Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Viva La Raza!

I watched the ALMA Awards the other night. The show, sponsored by the National Counsel of La Raza, presents awards for outstanding achievement in the entertainment industry as well as honoring those celebrities whose career and lives have had a positive impact upon the Latino image.

The commercials during the awards show were geared toward a Latino audience, no big surprise. I did find one ad for Mexicans And Americans Thinking Together (MATT) very interesting. The spot featured a Latina with traditional features: olive toned skin, dark hair, dark eyes, curvy figure and an Anglo with fair skin and lighter hair. Speaking in Spanish and English, the actors talked about how alike they are and promoted bicultural unification. The traditional appearing Latina spoke English while the white/caucasian man spoke Spanish.

During the show, the cameras panned the audience and while the majority of skintones were shades of mocha, several notable güeros were present as well. Clifton Collins, Jr. received an award for his role in Capote. Alexis Bledel, who plays on The Gilmore Girls, attended in support of her The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants co-star America Ferrera’s nomination. I didn’t see Ramón Gerardo Antonio Estévez (Martin Sheen) but I’m sure he was there in spirit.

The show was very much a pep rally for being Latino, a celebration of successful Latinos. I drank it in like fine champagne. I’m very proud of my Mexican-American background and very defensive about my appearance. Most of my friends have heard me say “I’m not white” more than a few times. It’s not that I’m ashamed of being half Anglo. It’s just that I identify more with my Latino roots than with the white side of my family. It’s who I am. And I dislike it when people assume I am 100% anglo instead of Mexicana. Maybe I’m not puro Mexicana, but I am puro TexMex. Simply, soy Latina. Or chicana or Hispanic or whatever you want to call it. Frank says “reverse coconut” since I’m so rabid about my ethnicity.

I eat beans with breakfast and if salsa or chile is available, it’s going on top of whatever I’m eating. I had piñatas at birthday parties growing up, even though my mother had to bring them from Texas to our town in Louisiana. I prefer an empanada to a doughnut. My mom made homemade flour tortillas at least once a week, every week until I was in college. I burned the tips of my fingers flipping them on the hot comal. I make menudo at home because I like it, not because I have a hangover. I enjoy celebrating Dia de los Muertos, Las Mañanitas and Cinco de Mayo. I love large, happy, loud family get togethers with lots of children running around, more food than we could possibly eat, and a beaming matriarch/patriarch overseeing it all. I value the sense of family, the tie that binds us all together. I embrace our heritage and commitment to our culture.

My one regret is that I’m not fluent in Spanish. Because my father speaks only English, we did not grow up terribly bilingual. Yes, I can squeak by when necessary, and I do understand more than I can speak back, but it’s not enough. I have procrastinated for years in taking lessons, hoping to pick up the language from friends and family. The time has come to admit that I need a structured teaching environment. And to further my pride by being able to converse, write and read well in what was my first language, but turned out to be my least proficient one.

I wonder, is everyone as proud of their mixed heritage as I am?

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