If one were to quickly search for what “Hispanic” means, the answers may be less than satisfactory (though, to be honest, I don’t know if looking up other ethnicities also results in similar frustrations). It forces one to question who they actually are in this world, but there’s a lot of problems with this premise.
Should one allow their identity to be pigeonholed by the nation they reside in, especially when that nation doesn’t align with their ancestry? But wait, despite being born in America and having lived almost all (like, 99%) of my life in America, am I not, therefore, American? I don’t feel American.
But, then, do I feel “Hispanic?” Do I feel Hispanic when I don’t even know the rudimentary history of my motherland because I couldn’t justify learning about it in my college coursework (since the credits didn’t align with what I needed to graduate) or because primary education doesn’t focus on it (because why would it)? Do I feel Hispanic when I’ve grown up speaking Spanish and understand it but still struggle to speak to my parents or others with it because I haven’t had many opportunities in my life to practice it since leaving home?
Regardless, is considering myself Hispanic only allowing the colonizers’ influence on my roots undeserved weight — which I guess should also make me reject wanting to be American? And what about being Chicano? Surely that must be more applicable than either being American, Hispanic or even Mexican? But there’s not always an option to select that in government forms. Does this make that identity (and thus, my self-identification) any less valid?
I don’t know. I’m hoping I can figure it out.
I think back to a trip my summer internship did to the Skid Row History Museum where I asked the curator (who had earlier expressed himself as Chicano) what it meant for him to do so and whether or not he felt (or felt he should feel) any guilt for not knowing more or enough of our heritage/culture. His answer both empowered and confused me even more: “Who cares,” he basically told me. “Our identity is whatever we want it to be and however we want to develop it is solely up to us.” While this definitely gave me more questions than answers, ultimately, I do appreciate his answer — whatever I end up deciding will be acceptable and no one will be able to take that from me.
Being Latino often means feeling invisible, especially at UC Santa Barbara. Each day, as I walk to class, I can’t help but notice the cleaning staff diligently performing their labor. Always at the same time and in the same place without fail. They remain unnoticed by students who pass by, trying to avoid eye contact. I’ve observed the landscaping crews working just outside the apartments being completely ignored, their presence unacknowledged. What’s common among many of these workers is their Latino background. They work with smiles, sharing laughter and positive vibes, yet they remain invisible to the students’ eyes. So, every morning, before I go to class or do anything else, I greet them, acknowledging their hard work. These are remarkable individuals; if you take the time to talk to them, you’ll realize they wish the best for you. Feeling acknowledged brings happiness, and I’m delighted that these staff members welcome me with their smiles and bless me with well-wishes every day. So, as a Latino at UCSB, invisibility has been our experience, but it doesn’t have to be. We can be as welcoming as the staff members who have made me feel welcomed.