As we wind down on the 2018 Hispanic Heritage Month, I have been faced with a great deal of reflection about how I chose to “celebrate” or bring folks into a discussion about what this time means to me. I have been forced to consider what some of my accomplishments are as a Chicana in WV, where I have experienced my greatest challenges and sacrifices, and how I have fit all of being me into one definitive existence.
All I know is that my experience in being Chicana in West Virginia was largely overshadowed throughout my younger years because of my discomfort and not knowing if I would fit in should people find out. I grew up with back-handed comments from folks in our rural community, some just from not knowing how to ask what my ethnicity was or asking what country mom and I were from, to using derogatory slang to instill fear and show me my place in their world.
In my 41 years, I have experienced, as we all do, my share of turmoil and heartache from abuses perpetrated upon loved ones and myself. I have seen the savage illness of substance abuse disorder claim lives in our communities, I have been witness to unspeakable poverty, I have gone nights feeling unsafe at the hands of our family’s abuser, and I have shared the sorrow and shame of assault. However, do not get it twisted; my life in West Virginia has been, for the most part, very happy.
While my extended family resides hundreds of miles away, I have had the deep pleasure of creating my "Framily" of friends here in these beautiful mountains. I have grown from a being unsure of fitting in, to a proud Chicana woman raising a self-proclaimed “Wexican” girl. My pride comes from my daughter understanding her roots to the core of who she is, and if she does not understand, she asks me about “where her people come from."
One of my favorite conversations came out of a discussion with her about skin color and belonging. She wanted to know why her Gigi was so “dark,” I was so “medium,” and her skin was so white. We began exploring the fact that everyone is different and she has a white biological father and mommy is a fairer-skinned Mexican. “So, that makes me a Wexican, right Mommy?” “Yes, love, if that helps you understand and explain, there is your identifying word.”
After this conversation, I felt it necessary to call a friend to ask if I had made the right decision with my daughter. However, deep inside, I knew I had. It felt good knowing that I am raising a child to be comfortable knowing her roots, knowing that she is the blend of her glorious Appalachian and beautiful Mexican cultures that fit perfectly wherever she wants to be in this world.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month was a hard sell for me in years past. Nevertheless, I finally get it. I finally know the celebration is about embracing my history and culture of being a proud, strong Chicana woman who has powered through the darkest of times in the cradling arms of my chosen Framily in Appalachia. Every day is to celebrate the phenomenal creatures we are, and no matter the fire, “Still we Rise.”
Happy Hispanic Heritage Month friends, and thank you for allowing me to grow into this person, in this place. <3