Discrimi-Nation: Central American

Harriet Miranda

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Growing up, I always felt fortunate that I lived in Los Angeles, where the eclectic fusion of cultures provided me an array of friends from all parts of the world. My childhood memories are filled with culture fairs, where students would make art work representing their parent’s nationalities, and then would bring foods and artifacts to represent the different countries. I looked forward to these days in which I could bring something from my mother’s native El Salvador and sometimes things from Nicaragua, where my father was born.

A sense of pride filled me, because for one day I could show my classmates what I was really about and somewhere deep inside me I really wished one of those days people would stop referring to me as a “Mexican.” But that was wishful thinking.

I started a new job earlier this year and a Jewish woman I work with asked me my age. She then replied, “You know, for a Mexican girl you’re a bit too old to not have any kids.” It wasn’t that she expected me to have kids that angered me, it was the fact that I just told her five minutes before that I was not Mexican.

Fortunately, after much nagging and clarification, it has taken me eight months to teach her to acknowledge the geographic differences between Mexicans and the rest of Latin America.

I can’t tell you what it does to someone when you grow up being put in the wrong category again and again. Even when I stood up for myself and clarified where my parents came from, it seemed as though many people could not understand the concept of Latin America being far beyond the neighboring country of Mexico. It isn’t that I’m insulted by being called Mexican, but it aggravates me that here in California it seems like the dozens of Latin American countries that we come from are blatantly ignored. I never really considered the discrimination until I realized that every time I told someone “I’m not a Mexican,” the real Mexicans seemed to think I was insulting them and their culture.

To be honest, I’m probably more tolerant of different cultures because my parents are from different countries and my family is mixed with all ethnicities, but I cannot tolerate someone from another nationality trying to impose their views on me and belittling part of my background.

Most of my classmates from kindergarten until the 12th grade were of Mexican descent, and I had not once experienced any blatant discrimination on their behalf, but this all changed when I started dating a Mexican guy when I was 17. After only a few months of dating, someone in his family accused my parents of being too “liberal-minded,” as they generalized the rest of the Central American population, and they attribu to the fact that I was allo me because I’d go out with my friends to parties (although I had a strict curfew).

At first I was taken aback. How could someone actually generalize millions of people based on something so petty? How could my going out and socializing translate to people from my side of the world being “too liberal-minded?”

Fortunately for me, I was able to separate this particular Mexican family from all the other ones I knew, and I started to realize I was going to have to grow a thick skin. If I got offended for every time something bad was said about a Central American, I would be chewing everyone’s head off and I’d live like a pessimistic sour individual. It’s only natural for people to have prejudices whether they voice them or not.

When I came to CSUN, I chose to minor in Central American Studies to learn more about my culture and where I come from, since I had ignored it for too long. In doing so I also learned about the conflicts between the Salvadoran and Mexican community here in Los Angeles.

Although a lot of the hostility stems from the treatment of Salvadoran immigrants making their journey through Mexico into the United States, the problems persist as the influx of Salvadorans has affected job availability to Mexican immigrants. This type competition led to the formation of the street gang MS 13.

Originally started by young Salvadoran immigrants in the 80s, they sought to bond with others and defend themselves against the already established Mexican and African-American gangs. The only problem is that the kids joining the gang were military and guerilla trained. This snowballed into something far greater and the MS 13 gang is now recognized as the most dangerous and brutal gang in the United States. But that doesn’t mean we are all vandals and criminals.

Despite the fact that I’m not a Salvadoran immigrant contributing to these conflicts and I’m not in a gang, I have to bare the brunt of being discriminated against because of my mother’s nationality.

The Mexican family I mentioned earlier has really opened my eyes to what perhaps other Mexican families might really feel about me once knowing my background. For example, I admitted that I’m Christian, but of course they already assumed that because apparently all Mexicans are Catholic and Central Americans mostly aren’t, according to them.

When I said my mom didn’t want to have kids at first and then she decided to have me, I was told that Salvadorans are selfish and only think of themselves and not procreating (apparently that’s more important than a secure future), and the latest of these criticisms was that its common knowledge that Salvadorans, unlike Mexicans, cook only once a week and eat the same thing over and over again.

It became almost clear to me that if I wasn’t doing something the “Mexican” way, then I was going to be criticized for it.

To all of this I felt compelled to answer, what would one gather from all these remarks made by a Mexican family? Would it be fair for me to say that all Mexicans are uneducated and ignorant? Or that they are uncultured and unworldly? Absolutely not, and fortunately for me, a college education and a well-rounded upbringing has allowed me to accept individuals for who they are no matter what their heritage and background is.

Discrimi-Nation Checklist:

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African descent Mexican descent European descent Armenian descent Jewish descent Asian descent Middle Eastern descent LGBTQ Central/South America
n descent
Deaf Native American descent