What Does it Mean to Be Latino?

calla lily photo yvonne condes babble voicesI was almost out the door when my son asked me where I was going.  I said I was going to a screening of the “The Latino List: Volume 2″ all the way downtown and I had to leave.

“Why do you want to see that?” he asked. I explained that he, his brother, and I are Latino and I’m interested to hear about the experiences of other Latinos. “And Dad, too,” he said. “Dad’s Latino. We’re all Latino.”

Ugghh. Why must all deep and meaningful conversations begin when I’m already late? My husband and I explained that I’m Latino because my mom and dad are both Mexican American and that made him half Mexican. Dad’s not Latino because his parents are from European stock via Wisconsin and Oregon.

“What does it mean to be Latino?” my blond haired, blue-eyed son asked me.

And that’s what I thought about as I sat in Los Angeles traffic for the next hour. What does it mean to be Latino for my boys?

Growing up in Tucson, my family was surrounded by other Mexicans who were family, friends, and neighbors. There was no questioning who we were because our culture surrounded us all the time. Our lives in Los Angeles are much different. We live in a multicultural neighborhood, but it’s not our culture. We live near Little Iran where English and Farsi are spoken more often than Spanish. I know other Latinos here, but there is little Spanish or even Spanglish spoken between us. Their stories are similar to mine.

My mother moved to the United States from Mexico when she was a child and didn’t speak any English. This led to abuse from teachers and teasing from the other kids. She didn’t want that for her children, so when my parents moved to Tucson they went from the Spanish-sounding Condes (Cone-des) to the Anglicized Condes (Con-diss). Although we would hear Spanish spoken by friends and family, my parents never spoke the language to my brothers, or my sister or myself. I don’t blame them for the difficult choices they made, but I blame myself for not working harder to learn and use it on my own.

So here I am; the whitest Mexican you’ve ever seen who doesn’t really speak much Spanish and is mother to even whiter children.

What does it mean for us to be Latino?

As I sat in the theatre and watched the documentary, I continued to ask that question. I was reminded that there isn’t one Latino story. We all came from a different countries, different cultures, and no experience is less valid because of where or how it happened. Regardless of whether I do or do not speak Spanish.

So for my son: Being Latino for us means that we are proud Mexican Americans who work hard and enjoy life and family like everyone else.

Read more from me over at MomsLA , where I’m editor and co-founder, or my personal blog YvonneInLA.  

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