“I looked up at the trees and asked for their wisdom. I observed their willowing branches and crisp brown leaves, dead with only a shimmer of light running through their veins. Its branches holding on to life with the few lively leaves it managed to hold on to. In plain sight, it looked like it had suffered and lost its spirit. I heard the spirits of the wind speak to me, they said “look down, below the surface, at its core, the tree is grounded not by its leaves but by its roots.” In that moment, I was reminded that I too have roots grounding my every step. My papà telling me “echale ganas,” my abuelita guiding my heart reminding me to reach out with love, and my abuelito guiding my strength and joy for life. Through them, I am connected to a long lineage of wisdom, love, strength, and resiliency. As I laid on the cool soil of mother earth and the sun kissed my blushed cheeks, I didn’t feel so alone anymore.” -JOD

Language evolves over time and provides meaning to the experiences we face as humans. With every generation come groups of progressive minds that revolutionize how we conceptualize and value our existence and sense of belonging. As a daughter of Mexican migrants and a first generation-American, I have used terms like Xicana, Mexican-American, Hispanic, and more recently Latinx to empower my identity. “Hispanic” was a term coined by the Nixon administration that derived from “Hispania” meaning the Spanish Empire (Ramos, 2020).  According to Ramos (2020), this term more closely represents a white European colonial past as opposed to Latinx, which embraces diverse sub-groups that include people of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central, and South American descent. The “x” in Latinx replaced “Latino/a” as a way to break gender binaries and be more inclusive of gender-nonconforming folks. This reclamation of identity and inclusion through language provides a safe haven to many of us who have been marginalized due to our ancestral roots. It is important to note that although these groups are categorized under the term Latinx and share some common values, they often differ in experiences and customs.

Ni de aqui ni de allá, a Spanish saying meaning “neither from here nor there.” One summer vacation, while visiting my family in Mexico I was called a “pocha”, meaning an Americanized Mexican. At that time, I was about eight years old and did not comprehend the deep emotional complexities that come from that word. Later, as a young adult, I saw and heard other messages that implied that I was neither American nor Mexican enough. This duality created internal wars for many years. Traditional values of familism, respect, religion, gender roles, and collectivistic ideologies shaped my childhood.  My early westernized academic journey and exposure to mainstream media created polarized narratives in my mind of what I should embrace as part of my identity. To make sense of my bicultural identity, I set out to explore and understand the systems, traditions, values, and beliefs that have shaped me throughout my life in order to be able to integrate and celebrate these two distinct identities.

Growing up, I do not recall seeing myself portrayed in mainstream media or my experience as a Latinx individual being celebrated. Other than the important work of Cesar Chavez, I do not remember learning about Latinx folks who positively impacted our past, present, or were making headlines for a more progressive future. Instead, I remember being inundated by the works of White folks and celebrating their accomplishments throughout history and the present day. This lack of representation pushed me into negating who I was and where I came from. Even my native tongue of Spanish appeared repulsive and offensive. I did everything in my power to fit in and due to my lighter skin complexion, I truly thought it would be possible. As I entered the realm of college, also a difficult task as a first-generation college student, I became enamored with the works of people who looked like me and whose names sounded like mine. I saw myself in books like The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros and Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua. Like me, I found a community who had been marginalized and fooled into thinking that our voices and experiences did not matter. The exposure and thirst for representation propelled my journey into becoming an advocate for facilitating change and celebrating our beautiful heritage. Currently, I find myself following the works of folks who aim to embrace Latinx heritage but who are also mindful and inclusive of all intersectionalities. Poets like Yosimar Reyes, who uses his platform on social media and performs his pieces in front of crowds to speak of the resiliency of dreamers and LGBTQ+ within Latinx communities in order to advocate for change. Elizabeth Acevedo, author of The Poet X, who shares her story through a series of poems relating to her Afro-Latinx experience; a subgroup within the Latinx community that is often overlooked. There are abundant social media accounts like @hip_latina on Instagram that celebrate and embrace our beautiful, ever-evolving heritage.

Perhaps in some people’s eyes, I may never be Mexican nor American enough, but I can proudly say that I am Mexican-American. The integration and blending of these dualities help me understand and make sense of my cultural existence and although challenging at times, these polarities help me adapt to different situations. Through this journey of self-exploration, acceptance and self-compassion, I learned to balance the individualistic and collectivistic parts of me that make me who I am. I empathize with my parents’ experience in a foreign country and the importance placed on holding on to traditional Mexican values while also breaking traditional gender norms and expectations. More importantly, I have embraced my roots that know no limits and are filled with a long lineage of wisdom, love, strength, and resiliency.

References:  Ramos, P. (2020). Finding Latinx: In Search of the Voices Redefining Latino Identity. Vintage Books.

Jacqueline Gallegos is a clinical therapist in The Guidance Center’s Long Beach Outpatient Program, where she helps guide children and families struggling with mental health conditions or abuse toward positive and productive futures. She is especially passionate about working with adolescents and their families in navigating acculturational differences that may impact relational dynamics, communication, anxious, and depressive symptoms. Before joining The Guidance Center team in 2019, Gallegos worked with families and adults as a Domestic Violence Victim Advocate. Gallegos earned a Bachelor’s of Science in Human Services, a Bachelor’s of art in Psychology, and a Master’s in Counseling at California State University, Fullerton.