Who is Elise Sanchez? This is a question I spent most of my twenties trying to figure out. I have identified as Hispanic, Latina, and Mexican in the past. However, none of these quite fit. When I researched the origins of the terms it made sense why I struggled so much. I did not feel like any captured who I really am; the erasure bothered me. I became more curious about my ancestry, and thus, identity.
I am 50% Native American and 50% Spanish. By definition this could be Mestizo, but for me that honors the colonizer and erases the Mexican origins so I don’t identify as such. My native roots go back to what is now known as Mexico, Arizona, and Texas (Yaqui and Apache, what I can trace back to). My ancestors were native to this land now known as America (we are Pre-America). I remember the time I realized that I was both the colonized and the colonizer, and had to mourn what was taken, erased, and stolen from my ancestors – while also acknowledging my privilege and rights that I did not earn by simply being born on this side of the border. It’s still a constant struggle.
It has been challenging writing this blog as there are wounds that are continually healing as our people are still not free. I am continuing to educate and liberate myself. I want to educate my children so they can make the decision regarding their identity in a way that fits for them. I understand that not everyone is ready for liberation work and that’s okay. What you uncover when you research your true history and ancestry can be ugly, and scary. However, it can also be freeing, enlightening, and empowering.
I don’t want to make this a history lesson but I will briefly share the origins of the terms Hispanic and Latino. Hispanic was created by the government for the Census in the 1970’s to define those of Spanish descent. Latino is a little more inclusive as it attempts to capture culture/heritage and includes anyone of Latin American origin or ancestry. Both terms were basically created in an attempt to clump people into one category. It makes it easier for media, marketing, politics etc. All these terms mean different things to different people. As a Mexican-American came another term…Chicano. Political activists fought for a new category. They wanted to reclaim the word, combat structural racism following the Zoot Suit Riots, and reject assimilation into the dominant culture. Now we also see Latinx or Latine. Since Spanish is a binary language and very patriarchal – feminists, gender non-conforming people, and social/political activists created new terms to be more inclusive. (This can be an entire post in itself.)
Labels can be helpful for statistics in showing the differences among different groups in all the systems we have in the USA. Or to show that Latinos are the dominant group in the UC systems today! (Yay!) Labels also serve to have a broader definition when we are fighting for rights as we have more power in numbers. However, our cultures and identities are so rich and diverse that we need to be mindful of our ancestors who did not have the choice with how they could identify, and were forced to assimilate with the dominant culture.This is why I think I have such an issue with “labels” many are not freely chosen.
For me personally, I have adopted the use of Xicana, the “X” pays respect to my native roots and acknowledges my Mexican descent. If I have to select a race (e.g. the Census) I have written in Native American because that is the only category that I actually fit into. Although there is no paperwork, and being Native American has not been my lived experience, that is my history and ancestry. Had Mexico not been colonized I may have lived a very different life. I don’t claim Spanish as my race because I did not have that choice, but it is still part of who I am. I lived there at 21 to explore that part of my history and was able to integrate those parts into my identity. For the purposes of identifying with a broad group I prefer Latina over Hispanic. I am honoring and claiming all parts of who I am because they are all part of my story.
What we do all have in common is not always language but strong family values, shared oral history of traditions passed down generationally, and a strong sense of cultural pride. Bottom line, no one can tell you who you are without you giving them permission to do so. If you are identified in a way that is incorrect, make the correction. If someone calls you the wrong name or mispronounces it, make the correction. Explore for yourself your history, ancestry and the meaning of all these words/labels (that were likely created to keep us separated/divided) and decide for yourself what fits. The only thing I can say is please do not let people call us minorities, we are NOT minor but the growing majority. We have a long way to go as far as being underserved, underrepresented, and marginalized but we are not minor by any means! Until next time mi gente!