¡No escondan el nopal! Sus raíces son obvias!
(Don’t Attempt to hide your Latinx Ethnicity! Your Ethnicity is Obvious”)
By Octavio Pimentel
Muchas veces, I come across people in San Marcos, Texas and at Texas State University who do not like their ethnicity, color of their skin, native language, parent given name, among other cultural characteristics that make them who they are. Unfortunately, this ethnic shame stems from the anti-Latinx rhetoric and even more so from the Anti-Mexican rhetoric that persists in the United States. What is sad about this embarrassment of themselves is that it often produces, at best, a low level self-hatred of themselves, and in more severe cases, a keen hatred of themselves.
These varied amounts of self-hatred often occur in people who have Latinx cultural roots. Not surprising, it is often others who are not Latinx who produce the most anti-Latinx rhetoric. For example, it is common to hear people say things like; “This is America… people should speak English;” “These illegals are coming over to take the jobs from Americans;” “These people should stop supporting Mexico. They live in America”. In addition to those who are blunt about their racist beliefs, there are others who are equally racist, but express their viewpoints in a subtle way. A prime example of this was when the “FLOTUS," wore a jacket with the message “I Really Don’t Care. Do U?” when she visited the child detention center in Texas. When she was questioned about her apparel choice, she responded by saying it was “just a jacket,” as if she was oblivious to the rhetorical message she wrapped herself in. As a way to further grapple with these complicated issues, this essay addresses many other rhetorical racist practices that occur in Texas. This is followed up with an analysis of how people respond to this negative rhetoric. Lastly, I provide suggestions on how Texans can help minimize these racist rhetorical practices.
Let me be blunt. Racism is alive and well in the United States. It appears everywhere. What is most heartbreaking about this is that its existence is so widespread that it has become normalized and thus unrecognizable. That is, racist rhetoric simply passes as everyday rhetorical practices that “Americans” participate in. For example, the 4th of July is a holiday that is celebrated in coordination with the signing of the Declaration of Independence of 1776, and is often viewed as a representation of freedom. Although this is true to some point, it is rarely recognized that the Declaration of Independence that was signed in 1776 was not applicable to all Americans, including African Americans and other people of color. Their freedom was not finalized until June 19, 1865.
To understand my positionality, it is vital to understand who I am. I am a 50-year-old Mexican male who was born in poverty in a racist environment! To some surprise, even today, as a full professor at Texas State University, I face racism on a daily basis. Unfortunately, there are plenty of people who do not like me because I am Mexican/Latinx. As a child my family migrated throughout the western United States, following the fruit harvest, but settled down in San Ysidro, California for a few years, while my father opened up a business in Mexico, which is why I call San Ysidro my hometown. One of the best things about San Ysidro was that everyone was bilingual, and thus most interactions were in both Spanish and English or a mixture of both languages. Since I was lucky enough to be raised in this linguistically rich area, I became bilingual at a young age, which gave me the confidence to embrace and love myself for the multiethnic individual I am, which is something I continue to profess (purposely or not) to date.
Now as a professor who deeply cares about people and the rhetoric they (re)produce, I spend many hours theorizing why many people embrace the racist rhetorical practices in the United States to a point where they hate themselves. When I arrived at Texas State University in 2005 I was excited. Not only was Texas State University a beautiful campus with great colleagues, but at that point, it was in the process of becoming a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), which was exciting because the central focus of my research has always been on “Hispanics” or Latinx, which is the term I prefer to use. Over my tenure at Texas State, I have had hundreds of beautiful (referring to the interior of a person and not the physicality of an individual) students, both female and male, with gorgeous names like: Xiomara, Xochitl, Sebastian, Marcos, and many others. To my surprise, almost every time I get a student with a name that is rooted in Spanish or in some cases in Nahuatl, the students most often prefer to be called by a more Anglo sounding name like: Jessica, Vicky, Erik, or Scott.
Una cosa que sí quiero dejar claro es que entiendo lo que implica tener un nombre mexicano, o aun más, lo que significa tener un nombre de origen indígena. Yo entiendo que a algunas personas les podría causar un poco de vergüenza tener un nombre atípico, pero para mí es motivo de orgullo. Es muy importante que la gente se de cuenta que la cultura mexicana, el idioma, y las prácticas culturales de México y otros países son bellísimas.
They are simply gorgeous. With little doubt, being Mexican is something to be proud of and certainly nothing individuals should hide. And even when people do try to hide their ethnicities, they are almost always outed by the color of their skin, accent, and/or cultural practices.
The pressure of NOT BEING LATINX, or specifically Mexican is strong within the United States. Within the United States there is a constant pressure to assimilate into “American culture” which is narrowly defined as White European Culture (WEA). This can be seen in different ways of society, which is presented at an early age and continues on until adulthood. For instance, a prime example of this is the education system in the United States. For the most part, the education system in the United States is taught in English, and through a European American perspective. What is most thought provoking about this is that most people do not recognize this, and in fact claim that it is simply the way it is in the United States.
Although most people claim they are unmindful to these racist acts, the truth is in most cases they are not. I claim this because for the most part many people adopt an anti-ethnic perspective, while immersing themselves in an “American” life-style (most commonly defined within the cultural practices of White European Americans). An old student of mine (who I’ll call Dallas to preserve his anonymity) told me a story that supports my claim well. During one of our conversations Dallas told me that while his mother was pregnant with him his parents could not decide on a name. In his words, they wanted to give him a name that would simply fit into “American culture” and not be too “Mexican.” As it turned out, since he was born in Dallas, Texas, his parents named him Dallas.
Although Dallas’ parents’ actions can be classified as passive aggressive, there are other stories that are more straight forward. In one incident while recording attendance in my class, I read the name “Carlos.” Once I read the name, a student raised his hand and assertively asked me to call him Charlie. When I questioned him about this, he told me that “Carlos” was the name given to him by his Mexican parents, but since he lives in the United States he wanted to be called by his American name—Charlie!
There are many motives as to why people often do not like their Mexican names, but a common reason is that they are humiliated by its Spanish or Nahuatl origins. For some time now there has been a clear push for “English Only” in the United States. Although this push has been intensive over the last 30 years, the “English Only” propaganda is especially prominent right now (summer 2018). Of course, this is all ironic because as history shows, the United States is a collage of immigrants (with many different languages) that came to a new world that already had hundreds of indigenous languages. Influenced by this anti-Latinx rhetoric, some people are adopting an Anglosized name because they hope that by removing their name from Spanish origins, they will no longer be classified as Latinx, or more specifically, Mexican. Unfortunately for them, in most cases, these individuals have not realized the complexity of all this and how their skin color, accent, and cultural characteristics most often prevent them from being classified as “American.”
Luckily, although there are people who are not proud of their Latinx backgrounds, there are others who are proud of their Latinx culture like Dr. Sergio Martinez and Dr. Jesus Jimenez, both Texas State University professors. I originally met Dr. Martinez the first day of faculty orientation in 2005. Within minutes of small talk, we realized that we were both advocates of Latinx/Mexican issues and had very similar migrant backgrounds. About six months later, I met Dr. Jimenez at a local coffee shop where we too realized that we had many things in common. Similar to the goals of myself, and my wife Dr. Charise Pimentel, Dr. Martinez and Dr. Jimenez (and their partners) both made conscious choices to teach their children Spanish as their first language. In all of these cases, we provided all our children with names that were deeply rooted in either the Spanish or Nahuatl language. In my case, along with my wife, we named our son Quetzin, and our two daughters Quetzalli and Maya Azteca. In the case of Dr. Jimenez, along with his wife, they named their children: Jesús and José Eduardo. Similar, Dr. Martinez, and his wife named their three daughters: Jazmín Xitlali, Cristal Quetzali, and Iris Yoltzín. Also, and perhaps more importantly, in all these cases, the parents taught their children to be proud of their Mexican culture, and specifically of being bilingual.
In the case of all of these children, they have a strong Mexican identity network, and thus it is not surprising that these children are proudly aware of their ethnicity. It must also be noted that none of these children, including my own, are embarrassed or ashamed of the overlaying “American culture” that blankets them. It is also important to note that all of these children are proud of being fluent English speakers, and in most cases, use it as their primary language when they communicate with each other. Lastly, since most of them are teenagers, thus being active in social media, their primary language choice is often English. In fact, on some occasions they participate in activities that can be classified as very European. For example, Quetzin backpacked through Europe with his high school AP Spanish class during the summer (2018).
The reproduction of anti-Spanish and thus insinuating anti-Latinx (specifically Mexican) can be seen in many ways in San Marcos, Texas. When I first arrived in 2005, I was surprised how the majority of people did not embrace the Spanish Language, and purposely miss-pronounced words that were obviously in Spanish. It was not one, two, or three words that were completely being mispronounced, but instead it was a continuous stream of words. Shockingly, now (2018), things have not changed much.
Perhaps the most agonizing one is the town’s name “San Marcos.” In most cases, people pronounce the name, “San Marcus,” which makes NO SENSE. To pronounce it in such a way, the complete spelling must be changed and the emphasis on the word would have to be completely changed around. Another example of this is one of the central streets in San Marcos named “Guadalupe.” This name is deeply embedded in Catholicism and “la Virgen de Guadalupe” or the Virgin of Guadalupe. That said, since there is a large Catholic population in San Marcos, it is pretty ironic once again that people pronounce Guadalupe as “Gua-Da-Loop”.
Perhaps the funniest word that is often miss-pronounced is Jalapeños. The first time I heard this was when I visited a famous fast-food restaurant in San Marcos named Whataburger. I remember the cashier asking the customer if she wanted “Jaw-La-Pe-Nos” on her hamburger. Shocked, and laughing, I was waiting to hear the customer’s response, which was just as bad. The customer never missed a beat and said no thank you. I really don’t like “Jaw-La-Pe-Nos.”
There are other instances as the ones I have previously described. The bottom line is that it is alarming that some Texans, which are obviously influenced by the national anti-Latinx rhetoric, are not willing to pronounce common words in Spanish that are part of their community. And to be honest, I think in some cases it is even more complicated than that. In some cases, I believe individuals are purposely sending a message to Mexicans that their culture is not welcome in Texas.
Texas is beautiful. But unfortunately, there are some people who simply are not willing to embrace the “Mexican culture” that historically as well as currently defines the state. What is delicate about this is that although most people are not straightforwardly protesting Mexican culture, they nonetheless are doing so in subtle ways that become normalized. As a way to oppose these practices, I highly suggest that the entire state of Texas participate in a dual language Spanish/English education system that is carried throughout the K-16 education system. A dual language education requires that students’ schooling be provided in both English and Spanish. And more importantly, it is crucial to understand that these school programs are not only aimed at Spanish speakers, but are aimed at English monolingual speakers as well. The hopes are that by having students participate in dual language education programs many more people would become bilingual. Although I recognize that “dual language” programs are not the answer to fix the complexity of problems we face, it is a step in the right direction. I say this because it is well supported that language is often connected to culture; thus if a language is accepted, it is likely the acceptance of the culture will follow.
About the Author
Dr. Octavio Pimentel joined the Masters in Rhetoric and Composition Program in The Department of English at Texas State University in 2005. He has taught various undergraduate and graduate classes in the area of cultural rhetorics. Dr. Pimentel has authored or co-authored 3 books: Racial Shorthand: Racial Discrimination Contested in Social Media, Historias de Éxito within Mexican Communities: Silenced Voices, and Communicating Race, Ethnicity, and Identity in Technical Communication. He has also authored 20+ articles and presented at 30+ national and international conferences.