02/05/2012 08:58 am ET | Updated Apr 06, 2012

(Re)claiming Raíces: The Struggle Against Cultural Amnesia

Working in the library the other day, I heard a Duranguense song playing through my ear buds. Duranguense - closely related to banda, norteño, and tamborazo - is a Mexican musical form born in the dance halls of Chicago. I grew up during the explosion of this music, hearing Patrulla 81, Grupo Montez de Durango, and Alacranes Musical among others over the Chicago Mexican radio stations. Duranguese music speaks to the immigrant experience charged with the nostalgia of a Mexico many left behind in search for a better life. As this music filled my ears, a surge of memories flooded my mind: the dancehall quinceañeras of my cousins, the music blaring at the supermercado where my mom worked, and the romanticized images of a Mexico I barely knew.

Overwhelmed with emotion, I thought these memories were a product of homesickness. Yet as I listened intently to the music in the library, a temple of knowledge, I realized it was something deeper. It was a clamor of my consciousness reminding me of my roots as a Chicagüense, of my experience growing up as a Mexican-American in Chicago. It is a call questioning how my Méxicanidad translates to being part of this new generation of educated Latina/os. Our generation calls for the creation of American Latino cultural capital. Yet how do we cultivate pride in our rich, vibrant, and multi-faceted Latino heritage and ensure its preservation when we are told to acculturate? More importantly, how do we teach and pass on a culture to future generations that is so heavily based on language and struggle?

Though I don't have many answers at the moment, I believe that it starts with the (re)claiming of one's raíces. We must not forget the rich cultural patrimony our parents share with us. I refer to cultural patrimony not as physical artifacts specifically, but as rich traditions, music, and language - smelling abuela's tamales at Christmas, learning how to dance Duranguense in our small kitchen, listening to the chisme of my Tias over coffee, and much more.

As college exposes us to exciting experiences and introduces us to new people, we must not forget our origins as we write our futures. Our diplomas will open doors and take us to places unimaginable; however we must not let them erase our past. It is now more important than ever that we remain cognizant of our raíces as we establish ourselves as the next generation of Latino leaders in the arts, sciences, and the humanities.

Our Latinidad is not a hindrance; it enriches our perspectives and facilitates our navigation through multiple spaces. Our family names embossed on our diplomas are testimony that "Educated Latino" is not an oxymoron. However, we must ensure that we pass down more than just our family name. We must incorporate the histories of our parents and our abuelos as we create our own. We must create culture in order to preserve it.

Our cultura will not die out.

With our degrees, we will work with our minds and not with our backs. However, our parents' work ethic remains ingrained within our consciousness as the sweat of their brow, a labor of love, paid for such a luxury. We are thus entrusted with the preservation and cultivation of those traditions they bestowed unto us. We must fight cultural amnesia. We must not forget.

In the meantime, I will write.

"I write to remember.
I make rite (ceremony) to remember.
It is my right to remember." [1]

[1] Cherríe Moraga, A Xicana Codex of Changing Consciousness (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011), 81.