From the very beginning of our childhood we are taught to respect and cherish everything we are told about our Latino-selves. For me, personally, there was no question about who my role models/mentors were. It was clear because they were given to me. People in my family would say "Mija, you are who you are because of so and so and of course the many Latino Legends that have gone before us." There was never any misunderstanding because we always had photos of these people hanging proudly in the hallways of our house.
For us Latinos loyalty can be a double-edged sword. On one hand you want to stay true to your beliefs (in large part because they have been so ingrained in you and it's all you know, it's your identity) but on the other hand you want to see just what is on the other side of the tracks, and when you do you remove any potentials to alienate yourself from an entire outside world. For us (and I use "us" loosely because this is really just ME writing about my perception) being Latino in America has and does come with some challenges, but as far as I am concerned the opportunities far outweigh any of these. The United States in all her glory is the land of opportunity, and opportunity for this Latina is something I want to create for all people around the world (Latin America) especially for those who may not get to experience true opportunity. Everyone has opportunity and it's defined by what you see and consider to be opportunity...For the great Cesar Chavez opportunity was helping others, for you it may be a degree, for us it may be a level in society, for others it can be the simplest of what life can give and for the aggressive it can be all that life has to offer. Whichever the case may be for you, it's your opportunity and you don't have to accept the one given to you.
While I could never imagine telling my parents or elders, "Pancho Villa, José María Morelos y Pavón...um, yeah...I am looking for a little more opportunity here." I do think there is something to be said for challenging the very status quo that we have created. Don't get me wrong, these are all great leaders, of course. But, for me I could never resonate with them and they were mostly all men!
Let me tell you a story (you're beginning to see a pattern in my blogs, aren't ya) when I was younger I used to have these amazing thought provoking conversations with my dad in the garage. The scene looked something like this - my dad smashing beer cans to take to the recycler and me usually on roller skates weaving around obstacles he set up for me. One day I asked him "Dad, can I cut my hair?" "Tina (which was short for a girl in class named Kristina) has short hair and I want short hair too." "Well, why would you want to do that?" he would say. "Because, everyone has short hair." He simply replied "oh" and then went on "Well, next time you see her ask her if her ears ever get cold." [Ok...loco, but ok] "Just do it Mija and then tell me what she says."
So, I come back to him and say "Tina said yes her ears do get cold but it's no big deal because she just wears earmuffs." "Oh, que fancy," he would say. "Let me guess, she got her earmuffs from the Gap?" "Yes! Now, can we go to the mall cut my hair and then swing by the Gap to get earmuffs?" Here's how it ends - "Está loca! You know when our people were forced from their homes and tortured and split from their families...some moved to the coldest parts of North America and they were freezing to death do you think they stopped and said excuse me Señor Conquistador can we stop and get some earmuffs from the Gap, my ears are cold. No! They used their long hair to keep warm!"
While I might have been thinking in all of my 10 years of life should I challenge him? Nope. I am loyal.
So the point of this story is to say look, yes we come from a long line of heroes and activists who have come from some very trying times and have paved the way for Latinos, and I am not saying that we forget all of that, in fact I believe we should honor them, but WE are a supermajority now and we can say, yes, I support my people and my culture, but hijole! I want to cut my hair and challenge the status quo!
This/my example of loyalty is certainly micro in comparison to the many identity questions we as Latino Americans face every day, but it is relevant. We shape our young people to stay true to what our elders have experienced. For our community, our elders aren't that far removed from the many stories they share with us. In my personal life and professional life you're Latino, so you believe a certain way, vote a certain way, support certain people and organizations etc. etc. Challenging Latinos - in my opinion - is a challenge to who they are and what they know. It's no secret how we treat one another when there are disagreements about one's activities being perceived as outside of our Latinoselves. Maybe we shouldn't be so quick as to categorize them as disagreements, rather we should embrace the fact that as Latino Americans we have been introduced to the new concept of opportunity, and embrace the fact that we are a growing segment of society and we are an evolving culture in North America. "Disagreements" should be seen as an alternative view based on the individual opportunities we have seen and been given. Without it we will never change things for the better.
Look, here's what I mean: until we get a seat at the table, things will continue business as usual, but the larger Latino strategy would be to give our young Latinos the freedom to create a new Latino America - one that would welcome a Republican at the dinner table of a Democrat, or a Catholic and Protestant worshiping together. Why not change the world to fit us versus us trying change to fit into the world?
It's ok to challenge status quo, even the personal ones we have come up against. I know this can be hard. We are a very loyal people. But, this is about finding your Latinoself - your identity. Remember, as Latinos we have the ability to create the environment versus allowing the environment to create us. We need to remember the commonalities that I believe will never escape us - faith, brother/sisterhood, love and a true respect for each and everyone's path that got them to where they are today. We must challenge ourselves and each other - go beyond your authority whether it is politics, religion or community...whatever. Put your position on the line to get people talking. A double-edged sword perhaps. But when you feel the tension, that is when you channel what your elders asked you to embrace. It's not just about what they believed as much as it was about the courage they displayed. The common denominator we have with our elders and the past legends that helped open the door for this Latina to live her dream and not the one given to her, is the courage to fight. Each of us has the power to create and fuel our own revolutions, a revolution that changes your life for the better. It's not until we become better in life that we can lift our fellow Latino brothers and sisters into a more prospered life. Once we achieve this we then have the means and influence to help raise all other cultures fighting for the same dream.
It can be scary, but oh so rewarding. Take a look at the opportunities you have been given. No one knows your journey like you do. Maybe you don't fit the mold that has been created for you, no problem just create a new mold. And ask yourself if you have been following or listening to a person, group or ideology that preaches "it's the way it's always been" mentality.
And, finally remember that you are Latino. You are a mix of beautiful and vibrant races, cultures and identities. We are a tolerant people and we love like no other, so if challenging the status quo or questioning your loyalty doesn't work for you right now, that's ok - we won't leave you behind. This is the beauty of being Latino.
Follow Christina M. Martínez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@AdelantePAC