I'm a 23-year-old Latina attending a Texas university and taking a class that is centered on Latino culture and history. I'm a first-generation Tex-Mex kid, and lately, all of the documentaries and other coursework have been making me feel some type of way — angry, sad and overall confused, for lack of better phrasing. I don't know how to handle these feelings, and it is making me 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, and I don't want to always wonder how people perceive me because of my background. But I don't know how to feel about what I am learning and if what I am feeling is OK. Did you ever go through something like this type of identity crisis? And any advice on how to feel/handle it?
— Down In Denton
Dear Mujer: Was I ever confused about my ethnic identity? Absolutely — tell your Chicano Studies professor to assign Orange County: A Personal History to ustedes, and you'll get the carne asada of the matter. But your situation deserves a more insightful perspective than mine, so I turn the columna over to one of my bosses: Alexandro José Gradilla, chairman 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 more than 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 whether they ever experienced racism. Here is the double problem: Most students have not learned anything about 'their' group. More important, they have not been taught about institutional racism. So when taking a college-level history or sociology course or, as you experienced, an ethnic-studies class in which systemic or structural racism analyses is par for the course, they 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. v. 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' written 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."
Awesome job, profe jefe! I'll add just one thing: While it's OK to feel angry, never let the other side get the better of your anger.
I work with mostly young, progressive, educated white folks at an institution of higher education in Southern California. The other day, I mentioned buying a shirt that reads, "Illegal immigration started in 1492." We had a good laugh, and my co-worker, whom I like a lot, said it actually began in the Ice Age, suggesting that no one kind of human has claim over "land" or geography. While I get her argument, I was stunned. A flippant response such as that diminishes the struggles of people trying to make a life here, under adverse conditions, having fled other adverse conditions, and the systematic historical exceptionalism mythology, jingoism, xenophobia and racism that has created the current state of affairs. Can you give me a good comeback for when an otherwise-cool gabacho says some similar bullshit?
— A Chicana in the Hallowed Halls of Learning
Dear Pocha: You can point out that attachment to a vanquished homeland is a fundamental part of the human experience — witness the Garden of Eden, Israel, Palestine, Aztlán, Camelot and even The Sandlot — but did you try "Check your privilege"? How about "We didn't cross the border; the border crossed us"? Maybe "Who's the illegal alien, Pilgrim?"? Perhaps "Vete a la chingada, pinche sucia pendeja babosa"? Or the classic "Chinga tu madre"? I know you're looking for an intellectual retort, but even Kant knew that a well-thrown verbal chingazo every once in a while makes the best possible point.
Why are we put down by our own people for being educated and articulate (I've been called gabacho, and I'm as brown as the next guy), while the anglos accept us for being smart? I work in Santa Ana as a high school teacher and am considered very good at what I do, but when I meet with Mexican parents, it almost borders on mistrust. What is it — envy, paranoia, jealousy?
— Smart Mexican-American Reading Teacher Asking Serious Stuff
Dear Gabacho: Don't flatter yourself too much, SMARTASS Wab. Anti-intellectualism is rampant in American life — witness this country electing Dubya as president for two terms, liberals slobbering over Hillary Clinton, and conservatives elevating Michelle Malkin and Hugh Hewitt to sabios when the thinking part of this country rightfully relegates them to pendejo pendejos. But tell you what: You're enlightened, so guide those dumb hater Mexicans to the light. Let them know the only way ahead in this country is to be educated and articulate — and then guide them to me instead of your arrogant ass.
Ask the Mexican at firstname.lastname@example.org. Be his fan on Facebook. follow him on Twitter @gustavoarellano or follow him on Instagram @gustavo_arellano!