Sunday, January 4, 2009

An American-Mexican

I have come to consider myself an American-Mexican. That’s not a typo. I am intentionally calling myself an American-Mexican instead of a Mexican-American. In the world of hyphenated identities, the first adjective refers to the ethnicity or race a person is born into or most identifies with. The second adjective refers to the new nationality or ethnicity being assumed.

I put the American first because it is my nationality, my birthplace, and my heritage. I spent the first twenty years of my life knowing very little of the world beyond our borders. Sure, I was well read, in college, and aware of current events, but I didn’t really pay attention to the every day lives of those not fortunate enough to have been born in the United States.

When I changed my major from creative writing to Spanish, it was because I wanted to be able to talk to the Latinos moving into East Tennessee. I wanted to enable communication between my fellow Americans and the Latino immigrants moving here. When I realized that real people could understand my Spanish, I didn’t really mind conjugating verbs.

Many people assume I met my husband and then learned Spanish. I was in my last semester of college when I met my husband. I was teaching an English as a Second Language class at my church and his two younger brothers were in my class. (He was in the advanced class.) We dated for a couple years while I worked as a court interpreter and began teaching high school Spanish.

Over the last five years, I have had many experiences that make me feel the need to add the Mexican part at the end of my identity label. I’ve learned how to cook Mexican food from a lady from Michoacán (and it’s hard to get much more Mexican than Michoacán). I am very comfortable with Mexican slang and tend to speak with a Mexico City dialect. I absolutely love Mexican telenovelas (soap operas). I’ve got an iPod full of real Mexican music. As evidenced by my blog at the Knoxville News Sentinel, I can more articulately support comprehensive immigration reform than most Latinos.

So I think I’ll add the subtitle to this blog and let you know a little bit more about a bicultural existence in the hills of East Tennessee.

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