Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Girl in Gratitude

After reading Girl in Translation for the SV Moms Book Club, I am haunted by these thoughts.

I don't understand the hatred and anger towards immigrants. I'm three generations removed from immigrant status, and as Americanized as you can get, and still, I can't find it in me to think less of any human for simply walking on American soil. My reaction is quite the opposite, actually. On the occasions that I have driven down the 5 freeway and seen the signs warning of families crossing, I am humbled by their efforts, their deep desire to be here. I don't know how I "earned" the right to be born here, and they did not.

I remember telling my parents when I was about 10 or so and just starting to grasp the concept of what the world can be like beyond America that I most likely would not have survived long had I lived anywhere else. I would think about girls growing up in countries where they aren't allowed to speak their opinions, aren't even allowed to be educated, and I believed even then that it would not have made a difference in how opinionated I am had I been born elsewhere; that it was more nature than nurture.

I am a Mexican-Irish American. The girls and I saw a PBS documentary on In The Heights, where one of the actors said she always felt like a fake Latina, and I totally got that. The girls agreed, we have all felt that way.

We have always been told that we don't look Hispanic. When I was growing up, it was said like a compliment. When my girls are told by their peers that they don't look it, it's said as an accusation; like they don't have a right to call themselves Hispanic because they are also Irish and Greek. And I remember what my mom asked me 15 years ago when I first told her I was seeing X: "does he know you're Mexican?" Like somehow, that would affect his interest in me. When she was growing up, it was very important to be as Americanized as possible.

When I was younger, my mom tried to teach me Spanish, but I didn't want to learn. I couldn't see how it was important. We lived in a "white" neighborhood at the time, and being Mexican felt like something I didn't want to be. I could hide behind my Irish traits.

We moved from that white neighborhood to East L.A. I think about 20% of the student body at my junior high was black, 75% were Hispanic, and I included myself in the 5% of white students. Sure, I could have been in the "majority" had I stuck with the Hispanics, but I was too white for them and I knew it.

I was just glad when I went on to the High School for the Arts, and ethnicity stopped being an issue. When it came time for college applications, though, I started to wonder just what bubble to fill in. Was I Hispanic? Was I White? Was I Other? I filled them in randomly, never choosing the same one twice in a row.

It didn't come up again until I had the girls, and their schools hosted Multi-Cultural Nights. At least now, there are a lot more kids that have more than one ethnic background. The girls celebrate all of their heritages.

That may have seemed like a bit of rambling away from the subject, but it all goes back to my original point: I had no control over where I came from, nor did my girls. While judgment is still going to happen, I wish it were more based on our character, on our contributions, on what we're doing with our lives today rather than where we happened to be born.

The heroine of the book and its author, Jean Kwok, humble me greatly. I am reminded that I am so lucky in so many aspects; that I get to raise my girls without interference, that I have a job that I love that challenges and nurtures me, that I can make enough money on my own to provide a few of the extras for my girls. And yes, that somehow, I was one of the lucky ones to be born free in America.

Girl in Translation is the June book for SV Moms Book Club. While I was given the book to read for free, I have not been compensated for this post.The link to the book is connected to my Amazon Associates account, and any purchase made from it will generate a small referral fee for me. 


Vinomom said...

I'm actually surprised I haven't run across this book. I read a lot of books about women growing up as immigrants, especially Asian. In fact, I just finished one. I think what interests me the most is the culture of their families. I've always felt like my family has no real culture (as many plain old American families, I daresay)

I think it is lucky that you have a hispanic culture to enjoy, and it's a shame you never learned spanish, or your mother didn't speak more to you as a child. I would love to be fluent in any language.

Thanks for the book recommendation, I will definitely be checking it out, and if I can't find at the used bookstore, I will order thru your link.

Anonymous said...

Great post! I'll have to look for it once I finish the book I'm reading now.


I have a Mexican-American Indian friend who also has always tried to hide the Hispanic aspect of her cultural mix. I never understood why she selected one culture over the other to embrace. Reading this book and then reading the collective blogs has given me so much more insight into different reader viewpoints. Thanks for sharing yours.


Jean Kwok said...

It's wonderful for me to read about the thoughts that my novel has inspired. What a time you had too! Although in some ways, my own life was similar to Kimberly's, I've always felt very lucky as well -- to be in this country and to have all the opportunities that I have had.


Danielle said...

I think that way about a lot of things. How was I so lucky to be born American. How was I so lucky to be born to "normal" parents. How was I born with no birth defects or learinig disabilities.
I feel like it is luck of the draw and you can not judge the less fortunate. Perhaps they are the fortunate ones.

Julie said...

I, too, have thought that I'd never survive in another country. And how hard it must be to live somewhere else. Reading Girl in Translation has made me realize that it would be just as difficult to come here as it would for one of us to go somewhere else.

Vivianne's Vista said...

What an interesting post this is April. It is refreshing to read this viewpoint. I did a lot of immigration work as an attorney and met so mny wonderful people who were escaping horrible conditions to come to this country. I have to say many were very hardworkers who sacrificed a great deal to make a dollar, living in terrible conditions because they had no where else to go.

For me it was an amazing exposure to the strenght and courage within humans. I get so disheartened when I hear and read horrible statements made by people who just don't get it. This country was founded and created by immigrants. It is its diversity that makes it great. Why have some forgotten that? I agree with you, and also wish if there was any judgment to be made, it should be made on character as opposed to generalized stereotypes. I'm going to have to take a look at this book thanks to your recommendation.

Mandy said...

There are a lot of issues tied up here - race has much to do with immigration. I'm an immigrant here, from England but I've rarely felt that and I think that's because I'm white and speak English.

I get annoyed about the bubble sheets because they just say "white" and ignore all the ethnicities associated with that. I won't fill out the bubbles unless it's mandatory. Same too now with those bubbles that ask about marital status - why is that information relevant?

Anonymous said...

My favorite quote about the immigration issue. . .what is it. . . something like "Immigrants have always been a problem--just ask the American Indians."