My last name seems exotic.
It’s hyphenated. It’s long. There’s even a color in it to shake things up.
It also spurs questions — “What is your real last name? Rojo? Or Garcia?” “Are your parents divorced?” “Is it pronounced ‘roe-joe’?”
All these questions are welcome. I love them. It shows people are interested in my last name and my culture. The questions aren’t malicious. In fact, I welcome them.
There is one question, though, that always tickles me. “Where are you from?” Of course, I know now after years of hearing the same question, they mean “Where are you from from?”
And that’s OK. I usually just tell them I’m from Minnesota to see the confusion on their face, then shortly after reply with, “Well, I was born in Mexico.”
More often than not, whoever has asked the question then nods and asks, “Oh, so you’re Spanish.” Or “Latina,” or “Hispanic.”
No, man. I’m Mexican.
No. I’m Mexican.
Then, with some hesitancy, they say “Oh, Mexican.”
It’s happened every single time. I’ve never really understood why this didn’t settle with me. If I didn’t have a problem saying I’m Mexican, why is it so hard for everyone else?
And then it hit me. People think that calling someone Mexican is almost like … a slur? A bad word? A politically incorrect name for people from Mexico?
I remember one time where someone had confided in me stating that when they first met me, they didn’t want to call me Mexican. They weren’t sure if I would be offended. I appreciate the concern for my feelings, but why would I be offended, as if the word is synonymous with gangsters, or rapists and criminals, illegals (the negative connotation.)
I’m not really sure where that rhetoric came from, and it wasn’t until now that I realized I did feel hurt. I just didn’t know it at the time.
Growing up as a Mexican in America, those negative words didn’t come to mind when I proudly told people my nationality.
Words that came to mind were scientists, thespians, poets and innovators, social activists and artists. I was incredibly proud to say that I had a little bit of Aztec blood in me each time the subject came up in history classes.
I continue to be proud of sharing the same heritage as Pancho Villa and Benito Juárez, Frida Kahlo and Roberto Bolaño. We also have bomb food. We’ve invented awesome things: the Caesar salad, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, color TVs and tequila (you’re welcome).
I won’t inadvertently be shamed for my rich culture.
Needless to say, calling people Mexican is not a slur. It’s not a bad word.
It’s my identity.