Identity

Jeannine Contreras - Ecuador


November 7, 2017

On my first day as an English teacher, Edison, one of the main teachers I would be working with, took me to four of his classes to introduce me to his students. He introduced me to his first class in the following manner:
"This is the new English assistant shes from the U.S but she is also of Mexican descent and speaks Spanish fluently so don’t think you can say inappropriate things to her in Spanish and get away with it" 
I’ll admit at first I was highly amused at this introduction (Apparently last year there had been an incident with a different English teacher volunteer who couldn’t speak Spanish well and thus had trouble controlling her classes.) but this amusement slowly slipped away as Edison introduced me to his second class:
"This is the new English assistant, she will be helping in your English classes. She is a native English speaker from the U.S. but she is also Mexican and speaks Spanish fluently so don’t think you can say inappropriate things to her in Spanish and get away with it"

Then his third:
"This is the new English assistant, shes from Mexico but speaks fluent English."
Then his fourth: 
"This is the new English assistant and even though she looks like us and is from Mexico she speaks perfect English."
At this point, my original amusement had soured and turned a tad bitter.  
This isn’t the first time I’ve encountered this, a sort of unthinking discriminatory self-hatred towards anyone of Hispanic descent by fellow Hispanic people. As well as a quite erasion of American identity in anyone not fitting the white, blonde, blue-eyed mold. 
 Usually the first sentence after having this conversation: 
"Where are you from?" 
"I’m from the U.S."
 is 
"But you speak fluent Spanish."
 With an unspoken but loudly heard "and you look Hispanic/brown/not what we think Americans look like."   
This, however, is much easier to excuse as the curiosity is natural most of what Ecuador consumes from the U.S. (t.v. shows, news, book, movies, music, advertisements, etc) overwhelmingly projects a nation exclusively filled with white, blonde, blue-eyed, English speaking people. I understand that I don’t fit that mold, that my very existence is something peculiar to people who have never lived in the U.S. or understand its culture outside of what is projected outward.
Yet Edison’s introduction and subsequent modifications offered a startling picture into what my identity was changed and distorted into while simultaneously setting off a series of unpleasant thoughts within me. Identity in itself has always been something I’ve struggled with. American born but Mexican raised it has always been a struggle to find a balance between differing beliefs, ideas, and cultural norms. I am proud of my Mexican descent, my brown skin, the experiences which are wholly mine but I resent any identity which is forced onto me because of the color of my skin. The erasion of my American identity irritates me, makes me chafe against the casual racism it implies.     
I wish I had a good ending to this story. I wish I could say that I had a conversation with Edison about identity and race that made him understand why what he said was slightly upsetting. Unfortunately, I was caught a bit off guard and once I had recovered my wits the parts of me that are a bit cowardly, a bit hypocritical and a bit fucking tired took over. Conversations on race, identity, and racism are important and necessary but they are also exhausting and frustrating and all consuming. To have your identity changed, distorted and subsequently derided is violent in a way not easily explained or put into words. 
There is no good moral to this, no happy ending, no resolution, just a continuing fight between myself and the world that I find myself increasingly unwilling to participate in.  

Jeannine Contreras