I Am Not Mexican-American

I am Mexican.  Proudly.  I am American.  Happily.  But I am not Mexican-American.  Let me explain why.

My Mexican identity doesn’t come from having been born to Mexican parents.  It doesn’t come from a place of belonging to some pre-determined cultural/ethnic/racial category.  It comes from belonging to a huge family and feeling at home among the noise and the chatter;  It comes from that warm and satisfying and totally-not-guilty feeling I get when I eat my mom’s freshly larded refried pinto beans and homemade flour tortillas.  It comes from my father’s stories of immigrating to California and living here among other lonesome and weary men while his wife and his baby girls waited anxiously for his weekly phone call in their quiet hometown in Jalisco, México.  My identity as a Mexican comes from having to wake up every Saturday morning at ungodly hours to help my dad out on his latest home improvement project, or to mow the lawn, or to lay tile at a family friend’s house.  It comes from annual visits to the aforementioned Mexican town and feeling right because everybody said ‘hi’ to me on the street, even if I’d never seen them before. I ate tacos from a truck across the street from my grandma’s house every night, and both of my grandmothers made me feel like the most spoiled child on the planet.  I’m Mexican because instead of playing pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey I destroyed piñatas at birthday parties with a vengeance.  I’m Mexican because my name is Arturo, not Arturo.  My Mexican identity comes from eating turkey tamales on Thanksgiving.  I feel Mexican because things like NAFTA and drug violence anger me to the core.

Much in the same way, my American identity doesn’t stem from having been born on U.S. soil.  It doesn’t come from a piece of paper that says that, yes; this dude is the right nationality, so leave him alone.  It does come from watching Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers every day at 3 PM and reenacting what I’d seen at 4 PM with my neighborhood friends. I was always Billy (the Blue Ranger) because I identified with his nerd-cool.  It comes from the fact that I was saddened and angered, but mostly saddened, by the events of 9/11, even though I’d never heard of the Twin Towers before 8 AM on September 11, 2001.  My American identity comes from being the 10-year-old that waited anxiously for that sporadic day when my mom would tell me that we could eat McDonald’s for dinner that night.  It comes from jumping with joy the night that Barack Obama became my president and the day that Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was finally repealed.  My identity as an American comes from my yearly visits to the aforementioned Mexican town and feeling weird because all the kids my age knew I was from el norte (the north) and gave me penetrating and interrogating gazes before running off in the opposite direction, and because my family’s inside joke is calling me out on being a gringo. I am American because I question the validity of celebrating Thanksgiving.  I am American because my father believes in “The Dream” and I want to give it to him.  And yes, even though they’re not even U.S. citizens, my parents are American, too, because they’ve shared this life with me.

These two identities are whole and they are living.  They live side by side inside of me.  I don’t know if they’re in my soul, or my blood, or my heart, or my brain, but they’re there all the time.  Sometimes they interact peacefully, sometimes violently.  But the important thing is that they are whole.  They’re not like two halves of a being that come together and mash up into a hyphen.  Because when you hyphenate my identity, you’re invalidating one or another of my identities (usually the Mexican) as just a qualifier for what is the only valid identity.  At the same time, you’re also saying that I’m not a “real” American (I don’t even know what that looks like) because I require a qualifier.  You see what I (you) did there?  At once, you’re saying that “American” is the only valid identity, but you’re also telling me that I don’t count as American because I have a hyphen.  The hyphen has effectively erased my identity, and my existence.

Let me be clear.  This is my experience as a hyphenated-American.  This is why I’m not Mexican-American.  If you identify with some sort of hyphenated-ethnic-identity, that’s because we have different experiences and that’s totally valid. But I won’t hyphenate you and I’ll ask that you please don’t hyphenate me. Deal? TC mark

image – qthomasbower


More From Thought Catalog

  • https://twitter.com/#!/nvvmxac danne rassle


  • http://twitter.com/jayniepie1 Jayne Andrews

    Bravo, I love this.

  • Enrique

    Hey sometimes I don’t want to be white-american but I deal with it just fine. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lizzette-Walls/1435127974 Lizzette Walls

    Very awesome, I really enjoyed this. My mother is from Guatemala and I can very much relate.

  • Tikitime

    Big ups on this one. Sharing the 1st generation perspective and struggle is refreshing…

  • Tracymonaghan


  • Tanya

    Good job! I know exactly where you’re coming from….

  • yes.

    perfect. thanks for this.

  • yes.

    perfect. thanks for this.

  • Scottd132

    Obama sucks

  • Leon V.

    Im mexican 2 but who the fuck eat tamales on christmas thats the shittiest thing ive ever heard, oh! I forgot ur from jalisco.

    • https://twitter.com/#!/nvvmxac danne rassle

      thank you for bringing down a whole state with you Arturito

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arturo-Galarza/1242596 Arturo Galarza

      If you had read properly, you would have seen that I eat tamales on Thanksgiving, though we also eat them at Christmas.  And we also eat roasted turkey and ham. And yes, I’m very proudly tapatío (NOT the sauce).  I would eat tamales every day of the year if I could.

  • Elyse


  • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

    Notice the North American half of your self-identification is based on the flimsiest shit… cartoons, knee-jerk patriotic “anger” or “joy” and PC hypocrisy  (“Thanksgiving”  troubles us but we’re not giving that land back any time soon).  What you’re really describing is the internalization of *a Culture vs a Ponzi-Scheme*.

    Pretty soon, there will be zero proletariat-middle class economic advantage in being North American and you’ll be lucky enough to have somewhere to flee back to.  Maybe you can kindly smuggle some gringos back over the border with you when the shit hits the fan…!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arturo-Galarza/1242596 Arturo Galarza

      Ha! This is great.  Thanks for the insight.  Honestly, I wrote this in a sort of stream of consciousness and didn’t really stop to think about the deeper implications that the things I chose would convey.  But I always appreciate being slapped into perspective!  But like I said, my dad earnestly believes in “the Dream,” and I think that dream (my dad’s) is what makes my American identity most real to me. Ha and I don’t know if you’re a “gringo,” but if you are I’ll be happy to smuggle you over =P

      • http://staugustinian.wordpress.com/ STaugustine

        Appreciate the offer, but I’ve already escaped (Central Europe)… erm… can I get one of my friends on your Rescue List instead… ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/meliza.anne Meliza Mitra

    This was great! Very uplifting read.

  • gemma

    really good stuff this is dead on my friend

  • http://twitter.com/csoyyo Christian Delgadillo

    Im currently living in Guadalajara, Jalisco and I actually have never seen those Turkey Tamales you mentioned above.  

    And Dear Leon V., If you go back reading you’ll find that Arturo had those weirdO tamalis for thanksgivin, not christmas.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arturo-Galarza/1242596 Arturo Galarza

      Christian, turkey tamales aren’t really a thing.  We just eat them at Thanksgiving to integrate the turkey into our meals.

  • http://miller-david.com david miller

    seems to open up TC’s brand in an exciting way.

    a piece on identity as ‘rooted’ in place / culture / sense of belonging.


  • http://miller-david.com david miller

    seems to open up TC’s brand in an exciting way.

    a piece on identity as ‘rooted’ in place / culture / sense of belonging.


    • TO

      this comment is a throwback to the comments on Tao Lin pieces. all it needs is a few sardonic “bros” and “lols”

  • Guest

    On the topic of multiple ethnicities…check out Kip Fulbeck’s “Part Asian, 100% Hapa” or any of his speaking events. It echos a lot of thoughts from this essay.

  • http://about.me/atxtrina Trina

    Awesome, awesome, awesome. Down with Hyphenating!

  • Miss Universe

    I like this .. I like this.. a few weeks ago there was a first generation Indian writer describing her  struggles  and now we have Arturo  discussing his.  Very nice thought catalog but there are so many other backgrounds we should embrace as well.  I’m only a little bit impressed.  

  • Guest

    I always wanted to be the yellow ranger, but my friend said that she looked more like Trini and I had to be the pink ranger because I’m white.  I’m still bitter.  Fuck the pink ranger.  

  • Alo

    This is an amazing write. Thank you for sharing. 

  • 3NL

    this is the first piece i’ve read on thoughtcatalog in a while that i truly enjoyed. i especially love the last paragraph.

  • Cliche-American

    Is this site accepting college admissions essays now? This was banal. Nobody is invalidating your identity, so stop playing the victim. 

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Arturo-Galarza/1242596 Arturo Galarza

      1. Well, I don’t talk about discrimination (I’ve faced it), or racism (rampant), or about the struggles of growing a poor brown kid (I have to admit my childhood was pretty privileged), so how am playing the victim? This is a piece about identity. MY identity, which I’m happy with.

      2. Also, it sure must suck to be a Cliche-American.  Maybe you can do what I did and drop the hyphen, then you’ll just be a Cliche.  You might find this article more enlightening than mine:

      • Thayer

        I don’t get why anyone that wasn’t born in Mexico should call themselves a Mexican. You’re NOT a Mexican! You’re an American! Mexican is not a race! It’s a nationality that you DON’T have! I don’t go around calling myself a “N0rwegian-American”. My family celebrates our heritage and we eat Norwegian foods. So how and why are you different? 

        What you are doing without even know it is segregating. This is why Mestizos, Chicanos or whatever the F you want to call yourself are not integrating into American culture and thus will always have problems. You segregate yourself deliberately and then cry racism. 

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