Your NPR news source

Your History 101

SHARE Your History 101

Most of us are “Something American,” but many of us aren't really aware of what the “Something” is.

I am Mexican American. My “equation” looks like this: Mexican-born parents raised mostly in the U.S. + my being born in the U.S. = Mexican American.  All of my life, I have spoken Spanish (although English was my first language), eaten Mexican food, listened to Spanish-language music and watched Spanish-language TV, including “telenovelas”. So I should feel fairly “Mexican,” right? Well, despite my exposure to certain elements of the Mexican culture, I have never felt very connected to my heritage, and have felt instead like what I call a “generic American.”

A lot of U.S. denizens fall into this category. We are non-ethnic — not living any particular culture; not rejecting our family's history, but not embracing it, either. Although this nation is an amalgamation of many ethnic groups, many of us have forgotten (or have never known) what the word in front of “American” really means. Unconsciously, we drop it and then become just one generic people.

In many instances, it is a situation that is beyond one's control.
Parents choose to not make their ethnicity a dominant part of their children's upbringing. A good friend of mine is Chinese American yet knows more about U.S. popular culture than she does about Chinese culture. I don't remember ever getting a lesson on Mexican culture, as I did on U.S. culture with Honest Abe or Independence Day. I had friends who bragged about eating menudo and carne asada, yet hardly spoke a lick of Spanish.

Every family is different in its degree of ethnic lifestyle. I know a Czech woman who married a Mexican man. She learned to speak Spanish fluently and now says that she feels more Mexican than anything else.

In this wonderful, diverse country in which we live, we should feel free to explore our roots and let them flourish. Our approach, though, must be an educated one, and not what I call a “faux nationalism,” when a person is prone to impassioned (and sometimes hostile) remarks or actions stemming from ignorance. Take for example, the many Mexican youth who proclaim their “Brown Power” without even knowing any of Mexico's history (And by the way, not all Mexicans are brown. My father is whiter than some “white” people and has blue eyes to rival Ol' Blue Eyes himself).

Some people go to the extreme and “super-identify” with their ethnic background to the point of rejecting or insulting their U.S.
citizenship. But they'd be wise to understand that two different flowers can flourish alongside one another.

You don't have to stomp on one to let the other grow.

Americans — other than Native Americans — all have ties to another land, however distant. So let's strengthen our “equations."  Let's learn more about and actually LIVE out our ethnicities.  We shouldn't be content with being "generic Americans".

More From This Show