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ENRIQUE GÓMEZ: ‘I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone older than our age using [Latinx]’

ENRIQUE GÓMEZ IS a 22-year-old first-generation American living in the Boystown neighborhood of Chicago. His mother immigrated from El Salvador and his father from Mexico. He studies Music Composition and Production at Columbia College Chicago, with a goal of writing movie, TV and video game scores. He enjoys listening to music, skateboarding, playing the piano and brushing his cat Smokey.

What do you think of the term Latinx to identify people of Latin American or Spanish background?

Honestly, I was never introduced with the term Latinx until senior year of high school, or just very late on. I think my opinion is kind of skewed or it’s very small. I think it’s a decent term. I’ve heard a lot of people use it, people who do identify as Latinx or Latino or Latina. They frequently use it, or not heard a lot of it being used, on social media like TikTok and Instagram. But personally, I don’t think I’ve thought about considering or not using that term to describe myself. I just usually use Latino, or just Hispanic, which I know is confusing because one or the other, you are not both, you’re one or the other or something, right?

Have your family members had reactions to that term, or have they not been exposed to it as much?

I don’t think they even would have ever heard it. My mom or my dad probably have never, they’re mostly surrounded by Spanish-speaking people. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone older than our age using it, unless it’s out of context. I don’t think my family would have ever heard of that or have any opinions towards it now. 

Do you feel like Latinx is just an excuse for corporations to lump all Latino cultures together?

I think it’s very easy for them to use it that way. I do believe there are people in the community who have appreciated the term and use it broadly. So, I think it can be either. Obviously, there’s going to be big corporations that are trying to make money out of like, just like targeting a certain audience, but that happens all the time with everything. Like you see that on Pride Month when every commercial has to do with LGBTQ+ people; it’s just what they do. So yes, I do feel it is an excuse for them to use that term. But I also do think that there are people who identify and appreciate it.

Has your experience as a Latinx person isolated you to the way you grew up, or have you been able to branch out culturally?

Honestly, I grew up in a very, very white neighborhood and went to a very white high school. And there’s not a problem with that. It’s just that I didn’t realize just how whitewashed I was until I moved, and it was almost painful. It was such a culture shock. Once I started surrounding myself with other people of color of my age, it was just kind of, “Oh, crap this is what I’ve been like missing out on.” I’ve gotten so used to being one of the only people of color in the class. It was very weird. I think it did isolate me just a little bit because I was conscious about it. 

So, your isolation allowed you to want to explore? 

Yeah, 100 percent, and I wish I was never isolated like that; I just wish my high school had been a lot more diverse. But at the time, I guess I wasn’t really too worried about that. Put me back there now and I would like to throw up.

Do you speak Spanish? How do you view Spanish as an attribute of your identity? How important is it?

I actually grew up not wanting to know much Spanish. I was taking Spanish classes in elementary school, but then I seriously got into a fight with my mom. I said something like, “I don’t want to learn Spanish, why would it matter?” It’s a really weird conversation she brings up a lot. But now I really regret not doing more, not learning it, as fluently as I could have [been.] It wasn’t even that my parents didn’t teach me because my parents would always talk to me in Spanish, and they still do. They never really talked to me in English, but I always respond in English. That made a barrier between my dad and I because he doesn’t know that much English, so a lot of the conversation was just me listening to what he had to say and then me stuttering through sentences to try to respond. But I really think it’s super important. I wish I was fluent at speaking it because I am seriously almost embarrassed at how bad my Spanish is. It makes me sad that I don’t think I’ll have enough time now to learn it as well as I wish I would have.

“I didn’t realize just how whitewashed I was until I moved, and it was almost painful.”

Would you say your culture is “better” than someone else’s who is of a different ethnicity or country?

I wouldn’t say “better.” I definitely 100 percent appreciate my own culture more than anybody else’s, just because I grew up in it. I am the first generation in the U.S. My parents both came from their countries fleeing from dangerous situations. They had me and my siblings here. 

Just knowing that they grew up in their own countries, it makes me who I am today. Everything that we did growing up were things that they did growing up. I really appreciate my culture a lot; I might not show it too much just because I don’t think you really have to show that in that way. Appreciating your own culture is so individual to you. You can celebrate it in your own ways, however you need to believe it is the right way.

Does cultural appropriation bother you? 

Of course. I actually recently had a whole dilemma, thinking about Hans Zimmer and how he writes music for movies like Kung Fu Panda, and literally is just straight up racist and no one did anything. And now, his latest film Dune. He’s just so stereotypical with his writing, and it’s just something that you see in all forms of art. It hurts to see how much people just don’t understand. 

It’s interesting looking at cultural appropriation and especially in the arts. You have to ask yourself, is it appreciation or appropriation? 

It’s very frustrating, and people just need to be informed and get out of this little box that everyone’s in and open up to other cultures, and know how to appreciate instead of appropriate. But we’ll see how long that takes. 

Do you think cultural appropriation can become appreciation or do you think cultural appropriation can cross the line, no matter what? 

I think that it’s up to the people you’re around. And in that case the businesses are handing you these things for you to join in. So, I guess, joining in would be a sense of appreciation because we’re inviting you.

Do you have a story from your family that you’d like to tell? What experience from your family’s story stood out to you the most? How does that define your life here in the U.S and how you view your circumstances? 

I feel that growing up I had the most of what other Latinx people can say are stereotypical Latino parents. And at the time, I was very conscious about it and I hated it. I was just like, “Oh, why can’t I go out at all?” “Why can’t I have any friends over?” But honestly, now that I moved out, I look back at my parents and my family and I have learned to really appreciate them. Because of who they are, because of who I am, and because of who we are. It’s so nice looking back and seeing all these instances where our culture allowed me to blossom as a kid. It’s times where I didn’t even notice until now I’m much older. It’s just traditions that are passed on that like traditional Spanish speaking, and household things like coffee at random times of the day. 

My parents have gone through a lot, because of the color of their skin and I have learned that they are just probably the strongest people I have ever met and never will meet. 

It’s really important to acknowledge what your parents have done for you. I can definitely relate to that, especially since your parents came from different countries and started this life here.

Not for them, for us. That’s, literally, the ultimate sacrifice. Yeah, it’s crazy. I think that just really shows the power of immigrants in general. It’s just the topic of xenophobia; people are literally coming here because they’ve been threatened. There’s just so much that people overlook and just classify everyone under illegal immigrants or aliens, and it is so sad.

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