My dad was a brown beret. He was a militant. He fought alongside other Chicanos for affirmative action at Cal. State Northridge. He believed that underrepresented Mexican Americans and other minorities deserved the opportunity to educate themselves alongside privileged Americans. He believed that we have a right to take classes that include our unique history. A history that has been both twisted and ignored by public education, until we don’t even know where we come from. We, Americans have only the shallowest, if that, understanding of the relationship between Spain, Mexico, and the United States. We largely ignore completely the fact that almost half of the United States belonged to Mexico. We have only the shallowest understanding that there is a very big difference between being Mexican and being Xicanx. Our public education system ignores completely and entirely that Mexicans have been invited into the country to work as cheap labor many times before being tossed back out, and it also ignores that Mexicans actually are the byproduct of the colonization, slaughter, and rape of indigenous people by Spaniards. My dad believed that these things are significant and should be taught in schools.
As a teenager and a young adult I didn’t understand what my dad fought for. It was already a normal part of life when I was growing up. I took for granted that you could take Chicano studies classes in college. I did understand that my dad’s Chicano friends were jerks. They were egomaniacs who treated their women like shit and who drank too much. I understood they mostly had chips on their shoulders. I did understand that I was not a Chicana. Because I grew up in a mostly white neighborhood and because I don’t have the telltale Chicana inflection when I speak, I am basically white. Because I don’t speak seamless, fluid Spanish or even Spanglish, I am automatically excluded from the club. I have always been an outsider in my own culture.
And yet. I’m not white. I do speak Spanish, even if it’s not beautiful. I danced in the ballet folklorico, I went to mass in Spanish and had pan dulce with my Wita after church. My neighbors had their Aztec dance troupe practice in the driveway on the weekends. Everyone in my inner circle knew the siren’s call of the paleta man. I was surrounded by Mexican and Mexican American and Chicano culture from birth. I AM Xicana, whether or not they let me into the club. I AM the same blend of Spanish and Aztec and American that everyone else like me is. It’s a part of my heart and soul. I wear chonis and get cocos and give besos and say “Ay ay ay” when I get hurt.
The further I’ve gone from my home town, the further I’ve grown from my culture. Because there’s the part of me that fits in pretty well anywhere I can find a craft store or an adorable cafe. And when you’ve always been excluded from Xicana culture there’s not much reason to seek it out. But I’m in a different place now. I give zero fucks that I don’t have a place in mainstream anything, including mainstream Xicanx culture. No one actually fits perfectly into any mainstream thing, we just categorize people because it’s a way to navigate the unknown.
I have kids now. We live in a largely homogenous (white) part of the country. I want for my kids to feel a part of their own people, their own history. I want them to see and know many cultures and people who come from many places. I want them to understand that there are in betweens and I want them to have role models who are in between. Role models who are Xicanx, role models who are not. I realize now that I have to give zero fucks in order to move forward. In order to give my kids an authentic and open channel to their own history and their own culture I have to put aside my personal feelings of being an outsider. I have to open the door to history and open the door to a multicultural world so that they can see that they do fit. That they are a part of something bigger than what they see around them. So we work at it. I have to be more purposeful. Intentional.
My kids are like me in that they’re in between. They will always be in between. It’s my job to give them a way to embrace that and be proud of their Mexican heritage despite the fact that we live in a this or that kind of world. Happily we are not alone in our in between-ness. A lot of people are in between.
Today is a library day. We drive thirty minutes to the library, even though there’s a library five minutes away. We do it because we see people from all over the world there. We hear more languages in one visit than I can count on my hands. We check out books in Spanish and we check out books about people all over the world. It matters. It makes a difference. It’s my baby step in a long list of baby steps for my kids so that they always feel brown enough.
Need a glossary?
Chicana/o– Refers to Mexican American culture which is neither fully Mexican nor fully American, but its own distinct entity in between the two. I use the spelling Chicano/a when referring to the Chicano Movement that sprung up during the Civil Rights Movement, and when referring to people who identified as Chicano/a at that time.
Xicana/o/x– I use this spelling to refer to the contemporary Mexican American culture, movement, and people. In my mind these are distinct and separate. I never felt like a Chicana, but will proudly call myself Xicana. The X itself pays homage to our indigenous roots and the Nahuatl language.
A person can be Mexican American and not be Xicanx, but a Xicanx person is by definition Mexican American. Both X and Ch spellings refer to a culture which has a purposeful and intentional connection with indigenous heritage. The indigenous connection has historically trivialized by dominant Mexican (Spanish) culture. In Mexico, as in the United Stages, dark skin = bad, light skin = good. Indigenous (dark skin)= bad, Spanish (light skin)= good.
Brown Beret– A movement that emerged during the Civil Rights Movement and dealt directly with issues affecting Mexican Americans and Mexican immigrants, specifically farm workers’ rights and educational reform.
Have questions? Want to come over for posole? Live in Portland metro and want to have a brown kid or an ethnic kid play date? Drop me a line!