I Am Latina Essay Contest: Yo Soy Latina

I Am Latina Essay Contest: Being Latina, Being Genuine

Sonia Lopez “I am Latina” I was born under the bridge of my mother’s brow, inaugurated under the throughway of Gulfton and Fondren where I spent my childhood. Surrounded by the calloused brown hands of unemployed immigrant fathers lumped together on corners of Houston hardware stores, I thrived in the interstitial amniotic fluid of a Mexican-­‐American childhood. My big brown eyes swam in a neon-­‐pink haze all my life; I never even knew I was poor because love was propelling through my synapses at the speed of light, surging heat and hunger through my tiny child veins as I walked home from school to sit alone in a small apartment I shared with my mother who waitressed 12 hours a day. I lived for Sunday mornings because we got to eat menudo and sweet bread, and if I cleaned houses with my mom on Saturday mornings she would buy me hot coffee and donuts. As time went on, our divergent cultures melted into one another and Spanglish ruled the day. La Virgen Maria was now just a painted caricature on the hoods of peoples Camaro’s, and I spent whole summers haggling for mangoes and pineapples with limon and chile from grandfathers who tirelessly pushed fruit carts up and down the streets. Their bell rang clear through out the day, signaling sugar and the comforts of Mexico for only a dollar.

My turpentine life was flammable, rampant and brilliant. Growing up as a Chicana, pain became the portrait of my life; I knew very well how it framed my precise existence. I was a girl whose eyes were great big pools where the entire world bobbed up and down as I rode the waves of my awareness. I began my life barefoot, my body aching the ageless ache of knowing I had a lot against me. Latina women intimately learn the untruths that name and maim them, that judge, categorize, and criticize them into the size of their heads and breasts, that carve out their hips and dig out their depth. Coming out of high school I lived overlapping lives, straddling my identity as an American girl and a Mexican daughter. Latina girls were supposed to have soft voices, be meek, and submissive, but I was too busy reading poetry by Charles Bukowski and learning about what Carl Jung wrote about dreams.

“Fuck’em” my Mami would say as she buttoned up her waitress uniform, my mija can dye her hair green if she wants too, she can break her heart on the edge of Nietzsche’s tooth, saturate herself with moroseness, and terrible music if that’s what my mija wants to do. My Mami would cringe inwardly at my Cali-­‐punk outfits while I walked around quoting Sublime lyrics. She would bite her tongue when I would forget my Spanish or head bang in the living room to hazy reggae. She allowed me to contradict everything a modest Mexican girl was predestined to be and endeavored to ensure I did not drown in a learned-­‐ powerlessness or be tricked into thinking men paying for my dinner was a career goal. I witnessed the disrespect and mental injury she experienced being a Latina woman with a tenuous grasp on the American accent while cleaning houses and waiting tables with her. However, she was never afraid of asking for what she felt she deserved. She taught me you have to work tirelessly to be your genuine self despite the world having fewer expectations of you.

I realized soon enough that the same tears I cried as an eighteen year old struggling with my college applications, were the same tears my mother cried when she was 15 crossing the border to work in the US, and her mother before her dealing with domestic abuse. Tears have become valuable heirlooms to Latina girls, adorning their dark hair like gems as they fall in and out of love, find and fight for space around them to grow, and dig deeper and wider for the compassion necessary to learn. Though I had mastered the art of learning from the pain associated with being a gendered and racial minority here in the United States, I had not yet grasped the powers associated with being a Latina. Being Latina became a superpower for me when I went out of state for college for the first time. I had such intimate experiences dealing with disadvantaged neighborhoods, discrimination, and inequality, that many of the topics discussed in class about poverty, illiteracy, and racism were directly part of my life growing up. I saw this as an opportunity to teach and learn from my east coast peers about what being Latina meant in attempts to widen their and my worldview.

Sitting in college on my first day as an undergraduate, I smiled inwardly to myself as we began our discussion, I raised my hand thinking to myself “I am Latina, my experiences are relevant, and I have a lot to say." Having graduated college a semester early, I decided to teach in Houston’s underserved schools with Teach For America as a bilingual elementary teacher. I am looking forward to learning from new multicultural generations of students about what it takes to connect with ones roots and to discover ones true genuine self in the process. The first day of school this coming fall, I will find myself smiling inwardly again as I peer into 20 new little faces, all who might be Latino or not. Each student will have come into my classroom with a myriad amount of experiences relevant to learning in and out of class, and they will have a lot to say. I cannot wait to greet them with “Welcome to my class, I am listening."