Growing up as a third generation Hispanic and the struggles that it brings

When people hear that I’m half Hispanic, they either don’t believe me or are surprised. I definitely don’t look like I am. With light skin, green eyes and fair brown hair, I appear much more like my German-Polish ancestors on my father’s side. My mom’s grandparents were immigrants from Mexico and both of her parents grew up in Hispanic families that were both fully immersed in their culture. As far as I’m aware, they grew up within the culture, speaking Spanish and with a rather large family. 

However, my mom was raised during a time when it was looked down upon to be a part of a different culture besides Caucasian. Society encouraged conformity; to become like everyone else in their traditions and ways of life. My mother and aunt were not taught Spanish in their home and my grandparents tried to Americanize them as much as possible. They felt estranged from their cousins and other extended family who all spoke Spanish and grew up in the culture. It created a lasting divide between my mother and her extended family because they had a distant relationship and had trouble connecting and relating to each other. 

This continued on through my generation. I was raised alienated from my Hispanic roots. However, I feel that the current climate now encourages people to be proud and open about one’s ethnicity and roots. I am now torn between identifying with my heritage, while still feeling disconnected from it, and wondering if I even belong. I hear other Hispanics talk about their big family gatherings, traditions, holidays and everyday life that is immersed in the functioning of most Hispanic households. I become an imposter, pretending to fit in with both cultures but not fitting in with either. I feel caught between two worlds; not completely in one or another. 

With the political tension surrounding immigration, I feel pressure from my heritage to defend immigrants, which brings about more conflict in my life. On one hand, I sympathize with immigrants who seek a better life for themselves and their families in the United States. It’s what my great-grandparents did. On the other hand, I see the issue with opening up borders, such as drugs and sex trafficking — and it leads me to stand for more enforcement at the border. This complicated issue becomes more difficult when I take my background into account; I suspect many people like me feel the same way. 

According to Pew Research Center, among those who are third generation Hispanics, only 77 percent self identify as Hispanic. This statistic speaks into my life experiences and the experiences of those who also struggle with this withdraw from their heritage. I find myself wanting to return to my roots, but something in me says it’s too late for that. 

This is a common feeling that most of us feel at one point or another: wishing there was more time to do things that we hoped to do. Time weaves itself into our lives in multiple ways, and reconnecting with your ethnicity takes up time that most of us feel we don’t have extra of. But I still hope to identify more with my heritage and ethnicity in the future, not letting stigmas or stereotypes stop me from learning more about myself. 

I would like to speak words of encouragement to those who also struggle with feeling estranged from their ethnicity, or multiple ethnicities –– that it’s okay to feel that way. It’s never too late to get connected with that part of yourself.