Monday, March 29, 2010


This months Texas Monthly features a story on Selena, the Tejano singing sensation that crossed over into English only after her murder sometime in the 90's. I remember seeing news reports about her rodeo performance at the Astrodome. It was the largest crowd they had ever had up until that time.

I also remember when she died. I happened to be getting my hair cut at a Hispanic owned salon. The ladies there were very upset. I could not understand a lick of Spanish they spoke. Well...maybe a "lick." I do remember that the lady that cut my hair that day had a familiar accent. She sounded just like my aunt Annabelle. I asked her if she was from New Mexico and she was. There is something about the cadence and song of New Mexican's English. I guess it's like how the Scottish and Irish both speak English but there is a different lilt to it. Yes...that's very much what it's like. Texicans have a different accent then New Mexicans.

In Selena's story it mentioned how her father would get spankings at school for speaking Spanish. It was strongly discouraged. Selena grew up as the only Mexican in her white suburb. But then her dad lost his job and they lost their house and they formed a band to make money.

They did not speak Spanish in the home and so she never learned it. But when they started their family band they found that the Tejano scene was more accepting of the raven haired, brown skinned band then the English speaking audience. So Selena was taught how to speak Spanish phonetically and then her dad would tell her what each line meant so that she could sing it with the right emotion. It was interesting how the very thing he was punished for as a child was the very thing he needed his own child to know in order for them to survive.

I sort of remember hearing of my grandma saying that she had been punished for speaking Spanish. Mostly I remember Grandma saying that it was not beneficial to speak Spanish in those times and so they did not teach it to their children. It would be better for them to not speak it and to not have an accent.

My maternal Grandmother said that it was her parents that did not teach them Spanish and for the same reason. My Mat. Grandma can speak some but it's only a little more than I can.

My ethnicity is an odd thing. By looking at me, most people have no idea that I'm of Mexican descent. (I just stopped myself from saying that I'm Mexican and instead say that I'm of Mexican "descent" because I hear white people say that it's un-American to say that. But you know what? I think I've heard those same people claim their Irish or German heritage with just as much pride as there American birth right.) Anywhoo, most assume I'm white or mix or they flat out ask me "what exactly are you?"

I can't blame them for not being able to tell but it does bug me. Not that they are asking but that I don't look more obviously Hispanic. If you ever met my brother or my sister you would with out a doubt see that they are Mexicans. They both have rich brown skin and dark black hair and eyes. We all have full lips and long eyelashes but my skin is a creamier color and my hair is brown.

I took a sociology class in college and we were talking about the difference between ethnicity and race. Your ethnicity is based on your culture; the foods you eat, the language you speak, your traditions, etc. Your race is based on your physical features.

The class said that my race was white. I argued that it wasn't and they insisted that it was and that my ethnicity was not Hispanic either. I know it sounds silly but it really hurt my feelings. I argued that if you met my siblings you would say they are Hispanic because they have the physical features of Hispanics. How could they be Hispanic and I be white?! And the main reason they said my ethnicity was white was because I don't speak Spanish. But we make and eat Mexican food. When we visit my Grandmother she would almost always have a big party, like a Bar-B-Q but with out grilling chicken and burgers. (Dare I call it a Fiesta? Ha!) Her friends and other family members would get together. Grandma served up Mexican food and her friends would play mariachi style music for her to sing along to (in Spanish.) I'm pretty sure white folks don't do that at their Grandma's house.

In high school the Hispanic students would refer to me as something less then Hispanic. (Again, the not speaking Spanish thing was an issue.) Then I would hear white students say belittling things of Mexican's not realizing or forgetting that I was one. Like they would whisper Mexican when telling a story about something. Oh! And it's always awesome when someone tells a story and there was this Mexican...and when the story is over the persons race had no relevance to the story. People, if you have to whisper it then it's probably because you are being rude. If you have to whisper something don't say it. But a persons race is not a cuss word. It is what it is. (Sometimes I feel like political correctness is racist.) If I call them out on it I think they thought I was silly to care because it's not like I am a real Mexican.

Of my siblings I am the one who learns the recipes of the Mexican food my Grandma makes. I guess it's the only thing that I have to really claim my ethnicity by. I will never look it. I've tried to learn Spanish but nearly failed. The food is all I've got.

My Maternal Grandmother speaks very little Spanish. She does cook the food the best! When I visit her if I don't feel well or if we've made ourselves blue with talk of sad things she will whip up a pot of natillas. She says it's comfort food. Her neighbors wife is sick and he's been taking care of her so yesterday she made and sent over some red chili. Around the holidays she shows me how to make empanadas. She refused to teach me tamales because she said it was too hard for me to do alone. So every Christmas I round up my white girlfriends and we make the tamales from my Grandma's cook book


  1. Amazing story. Not to offend, but I also did not realize that you were Hispanic. I would say race is what is in your genes, not your physical appearance. That is the whole point of what I'm trying to prove this week in my blog: physical appearances lie!

  2. It does not offend me. It makes me sad that I don't look it but you can't hold that against anyone! When my brother and I were in Malaysia he was often mistaken as Malaysian by the locals. Just because he looked it did not change that he is Mexican. Just sayin'.