#TBT : Tales of a Pale Chicana


/CHiˈkänə,SHi-/  noun US noun: Chicana; plural noun: Chicanas
(in North America) a woman or girl of Mexican origin or descent.

Racism happens everyday, whether you want to acknowledge it or not, and it doesn't have to be between two different races often times it happens within your own race itself. Sometimes you don't even realize it. Why does it happen if everyone knows it's not okay? As an adult I've come to realize its humans natural reaction to their fear of the unknown, in some cases not all.  

From a Crowded House to a Pink Trailer

I grew up in many neighborhoods in San Antonio, where I was born, and in my teens in Houston and they were all so different. Different cultures, different people, and different economic statuses. My earliest memory of where we lived was in The Glen. At the time I didn't know it was a bad neighborhood, all I knew was that I lived with my grandma and my tias, and my best friends were the next door neighbors. An African American girl, and a Hispanic boy, and we would sneak into the other neighbors back yard and jump on the trampoline. When I would go to school I remember hanging out with the girl, and the other girls in my class would ask me why did I hang out with her? I would always tell them because she's cool and she lives down the street. I was in kindergarten so I never really thought anything of it, because I didn't know. 

Later on we moved to Kirby in a pink trailer with biological father's mom. The neighborhood was all Hispanic. That's where I learned to skate, had my first dog, and learned that not all white people were rich and lived in big houses. In a little house in our backyard lived a skinny white lady named Cici, I remember her to always be happy but kind of jittery. I'm not really sure how that arrangement came to be, my biological father's family migrated here from Mexico and didn't speak English, and my bio dad's English was very broken. 

As I got older I realized that you can tell when someone is from San Antonio and they've never left it. They have an accent, a really chicano accent, and usually have at least one tattoo. 

The Great Escape

When my mom escaped San Antonio, and I say escaped because my bio dad wouldn't let her leave him or the city, and came to Houston it was without my sister and I. She took my littlest sisters, the twins, because that's the only way my bio dad would let her go. He knew that she'd have to come back for us eventually. 

During that time my grandma had moved to Dover in Converse, she was the only one we were allowed to see because she would take care of us and take us to school. That was the only time I talked to my mom, when my grandma would call her. My bio dad never let us.  

Don't ask me how my Spanish is so broke though, because during this time I had aunts & uncles come from Mexico that only spoke Spanish, I would sit in my bio dad's Mexican restaurant, I learned how to make tortillas, and I even missed school sometimes to work on a taco truck. I understand it perfectly but I get too nervous and embarrassed when I speak it because I have an American accent and I'm usually speaking to native Spanish speakers. It's too intimidating for me. 

How I got to Houston

I'm not sure you're ready for this story, but here goes nothing. I got off the school bus on my last day of school excited to get home but I knew I had to wait for my bio dad's sister to pick me up. What I thought was her truck pulled up and I got inside, only it wasn't her. It was my Grandma, but I think nothing of it. She asks me if I know where my sister is, I say yes she's in the big purple house in Sunrise. It was a Day Care kind of thing ran by a lady I don't really remember. 

We got there and she said she's only letting my sister come with us because I was there. We get to my grandma's house and sometime later there's a really loud bang on the door and my grandma tells us to go hide under the bed and not to come out for any reason. It's my bio dad all angry and upset because he thought we were there, and we weren't supposed to be. He checks everywhere except under the bed, eventually he leaves and we're free. 

My grandma later takes us to my aunt's apartment, only we don't go inside her house. We wait in the parking lot. Then out of no where my mom pops out of a truck. I couldn't believe it. I remember her wearing a white shirt and I thought I was dreaming. It was one of the happiest days of my life. We made the 3 hour drive to Houston and I was out of place. 

The Odd-Girl Out 

Where we lived in Houston everybody, and I mean everybody spoke Spanish. The lady that took care of us, my moms boyfriend at the time, my mom even. It was the first time in my life that it was hard to make friends. Only because I didn't look like any of them. I understood what everyone would say about me but I could never defend myself in Spanish and they would laugh at me when I responded in English. It never stopped them to know that I understood though.Sometimes I would pretend I didn't know just so they'd leave me alone.

It was here in Houston that I learned not everybody was Mexican. If you call a Salvadorean a Mexican they'll act like you slapped them and vice versa. Being third generation I didn't know what it was like to have such pride in the country that you came from because I was born here, this is all I know. 

As I got older I realized that no one believed in us. When I did good in school the teachers would be surprised. When I read and a 10th grade level in 6th grade no one could believe it. When I started making commended on my TAKS test I was asked once if my dad was white. My mom always told me that it would make her happy if I did good in school, so that's what I did. 

Becoming Mexican

Have you ever heard the phrase "Fake it till yo make it." well that's exactly what I did. I would try to stay out in the sun as long as possible to get some kind of a tan, but let me tell you it was THE HARDEST thing in the world for me to tan. I learned how to say little things perfectly but otherwise nodded my head and laughed at everything. 

When I got to High School none of it mattered. In middle school I saw the most glorious opportunity. A chance to apply to Alief Early College High School. A high school that would give me the opportunity to graduate with an Associates degree. What would make my mom happier? This is what she wanted for me. This is what she wanted to do herself, go to college, but it was always a battle for her to get there. I was accepted. 

Alief was and still is the most blended community I have ever lived in. My high school was no different. Houston was also the first time I had ever met an Asian, when I lived in San Antonio I had no idea they existed. Everybody hung out with everybody, and it was cool. There was no fighting, there was a little drama though I mean come on a school with only 98 students it becomes kind of like a small town. Yet I found myself hanging with girls that were Hispanic. That was my comfort zone, I strayed from time to time but I always found my way back. 

Now that I see all the injustice in today's society, how Hispanics are all lumped together for things that people somehow think that we do, we're all illegal, and job snatchers, we all come here and live off the system, we all can't speak English, and it's okay to say these things because who's going to stick up for us? We don't have our own Martin Luther King, because we're all brought up with the mentality that it's not okay to rock the boat. Somewhere down the line we do have a relative that migrated here for a better life and that mentality was passed down from generation to generation. I have a sense of pride in where my family came from, I can't live without the food either, and I am infuriated by what is said about my people.

Until I myself decided that I wanted to further my education, that I didn't want to be stuck in a seemingly endless cycle of poverty no one took any interest in me. No one told me, other than my family, that I was going to go to college and that whatever I dreamed I could be I would be it, if I worked hard enough. 
It is my hope that Jeff & I raise a culturally aware daughter. I want her to identify with both sides of herself. the Guatemalan & the Mexican. I want her to be herself, and not feel like she has to conform to fit it. I want her to know that it's okay to stand out, because she was never meant to fit in.