terms. Strangers who knew nothing about those I loved and who loved me decided they weren’t good enough and that they didn’t deserve to be here, simply because they weren’t born on “American soil.”
My dad, a friendly, hardworking citizen, was treated as though he was less than a person at a hospital because of his ethnicity. My cousin, my best friend, has been fetishized, called “exotic” and “too pretty to be Mexican” as though she should be flattered that this is all they choose to see. Meanwhile, they ignored her humor, wit, and most importantly, her accepting heart. The little things I hadn’t noticed before were now obviously hurtful and demeaning.
I'm not trying to take these complications on myself, and I know that they are issues I will never have to face, but now with my eyes opened, I’m not going to shut out who I am anymore.
I have an advantage in this society much of my family doesn’t—I’m white. But, I’m also Mexican. And a latina, a gringa, and hey, even a little European. I have the opportunity to embrace a blend of many cultures.
I’m not merely one box to fill in on an ethnicity sheet.
I'm Graci Escobar, and I’m choosing to embrace all of me. I’m choosing to move forward and stop ignoring the struggles others face for their heritage, simply because it isn’t what America deems as “acceptable.”
From now on I’m going to uphold my cultures in the best way I can and fight the injustices from the other side. Will you join me?
Graci Escobar is a junior English major with an emphasis on speaking and writing. She loves cats, napping, reading, cuddling cats, browsing independently unpublished stories, binge-watching Netflix, and petting cats. Born and raised here in Lincoln, Graci would love to see the ocean more than seven times and hopes to one day hug every cat in the world.