By Renae Ingram
I am a Xicana with Apache and Yaqui heritage. I have never had any ties to Mexico, except for the fact that my home state of California used to be Mexico. I have only been to cities tourists flock to, never to el rancho or the parts that aren’t used in advertisements for cruises and off shore excursions. I learned Spanish in college and from watching Dr. Nancy on ¿Quién Tiene La Razón?, not from my parents or grandparents. And though I adore and respect her, I don’t pray to La Virgen, I pray to her son. I’m different from what society expects the norm to be.
Growing up, I knew I was different from my classmates, though I would essentially be placed in the same grouping as them when it was time to bubble in my ethnicity on any standardized test. We were the same, but different. Their daddies, uncles, and ninos wore cowboy hats, boots, and big, gold belt buckles with eagles on them. The men in my life wore button up shirts and the occasional pendleton buttoned all the way up to the top, Raider hats, Dodger jerseys, and Nike’s. But they both got emotional when listening to corridos and their stare could drive their partners wild. We were the same, but different. Their moms and tias and ninas had their hair in trenzas or buns. The women in my life had perms, they dyed their hair a lighter color and ratted their hair, they drew on their eyebrows. But they both loved and disciplined hard and could cook up a mean meal. We were the same, but different. We both had gold bracelets on our wrists and brought burritos to school for lunch, but they spoke Spanish, and I didn’t.
I majored in Spanish to reclaim a language that perhaps my great-great grandparents knew. My maiden name was Garcia and I felt held to a societal standard to know Spanish, even though it was rarely a part of my socialization. I also minored in Mexican-American studies and while talking to one of my professors I said, “I don’t feel like I have a culture. I’m different, I don’t have the same experiences as the rest of the people in my class, I’m Chicana, it’s just a watered-down version of being Mexican and I feel like everyone sees me as white-washed.” Her response changed my life because it changed how I would identify and express my Xicanisma. She said, “You do have a culture, Chicana culture isn’t a watered down version or cheapened version of being Mexican, it is a culture all within itself. Sure, it stems from having Mexican heritage, but Chicano culture is it’s own culture.” I felt liberated. I realized, no one was better than the other and though one may stem from the other, they were completely separate with a plethora of similarities and a multitude of differences.
All of a sudden, it clicked in my mind. Breakfast was sometimes eggs over easy with beans, hash browns, avocado, salsa, and a flour tortilla but regularly it was Cinnamon Toast Crunch. The music to my adolescence was Motown music, Santana, and Malo. Every now and then, my dad would play Los Tigres Del Norte and translate for me and I would feel connected to something I seldom experienced. I could get mines dancing to hip-hip but for some reason, by body knew what to do to music that was only played at family parties in Long Beach.
I have seldom encountered or interacted with a person of Mexican heritage that doesn’t have a negative facial reaction when I tell them that I identify as “Xicana”. I formerly was a Spanish teacher at an elementary school and a lady was telling me about the annual party her mom’s town throws. She named a state in Mexico and she said, “Do you know where that is?” I said, “I know the name but I’m not familiar with it.” She then asked, “Where are you from?” I just responded with, “I’m Xicana, from here,” and she said, “Oh, so you have no idea.” Hmmm, I have no idea why my origin and the origin of my ancestors is a key role in determining how much I “should” know about a country that is foreign to me. It gets exhausting, continually having how you identify be generalized and downplayed by ignorant individuals who think being “Xicana” is a negative thing. I’ve told people time and time again, “Mis antepasados vivían en esta tierra antes de la llegaba de cualquier colono. Tengo sangre indigena, sangre Apache, soy de aqui, ni de allá, como mis padres y mis abuelos.” They still don’t get it. But I’m supposed to be well versed on Mexican history and geography, having not been born there or having lived there for an extended period of time. And I’m supposed to be okay with the fact that my heritage is seen as a pocha version of another culture, instead of a culture on its very own.
It gets easier as time goes on. I don’t take as much offense to people’s sneers or negative facial expressions. I realize their distaste of who I am is fueled by ignorance and fear, by the sole fact that I’m different. I look and speak differently because I identify differently…because I am different! My culture is not a subculture, it is a culture rooted in soul, resistance, swagger, familia, and loyalty. My Xicanisma is beautiful, passionate, resilient, and sexy…and I wouldn’t change my experience for nothing. I rep my heritage and my history to the fullest and though it may hurt from time to time when it isn’t valued, no one can take away my Xicanisma…nadie.