First Generation Mexican-American: The Sandwich Theory
Being first generation Mexican-American was different. Growing up in the U.S. we were never truly “American enough” due to our skin color, culture and because we spoke “Spanish”. When we visited Mexico, we were never “Mexican enough” since we were living and growing up in “El Norte”. The people in Mexico thought we were too good since we knew how to speak “Inglés”. I am sure there are many people that can relate with this. Based on these and many other factors, I have developed a theory over the years that I would like to call “The Sandwich Theory”.
EMBRACING OUR MEXICAN CULTURE
Growing up in a Mexican household, we learned to embrace our culture. From the food we ate to kissing our grandparents’ hand when we said "Buenos Días". Our weekends were filled with going to the store to buy the “mandado”, visiting our Tia’s house and going to church every Sunday. Every so often we would go to a family party or just a random party because my dad’s cousin invited us to their “compadre’s” party. We grew up dragging the drunken Tio out of the “bautizo” party because they just had to get drunk at the kids baptism. Waking up on Saturday and Sunday mornings to the radio on full blast playing “Vicente Fernandez” or “Las Jilguerillas” only meant one thing…. Clean up day!
As a first generation Mexican-American we had a heavy load on our shoulders. We had many responsibilities and things to prove. I can sincerely say that most of us feel the need to prove to our parents that their sacrifice of coming to the U.S. was worth it. Most of our parents left their families in Mexico and migrated to the U.S. in hopes of finding a better life for themselves and their family. A lot of us grew up in a home in which our parents worked long hours and long days to provide for us and give us the opportunity for a better future. Needless to say, we had to grow up quickly. Most of us knew responsibility and accountability at a very young age. We started working at an early age to understand the meaning and value of money. I have no doubt this is why we as Mexican-Americans have some serious work ethic! My parents placed high importance in going to school and getting educated. Even though I was going to school, work was still on my hands. I had to juggle work and school for several years in order to complete my college degrees. The family support was always there. My mom was always our biggest cheerleader. My dad was tough on us, but that is what taught me discipline and helped shape the person I am today.
ADAPTING TO AMERICAN CULTURE
Living in the U.S. meant exposure to a different world and culture. Many of us first generation Mexican-Americans attended grade school in the U.S. and learned English as a second language. It was interesting since we had to complete school learning English, but Spanish was the predominate language at our home. We had to adapt to the different society and culture in which we were living and growing up in. In order to survive and succeed, being able to relate and understand the American culture was vital. Being part of 4th of July celebrations and Thanksgiving became part of us. We started mixing the English and Spanish languages as our daily dialogue. We were excited to eat “Pozole” and “Tamales” at home, but never said no to a good old hot dog at the ballpark or a delicious hamburger. I grew up playing baseball and admiring other sports like football and basketball. We also adapted to fashion trends and started dressing and having different likes and dislikes than our parents.
SO WHO ARE WE….
We are first generation Mexican-Americans. We have the Mexican blood and culture, with a twist of American traditions. We did not grow up in the same lifestyle as our parents. We did not grow up in the perfect “American Dream”. We are the only generation that saw our parents migrate from Mexico to another country seeking opportunities and a better life for their family. Our following generations will grow up in the United States. They will be accustomed to the American lifestyle. Our generation was and will be the only true "Sandwich Generation". A generation that grew up in the middle of embracing our Mexican culture and adapting to the American traditions in order to survive and become part of a functioning society. Many people have the desire and urge to continue discovering and experiencing our Mexican culture. We should never stop discovering our roots and where we come from. When looking at reality, we live in the United States and most of our lives are centered around our family and careers.
This should not be a deal breaker, I see this as an opportunity. We are able to create a new chapter in history. We are the generation that is able to bridge the gap between two diverse countries to make it stronger. We are the creators of "Spanglish". A language that is only understood between us. This is who we are, this is now part of our culture. Yes… it makes us different, but we need to pursue and take advantage of opportunities. We need to make things happen for us, for our families, for our future. We might be the only generation that can truly understand Mexican culture and American traditions. Next time someone says you are not Mexican enough or American enough…take it as a compliment. They are admiring our uniqueness.
It is also up to us to keep our traditions alive. To understand these traditions and pass them on from generation to generation. We are a force to be reckoned with. We are not one sided, we have a different perspective on life. As first generation Mexican-American, lets take advantage of this once in lifetime opportunity. Follow your dreams and make them happen, just like our parents followed theirs. Our parents came to the U.S. to give us an opportunity, they did their part. What will you do to complete your side of the deal?