Webber: Election sparks pride in Mexican roots

WillWebber

Long before I learned the advantages of being white, I spoke my very first word in Spanish. It was “bola,” meaning ball. I had pretty much the same scope of interests as any little boy, but I had a different way of voicing it.

My mom was born in Mexico and always stressed the importance of staying connected to her roots. Her pride was reflected on our home, plastered with Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo prints over our vibrantly colored walls. Every couch was adorned with a Mexican blanket and the house was filled with the scent of Mom’s traditional cooking. I even got double the bedtime stories because Mom could read “El Cuento de Ferdinando” just as easily as she could read “Goodnight Moon.”

It was intimidating when I entered preschool and found English to be the primary language. I was so shy that I barely spoke at all. I missed the comfort of my mom’s language, with her gently trilled Rs and the musical tone of her voice. But over time, I came to realize that English was the superior language. That’s just the way we speak in America.

The inevitable happened after I bit the apple from the Tree of Knowledge and suddenly became conscious of my darker skin. I stopped calling her “Mamá” and started calling her “Mom.” I didn’t want to be a minority. I wanted to be like everyone else. And when we moved to Prairie Village, everyone else was white. So I learned shame. I hated when my mom would speak Spanish in front of my friends and I hated explaining why we had an embarrassing Diego Rivera print of a nude woman embracing a bundle of hay in my living room. I hated my hair for being so black and I even used a special shampoo that claimed it would bring the “brunette” undertones out from my scalp. It didn’t. And in Spanish class, I would intentionally butcher the pronunciations of my own language, just so it wouldn’t be so obvious.

It wasn’t a good thing to be Mexican. My friends would joke that I’d make a great lawn mower or janitor or housekeeper, because that’s seemingly all a Mexican could ever aspire to be. I wanted to prove them wrong so badly, but I couldn’t think of a single Latino who was famous for anything other than hitting a baseball or singing crude, Spanglish club hits.

I never felt proud of my ethnicity, but I eventually learned to accept it. In my junior year of high school, I wrote a column denouncing Arizona’s SB1070 – a harsh immigration law that gave police officers the right to ask “suspicious” looking people for their documents. I was finally sticking up for my race, but I mostly hated the law because it meant that people would associate someone like me with “illegals.”

I’ve written many more political columns since that first one, but little progress has been made. I still find myself on the receiving end of casual racism. I don’t hate my black hair and dark skin anymore – I hate being told that I’m only getting scholarship money because I’m Mexican. Because I only scored in the top one percent on my tests nationally, but scored in the top tenth of a percent amongst Mexicans. I get it: I’m not good enough to win the top prize amongst all students, but I’m pretty smart for a Mexican. Well I’m fed up with it – we all are.

There was no box for me on the voter registration form. I am half Mexican, half white. However, my options were: Hispanic (Not White), White (Not Hispanic) and Two or more races (Not Hispanic).

So I made my decision and checked the hell out of that first box. 72 percent of Latinos voted for President Obama and for perhaps the first time ever, I wasn’t ashamed to be a part of that number. I was proud. We are no longer second-class citizens. We helped decide this election and we just may decide the next few. But we have a few expectations. We want immigration reform and we demand to be treated like human beings, just like everyone else. You see, I don’t believe that being Latino and being American are mutually exclusive. All of our voices must be heard.

I spoke my first words in Spanish and you can be damn sure they won’t be my last.

Webber is a freshman majoring in journalism and political science from Prairie Village. Follow him on Twitter @webbgemz.

Will Webber is a sophomore majoring in journalism from Prairie Village. Read more from .

  • Updated Nov. 20, 2012 at 12:16 pm
  • Rosita McCoy

    Phenomenal column! Well written and insightful. I’m Puerto Rican, and I raised two daughters in Overland Park. They had the same reaction you did when they were growing up–they wanted nothing to do with Spanish or their Puerto Rican roots. Now that they’re young adults, they have embraced their heritage and are proud of it. Thanks for your candid story. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/marta.peters90 Marta Peters

    Soy una madre muy orgullosa. Gracias William.

  • http://www.facebook.com/AJBARBOSA AJ Barbosa

    You absolutely nailed it. I ran into a lot of the same things growing up and it took me a while to fully embrace being half-Mexican, too. More people need to understand that we’re not just Hispanics; we’re Hispanic Americans. We’re just as much of a part of this country as everyone else.

    Thanks for writing this, though. People need to see stuff like this. Horale!