Dear Mexican: How Do I Deal With Identity Issues?

Dear Mexican: I’m a 23-year-old Latina attending a Texas university. I’m taking a class centered around Latino culture and history. I’m a first-generation Tex-Mex kid, and lately all of the coursework has been making me feel angry/sad/confused, for lack of better phrasing. I don’t know how to handle these feelings, and it is making me be more introspective about the Latino/Mexican part of my identity — as if I didn’t already have enough issues there. I don’t want to overthink it or always wonder how people perceive me because of my background. But I don’t know how to feel about what I am learning. Did you ever go through something like this? Any advice?
Down in Denton

Dear Mujer: Was I ever confused about my ethnic identity? Absolutely. Tell your professor to assign my Orange County: A Personal History to ustedes. But your situation deserves a more insightful perspective than mine, so I’ll turn the columna over to one of my bosses: Alexandro José Gradilla, chair of the Department of Chicana and Chicano Studies at Cal State Fullerton, where I’m an adjunct-at-large.

“Dear Iztaccíhuat: You are experiencing ‘Chicano Studies Rage 101,’” Gradilla writes. “Here is a synopsis of why you are feeling the way you do. After over a decade in a K-12 school system that never really broached or addressed issues of institutional racism, most students of color coming out of high school would probably answer ‘No’ if asked, ‘Have you ever experienced racism?’ Here is the double problem. Most students have not learned anything about ‘their’ group. More importantly, they have not been taught about institutional racism. So taking a college-level history or sociology course, or — as you experienced — an ethnic-studies class, where systemic or structural racism analysis is par for the course, is desmadre. Then you get what happened to you. A sudden flood of cold, hard facts connected with theories of racism — then BAM! You are forever aware of the nature of social inequality in the United States.

“You ‘see’ how unfair and obscene racism is. Racism — and not individual prejudice or bigotry, but an embedded system of exclusion and denigration — is a profoundly ridiculous and irrational system. Whether you are learning about the Mendez et al. vs Westminster case or the Felix Longoria affair — and all within the short confines of a quarter or semester — even the most complacent coconuts are overwhelmed and bothered! The rage is famously captured by the quintessential Chicano-movement poem ‘I Am/Yo Soy Joaquin,’ by Rodolfo ‘Corky’ Gonzales.

So, my little brown Aztec volcano: Your pending explosion within the classroom is nothing new. Just remember: Use your new knowledge to heal, not to hate.…”
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Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano