I was born and raised in El Paso, Texas. I‘m Mexican and I grew up in a very traditional Mexican household, but almost no one thinks of me as white.
But that’s how I identify myself — on paper, anyway.
In elementary school, I can remember bubbling in with my No. 2 pencil the box labeled “white” for standardized tests. I marked the same box at the Department of Public Safety when I applied for my driver’s license.
I called myself white because it seemed to fit more than any of the other options I was given. I’m not black, Asian or Native American. Although Hispanic is an option, I don’t like it. It’s too broad. The term Hispanic has been a way to group all Spanish speakers together into one huge category. And while I don’t exactly fit the white category, it feels the closest to me.
I grew up watching cartoons with mostly white casts and read books where the main character was a white kid. So when I was a younger, calling myself white felt right. I related to these characters and I wanted to fit in.
Now that I’m an adult, I can intellectualize race as a social construct.
I know it sounds weird, but even the Census Bureau allows Hispanics to self-identify their race, so I have.
Why do I still do it? Maybe partially to not be labeled by the government. I don’t consider it to be a big deal, but as a brown-skinned person with a giant black beard, calling myself white can come with a lot of side eye.
I remember telling my family that I decided to go by Tony. Instead of being supportive, they laughed. They said, ‘Don’t try too hard to be gringo.’ Even though I disagreed with them, I understood why they felt the way they did. I picked Tony not because I wasn’t proud of my name but because some of my non-Spanish speaking friends couldn’t pronounce Toño.
I’m not embarrassed of my roots. I’m proud to be Mexican. Growing up in El Paso, Texas, Mexican culture is part of our daily routine. I celebrate my culture all the time by incorporating Spanish in my daily conversations and cooking traditional Mexican dishes.
My search for identify first started with wanting to fit in, but now as an adult it’s become an act of defiance; not giving into what society has labeled me. I’m taking charge of how I identify whether people agree with it or not.
I’m proud to say that “I am a brown-skinned, Mexican, Chicanx-White American.”