My family in San Francisco during my middle school years. (Courtesy photo)
Being a Latino in the U.S. can sometimes mean an evolving sense of identity. When I was a child, I identified simply as American — without a hyphen, asterisk or modifier.
I thought being American meant reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, learning about the War of 1812 in history class and watching blockbuster hits with friends.
But being at home was living in another world.
Ma would cook enchiladas en salsa verde and, at least once a week, would shove the phone in my face, “Ten, habla con tu abuela que te quiere oír.” Translation: My grandma wanted to hear my voice.
I loved being in two worlds.
But that feeling of being a total American was short lived. When I was 7 or 8 years old, my parents told me I was born in Mexico. My American life was radically redefined. Later, I would come to be defined as a “dreamer,” still feeling no less American but with an asterisk.
In college, I did not feel like I was entirely from Mexico or the U.S. and toyed with identifying as Chicano. I was attracted by the feeling of nepantla — the Nahuatl word for “in the middle.”
But I still felt more Mexican, though the only home I knew was here in the U.S. Most of my classmates were born here and seemed to have a better grasp on the two identities.
Feeling more Mexican than completely American, I wasn’t feeling Chicano. I’m not just one thing — and, ultimately, being Latino isn’t one specific experience either.
That was five years ago. I’m working in Los Angeles on a permit through DACA, a policy that allows people brought here as children like me to work. And after having lived in Washington, D.C., — the mecca of American politics — surrounded by people from different backgrounds, I have a new sense of self.
Now, every time someone asks, “What are you?” or “Where are you from?” my answer is: I’m an Angeleno who was born in Mexico.
Hispanic, Latinx, Chicano. Immigrant, naturalized or U.S. born. Black, white, brown, blended.
Being Latino can mean so many different things, rooted in about two dozen different places of origin. And though Latinos may have a language in common, there isn’t a singular voice or narrative for the Latino experience.
Some speak English at work, hablan español en la casa or speak both languages con nuestros amigos — or no Spanish at all. Some fuse the two languages to say donde nos parkeamos, or “where do we park.”
There’s no denying that Latinos are changing politics, entertainment and the culture of the country.
The U.S. Latino population is at 57 million and counting. In California, Latinos have surpassed whites as the largest ethnic group.
In celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, The Times wants to hear about your Latino identity. We plan to publish a collection of stories that highlight the variety of voices and experiences within the Latino community.
So tell us your story: What does being Latino in 2016 mean to you? You can fill out the survey below or share your story on Instagram using #MyLatinoIdentity or #MiIdentidadLatina.