Identity is one of those concepts I have tried desperately to push to the sidelines for most of mi vida. It was always too complicated, too painful, or too divisive. To put it simply, I am a bi-racial, white-passing, queer, socio-economically poor, agnostic Unitarian Universalist college junior at an elite liberal arts college, who was raised by a Caucasian single mother. Like all people, my identities are complex and multi-faceted.
My father was a Mexican immigrant. My mom is of European descent and was born and raised in Michigan. Due to my pale skin and ojos azules, no one ever suspects that I am of anything other than European descent. I can call myself mexicano without ever experiencing what it is like to be the other. I can speak español fluently and have been able to fully participate in the Latino communities in my hometown. But all of that seems not to matter much because I will never be called wetback or spick. I will never be told to go back to my own country or to just speak inglés. To others, I will always be perceived as another well-meaning white guy flouting his privilege. I will never be the other when it comes to race.
While I am constantly told that I cannot possibly be Mexican, I love the Mexican part of my heritage. There are few things more comforting than making tamales from scratch on a rainy day or eating a pastel de tres leches con mi familia. I went to many quinceañeras when I was younger, and I speak to my Mexican grandparents only in español. Yes, my narrative does not seem to follow that of the average Mexican-American in the United States, but I don’t think that matters. I feel Mexican, and I also feel a deep connection to my Michigan roots.
My experience is becoming more common within the larger American identity narrative. Many of my peers have described feeling pulled between two or more parts of their heritage that make up their cultural identity. We feel uniquely attached to certain parts of our cultural heritage in different ways and for different reasons. My own racial and ethnic identities have pulled me particularly to the third Principle of Unitarian Universalism, “acceptance of one another and encouragement to spiritual growth.” It is this faith commitment that has given others and myself the space to discuss the multiplicity of our identities and acknowledge the privileges enjoyed by white and white-passing people in American society. This faith has helped me to bridge the gap between my personal identities and the way I am perceived in the world, something I tried to ignore for most of my life.