Brown Is Not A Weakness
The following post is part of our series on Ethnic Identity. It is written by Rico, a student intern with Destino in Texas.
I am brown.
Brown is not a weakness…
God loves me and wants me to embrace who He’s made me to be?
It took me nineteen years to boldly proclaim being a Mexican-American and to stop pretending I was a white guy with an epic ability to tan quickly. Intellectually I understood my ethnicity since the time I first had to bubble in the option identifying myself as “Latino/Hispanic/Chicano” on a standardized state test. The fear of living out my fate as an alcoholic, high school drop out, gang member, construction worker, field reaper, pre-martial dead-beat father that the American society laid out for me allowed me to keep my culture from influencing my life an arm’s length away.
I was born in South Texas, raised in a predominately Anglo township in Michigan. My surroundings helped foster my need to turn my back on the Hispanic community. There was no benefit to learning Spanish, so I didn’t. I was a chameleon, blending in well with my Anglos friends. I adopted the ideology of individualism, living for myself not for my family.
My parents decided to uproot the family and move back to south Texas at the end of my freshmen year of high school. The only thing on my mind was the countdown of days left before I could escape the predominately Hispanic setting I now had to call home. People at school spoke Spanglish. Some sported Mexican flags and shirts that said “Viva la Raza.” To them I said, “Go back to Mexico.” The rest of the student population was fairly assimilated to American culture, but I only thought of them as poor imitators of my people up north.
No one really knew what I was doing. My Anglo friends in Michigan quickly accepted me into their circles; my ethnicity was never brought up. The assimilated Hispanic crowd in Texas shared my views on the “Viva la Raza” supporters. As for my family….well, I just didn’t involve them in this aspect of my life.
When I came to faith, the world and the self-complex I created for myself was turned upside down.
Ironically, the gospel was presented to me by an Anglo Destino staff guy, but I didn’t accept Jesus as my savior until about a month later, after sitting in a room filled with Hispanic students talking about God’s work in their lives.
A year passed, I became deeply involved with the Destino movement on my campus. My thoughts also wondered off to reaching more Hispanics for the Lord. One afternoon, a Destino staffer asked me how we could make our Destino movement more Hispanic. He knew my past and current struggle to accept my ethnicity. My response to his question was that I didn’t have to clue what change, because I didn’t know what it meant to be Hispanic. That’s when he plainly, and flatly said, “It’s in you. You’ll find what it means to be Hispanic and to make a Hispanic movement. I’m white; the most I can do is help make this movement not white.”
This was when confusion and shame settled into my heart. His response launched me on my journey to finding my ethnic identity. Many times I wanted to give up, because it is easier to be only Anglo or only Mexican. The stereotypes I fought hard not fall into slowly became real people to me; my papa the carpenter, my Apa the field worker, my parents who gave birth their son out of wedlock, my uncles who struggle with alcohol. Who did I think I was putting myself on a pedestal above my own family?
As I dove deeper into my journey, I found healing and security in being bicultural; studying the rich history of my family’s culture, both Anglo and Hispanic. It helped to explain my desire to be relational, even though I fought to suppress it with individualistic ideas. Mostly it has helped me understand that God didn’t leave me in the oven after the timer went off.
The thing I struggle with most now having discovered my ethnicity is opening up to tell my family about my past denial. This struggle is rooted in the fear that they would feel betrayed or unloved by me because of my thoughts. To be completely honest, writing this post has left me anxious, wondering if a family member is going to stumble over this before I get a chance to discuss it with them. However, I have not let this stop myself from sharing my journey.
I have been given opportunities to lead seminars on the topic of ethnic identity. Both times I have had other students come up to me sharing how they too struggle with identity ethnically as a Hispanic and were encouraged that they were not the only ones battling this fight. Recently I received a text message from a friend who shared her struggle with ethnicity in front of her entire movement and has experienced freedom from it.
When I think about my story and see the influence it has had on other peoples lives I can’t help but lift my hands and praise the Lord who wrote it. Three years ago, I never thought I found dignity in indentifying myself as a Mexican-American Hispanic.
God loves me and wants me to embrace who He’s made me to be.
Brown is not a weakness…
I am brown.
photo courtesy: heacphotos