During Hispanic Heritage month, I am reminded of making tamales during Christmas, but one Christmas always comes to mind. In 2007, all sides of my diverse family drove across the country to share the holiday as one unit; a memory that will last forever.
My father’s side is Mexican and white-Southern (originally several European countries), and my mother’s side is French and Black. None of this was unique to me as a kid, since this was normal for me. I thought everyone had a family like mine, and I was surprised later in life to learn that was not true.
Not only was my family culturally different, but everyone’s political opinions were different; some in my family were socialist while others were conservative. Perspectives on religion and faith also differed. We were all so diverse but shared a common bond. This was what America was to me, unlike the divided nation we see today. We accepted our differences and moved on.
Being around a diverse group of people at an early age and accepting it as normal is a privilege that is not granted to everyone. But it took me a while to realize how special my family is for these exact reasons.
My Mexican heritage and family background did not dawn on me when I was younger because I never considered my identity. It was not until people made comments about me being white with a Mexican last name that I had to think about it.
And if I had a dollar for every time someone was surprised by my last name being “Martinez,” I would not need to take out loans for school. Sometimes, it is funny to see someone’s reaction as they look down at my ID and back up at me for confirmation, but I am never offended by it. In fact, I look forward to people’s confused reactions.
Whenever filling out forms for a new job, I never know what to put since my race is white, but my ethnic background is several of the options on those forms, and I am not alone as there are a lot of people with Hispanic origin’s that are confused as well.
According to Pew Research, Hispanics make up 17% of the nation’s population and are projected to be 29% of the United States population by 2060. Out of this population, 16.7% of Hispanics are multiracial, based on the races and origins they reported for themselves. But when asked whether they identify as multiracial, 53% said they do while 46% said they identify based on one of their racial backgrounds.
I have met several people in my life that represent these numbers, and there is something unique and special about this as we share similar experiences, including family dynamics and surprised looks from strangers when getting IDed. And yet we have varied racial backgrounds, different political opinions, views on religion and faith—but those connections are what bring us together and have actually led to life-long friendships.
Recently, I have realized how much my Hispanic heritage influenced me. I cannot describe in words how important my last name is to who I am. My dad used to ask if I was proud to be a Martinez, and I have always been proud.
My diet is also heavily influenced by this background. It is a tough week if I do not have at least one Mexican dish. Sadly, I wish I were better at cooking it, like the rest of my family. I can also proudly say my faith in God is influenced by that side of my family as well. My grandfather always has a Bible lesson prepared for me every time I see him; this is how we bond.
But these are things I never think about because they are inherent to me, inherent to my Hispanic roots. It is not until I am forced to think about it like during Hispanic Heritage month or when I see my family for Christmas every year that I sit back and reflect on it all.
The truth is my favorite thing about this heritage is how it was able to connect my family. Seeing smiling faces that represent all of America while we consume Mexican dishes together creates bonding experiences that I will remember forever. And I am not the only one.
My dad filmed and took hundreds of pictures of these moments to remind us of what life is truly about: family.
Honestly, we need moments like this around this divided country. My family is still diverse culturally, and we have different political views, religious leanings and more. Yet, we still find reasons to bond. Even if a family member has not seen another in years, they will ask how they are doing and wish the best for them, no difference can stop the power of these connections. In my mind, this should be America, a diverse country that finds reasons to connect and bond and forget about our differences sometimes.
If you have Mexican heritage, be proud, because the food alone can bring people from all types of backgrounds and beliefs together — it has that power. And if you do not have Mexican heritage, please feel free to learn about it, ask questions and connect with it. I bet you already do. Is it Taco Tuesday yet?