What Identifying as Mexican-American Means to Me


My dad, as a sort of joke to no one but himself, answers the question “where are you from?” with “I’m Tex-Mex.” He then laughs, and I politely remind him he is not a nacho. But as anyone with a Mexican background and a U.S. passport knows, it’s very difficult to quickly explain the nuances of growing up “Mexican” versus growing up “Mexican-American.” Don’t even get me started on Tejano and Chicano.  I essentially explain my life by saying it’s the first 10 minutes of Selena, you know before she learns how to sing in Spanish and becomes the Queen of Tejano.

The difference is only compounded by when your family arrived in the U.S. Did you cross the border or did the border cross you? Are you first, second, or third generation  — or further? It’s an interesting mix — and you can see it even in celebrity culture. Eva Longoria reps her Mexican culture on the regular, but her family has actually been in what is now known as the U.S. for hundreds of years.  She identifies as a “Texican.”

The foods we eat — even the types of tortillas we use or prefer — differentiate Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, but mostly due to availability or the infiltration of American culture. One thing all Mexican and Mexican-Americans agree on: chimichangas are definitely an American thing. I still think they’re good though.

But Mexican or Mexican-American? What does it mean when we make these distinctions? And what does it say about our identities? Labels are interesting — they tend to say more about what we ourselves identify with than anything else. If you identify as Mexican, even if you were born in the U.S., you might feel more kinship to the country or your familia. Mexican-Americans? Some might say the term is outdated; that we’re Americans. But that’s it — we straddle the two. We’re the hyphen, a bridge between living an American life and a Mexican one too. This is the struggle a lot of Latino Americans face in terms of identity. Juggling both cultures while figuring out where we fit in this world. 

To my fellow Mexican-Americans — which label do you prefer?

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