MERCEDES RUIZ, 24, is a full-time student majoring in Public Relations at Columbia College Chicago. She was born and raised in DePue, a town close to Starved Rock State Park, and lives in the South loop dorms on campus. She considers herself a white Hispanic woman, 75 percent Mexican and 25 percent White, and is a second generation Mexican American. Both her parents are American born. Her father’s parents are Mexican, and her mother’s parents are Mexican and Caucasian.
Do you think Latinx is a good term to define people of Latin American or Spanish background?
Yes, I do.
Do you feel that Latinx is just an excuse for corporations to lump all Latino cultures together?
Not necessarily because I feel like it kind of encompasses everybody better than just saying Latina or Latino, since it’s so much more diverse now. I just think it’s a lot better actually. I prefer it, but I do think that there also needs to be recognition of different cultures within that. Just like any other race.
Has your experience as a Latinx person isolated you in the way you grew up? Have you been able to branch out culturally?
When I was younger, I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic and Latin community. I feel like it was kind of isolating. But at the same time, it’s given me a lot of opportunities as well. Even though I’m not fluent in Spanish or anything like that, I do think having that perspective, coming from that culture and having that background is kind of an advantage.
As a US born citizen, does it bother you to be labeled? Why?
It bothers me just a little bit because I feel like that pigeonholes you in a certain category and makes people look at you a certain way. I think that identity is important, but as someone who is mixed, I think acknowledging both cultures and also just being American and representing and being proud of all those cultures is also very important.
You mentioned that you were mixed. You said that you were Mexican and 25% White. Does being white or Mexican affect your closeness to either culture?
Oh, yeah, definitely. Like I said, I grew up in a predominantly Hispanic town and because I am not fully Mexican, and because I don’t fully speak Spanish, people would either say that I’m not Mexican enough, that I shouldn’t even say I’m Mexican and stuff like that. And then on the flip side, I get the same thing from the Caucasian, white people. “You shouldn’t even say you’re Caucasian or white because you’re Mexican. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know it. You’re still Mexican, you’re not white.”
When people see you what do they usually think you are?
That’s very funny because I ask everybody that the first time I meet them. For [the majority of the time] I do get that I “look” Mexican, but I do sometimes get that I look like a mixture of something, so I don’t know if that’s a compliment or not. Personally, I think that I look Hispanic but I don’t think I look “fully” Hispanic.
Do you speak Spanish?
I do not speak Spanish. From my mom’s side, my grandpa was the one who was Mexican, and he just totally shut down speaking Spanish on my mom so she never learned it. Then my dad, first born here in America, fluent speaker but never spoke to me [in Spanish] growing up. I didn’t really [have] people speaking to me [in Spanish], until my grandma started talking to me [in Spanish when I was] around like, five. I was never able to pick up on speaking it but I do understand a lot.
How do you view Spanish as an attribute of your identity? How important is it to you and the Latinx culture in your opinion?
Well, personally it’s very important because my grandma’s speaks Spanish, primarily. So for me to at least understand what she’s saying and have the ability to somewhat reply is very important to me. And then as far as the whole culture, I think it’s super important because being able to converse with people and having that knowledge and background and culture is so cool and important, and especially now since America is so much more diverse. In the workspace, it’s so important.
“Overall, being accepting of different cultures within the Latin community is something that people need to do and look at.“
How does it make you feel not knowing Spanish?
Honestly, it makes me feel ashamed a bit because I hate saying, “Oh yeah, Mexican, but I can’t speak Spanish.” So, it has made me want to learn, which I am currently trying to learn more. I tell my dad, “Don’t speak to me in English, speak to me in Spanish.” The biggest part for me is just getting over how I sound when I speak it because like I said, I do understand quite a bit because I grew up around friends who spoke Spanish.
Whenever you meet anybody else that is Hispanic, but also doesn’t speak Spanish, how does that make you feel about them? Do you also feel like shaming them or do you accept them?
I definitely accept them because that’d be hypocritical of me, but also because I understand that whole mentality with Mexican parents and Mexican grandparents over “Oh, I’m going to come to the United States and be American.” I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I feel sympathy towards it. I do think that’s changing now, where people are more proud of where they came from.
Would you say your culture is better than someone else’s who is of a different ethnicity or country?
Hispanic and Mexican culture are amazing. Don’t get me wrong. We have great food and culture, but I would never say that any culture is better than anyone else’s, because each one has its own pride and traditions and I just think like sharing it rather than judging it is what we need to do as humans.
As you’ve said before, you’re white, and that your father is a first generation American. Do you feel you have been fully immersed in Mexican culture?
I do not. I feel like that’s had a huge impact on me. A lot of the Mexican traditions that I learned were through friends at school, and my grandma when I would be able to see her. Although my dad is fully Mexican, and he’s fluent in Spanish, he definitely took on that American identity. So, I feel that culture was kind of lost and I’ve had to do a lot of finding on my own.
Does cultural appropriation bother you?
When it’s actually cultural appropriation—because I feel like people tend to blow things up—it’s very disrespectful, especially because from what I’ve seen, people do it in a very disrespectful way. There’s a difference between appreciating a culture, learning about it, than when people dress up as like a costume or to make fun of, specifically with Hispanic culture. I know people dress with the big hoops and the outline lips and stuff for trends or for even Halloween, and I don’t think that’s okay. Also, one big thing that really bothers me for some reason is going to a Mexican restaurant, and people wearing sombreros or doing stuff like that. You need to be respectful of the culture.
These people that are wearing sombreros, what ethnicity are they?
Generally, almost every time, it’s somebody who’s Caucasian or white.
In your opinion, if a Mexican dresses up as a Mariachi or skull candy for Halloween would you find that inappropriate?
I wouldn’t find it as offensive, but I do think it is a little bit inappropriate because those are sacred stuff and I feel like if you’re going to do it, you need to do it in an appreciative way and not a disrespectful way. But, at the same time, it is different because it is our culture. So, it just depends how the person does it.
Whenever you meet somebody, specifically of Latin or Hispanic ethnicity, can you tell right away, from their accent or how they look like, what Latin country they come from?
No, I can’t necessarily tell. Especially because in Central Mexico and even central South America, there’s a lot of Hispanic people who don’t fit the typical dark hair, dark skin, brown eyes. I have a lot of friends who are light skin, blue eyes, very light hair, and they’re Mexican, they speak fluent Spanish, and they have a thick accent. So no, I don’t think you can necessarily judge someone off that. Sometimes you can tell if somebody is from a Latin culture.
From all the stereotypes about Latinos, which ones do you believe are true and which ones do you absolutely detest?
I don’t know. That’s kind of a hard question because I have tons of Mexican friends who fit the stereotype, who drink on the weekends or whatever. The ones that I detest, is that we are uneducated and don’t want to be anywhere in life or are stuck in Mexican culture, which might be true for some people, but I don’t think that’s a stereotype that you can apply to everybody in Latin culture, especially Mexican culture.
Do you have any closing comments that you would like to share?
I just think, that overall, being accepting of different cultures within the Latin community is something that people need to do and look at. Especially for me, someone who is Mexican and identifies as that shouldn’t be deemed any less because I’m not full [Mexican] or I don’t speak Spanish. I feel like growing up that definitely causes an identity crisis a little bit because it’s like, “Oh, well, like where do I fit in?” I think that just owning your culture and learning about is what you should do and what you can do.