Remember who you are

by

Never has an article I’ve written caused me to look deep within myself and ask if I am in a similar situation. With a story I recently worked on, the answer was yes, I am.

The article was about integration: mixing the Latino immigrant culture together with the American one to create Hispanics.

There was an amazing family of three generations I got to interview: a grandmother, a mother and father, and four children. The interview was done in the home of the mother and father, Carlos and Angelica Alvarez.

Each generation in that small apartment in South Tucson had a shift toward Americanization of its own, and yet, the family unity remains.

The four Alvarez children — Carlos Jr., 16; Esgar, 12; Emanuel, 9; and Israel, 3 — all sat quietly on the couch and listened as their parents and grandmother answered my questions, and occasionally answered some themselves.

The grandmother, Marta, is the reason they’re all here. Her grandchildren may not realize the bravery it took for them to be born here. She is the true pioneer.

At 47 years old, just 12 years ago, she bravely went through “el hoyo,” or “the hole,” which was cut in a border fence that she and thousands of others went through to reach the United States. She quickly found work as a janitor. She brought her three youngest children with her.

Just six months ago, Marta got her citizenship. How happy she is.

Now, all except two of her eight children live in the Tucson area. All are U.S. citizens.

All of Marta’s 21 grandchildren are the first ones to speak English. They are the first to have lived the American experience from their youth. They are adapting to American culture, watching the same movies, listening to the same music and saying the same phrases as their peers. They are getting a good education.

They will be bilingual, with a higher chance of getting a successful job and of having their own kids be English speakers.

Other Hispanics in Tucson of my generation have gone through a similar type of integration. And so have I.

In my immediate family, we don’t speak to each other in Spanish at home, but I do with my grandparents, who are Mexican immigrants. Luckily, I am fluent enough, but I do have to think sometimes to find the right words. Playing La Lotería, or the Mexican Bingo game, is still a fun family tradition. So is eating the Día de Los Reyes cake. My sister got the piece of cake with the baby Chist, so they will have to throw a party. Mariachi music is at every family wedding, tamales are served at Christmas, menudo is eaten on New Year’s. Each Sunday, we visit both sets of grandparents. In my life, Mexican traditions are still pretty strong.

Like some of the people I interviewed, such as Maya Bernal, 17, and April Thompson, 24, I have within me a mixture of Mexican and American cultural characteristics.

Maya realizes there is room for improvement in her limited Spanish skills. She can understand the language well, but she struggles to speak it. Still, she maintains strong relationships within her family.

April, whose first language was Spanish because she grew up living with monolingual immigrant grandparents, has kept the Latino heritage alive within herself.

With my own personal background — I’m first generation on my mother’s side — this article has taught me to embrace what is left of my Hispanic culture. I have to take what I have and make it stronger, otherwise it will fade, and I won’t know who I am anymore. Being Mexican-American reminds me where I come from. I must never forget that.

— Julian Cavazos

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