Orgullo is a word that means pride.
As a child, I bathed naked in the río, running through our small ciudad; I walked around bailes in my botas, sipping cans of beer people left behind, and I ate tamales to no ends. “Tan inteligente, pero tan tonto,” my mother used to say of my utter lack of shame as I said what was on my mind and did things that gave her more than enough vergüenza for the both of us. I was proud of myself.
Vergüenza is a word that means shame.
It was my first day of school and I wanted to wear my botas. My sisters wore botas to their first days of school.Even though they started school in Mexico and I was starting in the US, I wanted to show off mine, because my school mascot was a horse. During recess, one of my classmates told me to “chase the birds off of the playground, since you’re dressed like a cowboy.” I went home and asked my mother if she could buy me light-up sneakers like all the other kids had.
Orgullo and vergüenza aren’t mutually exclusive.
During my last month in elementary school, my teacher asked all of us to bring a small plate of food in for an end of the year potluck. I didn’t know what that meant, and she explained that it could be any food we wish to share with everyone else. I went home and asked my mother to make tamales. She was orgullosa of her tamales, and I was so excited to share them with my friends. When I took them to school, my friends didn’t know what they were and said that they looked gross. Avergonzado, I told them that she must have given me the wrong food tray by mistake, and not to eat whatever “icky thing” I had brought.
Vergüenza runs deeper than simple embarrassment.
In middle school, I stopped wearing my cruz, the small necklace my mother said to keep with me. I had to, otherwise, people would associate me with all the other people who wore a cruz. They would think that I’m “a dumb cholo who is never going to get anywhere in life with those baggy clothes except caught up in a gang.” I knew that, because that’s what I thought of them, as they would walk past me and nod at me. And I told myself that I wasn’t anything like them. I wasn’t Mexican.
And when you think you’re at peace with your vergüenza, you find that you are far from it.
My mother had a lonchera that I would help her with most days of the week. It was a little run down and never drove properly, but she loved cooking and people loved her food, so I helped her. One year, my high school asks her to bring the lonchera for a Cinco de Mayo celebration, in which I thankfully did not have to help her. I walk out during lunch period and see a large line at the truck. My mother’s face lights up as she sees mine, and she asks me to go into the truck to help her. I was filled with vergüenza as I got into the lonchera and faced the crowds. “His family has a taco truck? I didn’t know he was that type of Mexican.”
And you run.
It’s senior year, and I decide on a college. It’s a small college on the other side of the country, and as far away from my past as possible. My mother is very sad that I’m leaving, but this is what’s best. The college knows that I’m Latinx, low-income, and a first-generation college student, but I’ll make sure no one knows that, and I’ll make sure I can create my own identity. Away from the identity that is being thrust upon me. I was born in Mexico but am not Mexican.
But a little orgullo,
I arrive at the college that I have chosen to go to that will finally let me start new, and be just like everyone else. Here, no one knows my story, no one knows where I am from or how “Mexican” my family is. And I want to keep it that way. I’m getting emails from some Latinx affinity group, but I know that group isn’t for me. It’s for people who, for some reason, seem to be proud of their culture. And that’s fine. I’ll just focus on my studies and ignore their emails until they get the hint.
goes a long way.
The emails never went away. Because of that, I had to come to terms with my vergüenza. It’s not that I hated my culture. It was the ostracization that came with it that I struggled with and could not overcome. As I pushed my culture away, I pushed the vergüenza away. But I was forced to wonder why it was that I was so avergonzado of something that made me stronger, not weaker. And the reality is that there is so much to be orgullosx about in being Latinx. There is orgullo in the music, the dance, the food. There is orgullo in the Latinx community and every single minority within it. There is passion, there is drive, and there is a sense of belonging. And I share the orgullo of that community.
So, I wear that orgullo proudly on my sleeve. I wear the challenges I’ve faced as a minority, in the same way mi mamá wears the struggles she had to face to get me where I am today. I am a first-generation college student. I am low-income. I am Latinx. But most importantly, I am Mexican, and I am lleno de orgullo.
Gracias mamá por lo que has hecho por mí. Espero que tu cumplé vaya bien.