Friday, September 2, 2011

Does the hyphen syphon equality?

This piece was featured on Being Latino Magazine. And yes, that is a picture from my soccer playing days.

I forget how old I was when I first learned that I am Mexican. This to me is not necessarily a bad thing — depending on how the information is presented. You can easily shape a child’s perception of specific people or put a chip on their shoulder at an early age. What is that going to do for them? Ultimately, it will affect the way they build relationships growing-up and in school. Understandably, later on down the line they will wise up to the realities of society; so no need to pollute their minds early on with what we think. That inhibits progress, but I digress.

When explaining my background my grandmother always told me, “you are American of Mexican descent.” It wasn’t until I just wrote that sentence a few seconds ago that I realized how deep it truly is. It’s a strong, strong statement declaring that I am contributing member to American society and deserved to be treated as an equal American citizen; it also embraces my rich family heritage – which is significantly different than identifying as “Mexican-American.”

I have an issue with the hyphen. African-American. Asian-American. Meixcan-Amerian. Second-Class. While it gives me the outward appearance that we are able to embrace our culture when we identify our nationality, I feel that by adding the hyphen we allow a degree of separation from what society identifies simply as “American.” I’m American, too. Why do we have to be a sub-category or sub-classification of what type of Americans we are?

Maybe the greater issue of identity lies in the question, “What does it mean to be an American, really?” So much effort goes into figuring out what everyone is because there is no real definition of what American is -- to each his own. The beauty of this country is its diversity; its downfall is equality.

You would think equality would have been a standard by now. Some may argue it is, which to an extent is true. The rest of us would say there is still a long road ahead to reach that point. Equality is something that will never be achieved over night on the mass level. It starts at the individual level; how we raise our children. Teaching them we are equal, and in order to be respected as an equal we must treat all people equal, ourselves. Embracing our differences culturally or superficially, but being accepting and open-minded with other cultures -- its proven to be more difficult than it sounds. I truly believe racism and prejudice are taught in the home; children aren’t born with these ideas or misconceptions. If we want change how we are perceived, it starts with us. In our homes. Educating our future.

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