Identity Crisis

Delta Winds cover 1997Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


Identity Crisis

Patrick Sánchez-Powell

American society is thought by many to be a free society made up of many immigrants who contribute to the country, which is made up of many different cultures synthesized into one. However, for Mexicans living in the United States things are seen differently when it comes to "American" culture and society. Mexican culture is not accepted by American society; therefore, Mexicans who hold onto their culture are not easily accepted by society. Besides this cultural conflict, Mexicans also have conflicts among themselves. For many Mexicans born and raised in the United States, there is an identity crisis. This stems from a lack of knowledge and contact with Mexican culture and roots and is compounded by American pressures and influences. This situation leads to division among Mexicans: those who reject American society, those who seek to assimilate, and those who know and affirm Mexican culture and traditions.

Those who reject American society have a history going back to when Americans first started invading Texas in the 1800s, and perhaps even earlier. This was solidified with the war between Mexico and the United States which ended with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848. The treaty resulted in the United States taking the Mexican territories of California, Texas, and New Mexico in the name of the Manifest Destiny policy of the United States. These territories are currently known as the states of California, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Colorado, Utah, and Nevada. For many Mexicans today, California and the southwest are still considered to be part of Mexico, occupied by the foreign and hostile United States government. Each generation since the United States' invasion has learned for themselves the many reasons to reject and even despise "American" society, a society that rejects Mexican culture and oppresses by means of force, brutality, and institutionalized racism. Examples of this exist in all aspects of society, including education, employment, the legal system, unemployment, and politics. One of the most recent and public examples of this is California's Proposition 187, which targeted and used Mexicans as scapegoats for a racist governor's political campaign to get re-elected.

Sometimes those rejecting American society form pro-Mexican organizations such as MEChA and the Brown Berets, which originated in the 1960s. Many of these people call themselves Chicanos. The main goal of organizations such as these is to empower the Mexican community through education and politics. There are also those who not only reject "American" society but also many times reject their Mexican culture as well. They may feel unaccepted by both, and, as a result, a sub-culture is developed with values that are opposed to the society that rejects them. These values can be detrimental to the individual.

During the 1940s, pachucos got nation-wide attention and were the focal point for hatred and scapegoating for many Americans throughout the southwest. Pachucos were known for their zootsuits or "drapes," which in themselves were oppositional to society. At a time when materials were being rationed for World War II, pachucos were flaunting their suits made of twice the amount of material needed to make a "normal" suit. The zoot suit consisted of an extra long coat--down to the knees--extra padded shoulders, extremely baggy pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and a chain attached at the waist, which hung down to the ankle. Pachucos also created a unique style which included a Spanish slang known as calo. They also developed clicas, today known as gangs. Although many things have changed, many things have stayed the same when it comes to descendants of pachucos; today there are cholos (lowlifes, half breeds), known to the American public as gangsters.

Next, there are those who seek to assimilate even to the point of denying their Mexican roots, for acceptance by society and/or for material gain in society. These people are proud to call themselves "Hispanic," which is a government term created during the Nixon administration to group all Spanish-speaking people, although from different ethnic groups and cultures, into one. The word Hispanic also concentrates on Spanish, European roots rather than Mexican roots. The word Mexican itself is a native, indigenous name; it is English for Mexicano, which is Spanish for Mexica, better known as Azteca. Even though these people are Mexican, some of them will say they're "Spanish." These people may know little about their Mexican culture and have little contact with their Mexican roots, so they don't think anything of it when society calls them "Hispanic." However, some Mexicans know Mexican culture but reject it anyway and adopt "American" culture.

Some first- or second-generation living in the United States know Mexican culture and traditions. Many times they look down on Mexicans born and raised in the United States who don't know much about Mexican culture and traditions, or who do things differently, or who speak a different dialect of Spanish or don't speak Spanish at all. Language can be a big barrier. Many Mexicans who know Mexican culture refer to the "Americanized" Mexicans as pochos, which literally means the fruit that has fallen from the tree and become rotten. Mexicans born and raised in the United States sense this and as a result reject Mexican citizens as well. Mexicans born and raised in the United States also reject Mexicans from Mexico because that is what they have learned to do growing up in the United States, a society that rejects Mexican culture, or anything non-European or "American."

Mexicans have less knowledge than they should about Mexican culture and traditions, and because of American pressures and influences, Mexicans born and raised in the United States have an identity crisis. This can be helped with proper education. The borders created between the United States and Mexico have created borders between Mexican people as well. There are those who reject American society, those who reject American society and Mexican culture, those who seek to assimilate, those who only know Mexican culture, and those who are proud of who they are--proud to be Mexican!