Reflecting on Immigrant Heritage Month: Rediscovering My Mexican-American Identity
Posted on 06/30/2015 @ 10:00 AM
This month, LULAC joined a host of other organizations to celebrate the second annual Immigrant Heritage Month. Immigrant heritage means many different things to many different people, and we are privileged to have a staff characterized by so many rich immigrant experiences. Here, LULAC Federal Affairs Intern Erica Ontiveros shares her journey to discover and honor her Mexican heritage.
Photo Credit: Welcome.Us
By: Erica Ontiveros, Federal Affairs Intern, LULAC National
For most of my life, I have wondered about my family’s heritage and where my roots truly come from. By the age of ten, I had moved ten different times, and this lack of stability contributed to the increasing disconnect that I felt with my culture. My dad was deported when I was ten years old, and as a result, I entered the foster care system. I faced many challenges as a Mexican-American foster child unsure of my heritage while growing up in a mixed environment of Hispanics, African-Americans, and Caucasians. I was never really able to fit into one group and could never really identify with one culture because I did not grow up with a defined family.
Moving from home to home was confusing at times, and not understanding a family’s way of life was a constant struggle. Due to being in foster care for some time, I have only vague memories of being connected to Mexican-American culture, such as memories of eating my mom and dad’s delicious home-made Pozole or Caldo de Res. When I entered the foster care system; however, I no longer had that, and ultimately lost touch with those memories.
While in the foster care system, I graduated from a high school in which 85% of the students were Caucasian. Not having the opportunity to interact with other Latinos made it much more difficult to express myself as a Latina because my peers had the expectations that you act a certain “American” way. During this time, I did not quite understand what it was to be fully Mexican or fully American, and I felt caught in the middle of a current that I could not swim against.
At times it can be difficult to deal with the fact that because of the way I look I am expected to know how to speak Spanish or have a “big family” because that is how Latinos are stereotypically perceived by society. These stereotypes, coupled with my environment made it difficult to discover my Latina identity because the people that were key to defining my roots and identity were removed from my life. This left few opportunities to explore who I was as a Latina. When my dad was deported back to Mexico and I never saw him again, I felt that I had lost the connection to my Mexican heritage forever.
Currently I am an intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington D.C. and am helping advocate for the Latino community while surrounded by inspiring people. Each day, I am afforded the wonderful opportunity to rediscover my culture by participating in events and activities that enhance my knowledge and personal growth as a Latina in America. Things do not come easy, but the more I learn, the prouder I am of my Latina identity. The circumstances I have endured have shaped me into what I am today, and I am continuing to develop and grow into the person I want to become. Today I strive to be open, considerate of others and their cultures while I work to redefine my Latina identity. While I am influenced by my past, I look forward each day to discovering something new and showing those around me that I am proud of my roots.
Erica Ontiveros is a Federal Affairs Intern at the League of United Latin American Citizens in Washington, D.C. She is a student at California State University Fullerton and hopes to work in a career the combines social work and public policy.