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Seldom do students and teachers practice gratitude and self-analysis like in our Latinos in Action (LiA) clubs– most notably in Dixon Middle’s LiA club. With Lucy Ordaz Sanchez as their advisor and guide, students offered gratitude and contemplated their bicultural and multicultural experiences through essays exploring their lives as bicultural and multicultural students.

While we can’t share their names, we can share their words and voices. It’s an offering of gratitude, self-contemplation, and self-expression worthy of reading, and we commend our students for sharing stories from and about their lived experiences. 

What does it mean to be Latin American?

“What does it mean to be Latin American?” is a very common question. Being Latin American doesn’t mean that you’re just a Latino; it means culture. Your culture is a way to express yourself—the food, the dance, your family, your traditions, etc. Everything in Latin American culture is beautiful. I love being Latin American. I love being brown, having brown eyes, and having wavy hair. Not every Latin American is like that, though. There could be straight-hair Latinos, light skin, dark skin, different-colored eyes, tall, etc. Latin American culture has been around for centuries.

The Mayans, the Aztecs, and the Incas have led the way. Thanks to them, we are where we are right now. I try my best to represent Latinos and to make them feel good about themselves. The meaning of being Latin American is so much more than has already been said. It’s not something to be ashamed of. My family, as well as other families, have crossed the border for us to have a better life, the same for themselves, which is why we are Latin American now. My family isn’t very traditional, and I always encourage my mom to express and love her culture. Some families may not want to because of the challenging and bad experiences they have gone through, and some families are different. 

In this society, people think being in a Latino household is abusive and that all families are the same. But that isn’t true. When you’re Latin American, you get fewer opportunities than others. That doesn’t matter as long as you’re happy with who you are, and when other people reject you for being Latin American, prove them wrong.

I love hearing the sound of guitar strings strumming, the sound of trumpets, the beautiful voices of Latinos, and the music. Mariachi, banda, reggaeton, cumbia, latin pop, etc. I love the delicious food—Los tacos, the candy, las tortillas, etc. The telenovelas are always so dramatic. And families, even when you have 100 tias, 50 tios, and more cousins. It’s always fun to hang out with or talk with them. 

The meaning of being Latin American is so much more than you think. No matter where you come from or where your family comes from, there’s always so much history behind it, and you can learn about it. Our parents have done so much for us to be “American” and be in America. But, deep down, there will always be that Latin part of you.

Para mi personalmente ser un latino americano es ser tu mismo, sacar adelante tus raíces, no tener verguenza de enseñar tu cultura al resto, no tener problema con ser de tu pais, sentir tus tradiciones y no dejarlas atrás, aprender más a partir de nuestras raíces, disfrutar tu cultura, amar a tu pueblo, conservar tus raíces, esparcir tu cultura, ser uno mismo y no tener vergüenza al ser diferente al resto y tener una diferente cultura al resto,esto para mi es ser latino americano.

Y por ultimo para mi ser una persona biocultural no es malo, es ser una persona que decidió aprender más y aprender del resto, aprender nuevas costumbres y cuidarla y administrarlas como tu cultura, ser más de lo que ya eres,poder enseñar sino una sino dos culturas distintas a la vez, esto para mi es ser una persona biocultural.

Being Latin American means knowing how to have patience. Knowing how to make sacrifices. Knowing how to deal with things. Being Latin American is super important to me. I appreciate how much my culture has shown me. It’s shown me that no matter what you do, you will be judged. It’s just life, and you have to let it go. 

Growing up with these “foods,” the language, skin color, music, accent, etc., was really hard. I literally got bullied, and for the most random reasons. “Your hair is too messy,” and “Your skin is too dark.” Kids wouldn’t shut up about anything I did. Growing up, I wanted to be invisible; I didn’t understand what I did that was so wrong. People had to behave this way towards me. 

Growing older, it’s really sad to hear how much people had to go through the same exact thing I did—how much people hated their culture because of the dumb kids who wouldn’t shut up. I wish I were taught to ignore their comments and laughter. I wish kids were being taught that right now. At my age right now, I’m no longer insecure about my culture, my language, or the food. I’m so proud I learned to overcome the challenges of being Latin-American, and I’m so glad I chose to ignore them. 

I chose to be in Latinos in Action because I’m proud of being me, and I’m so appreciative to represent what I didn’t have growing up. Some kids still get bullied because of their cultures; being Latin American means telling them otherwise. These days, we still get called things like border hoppers. Even as a joke, it’s not okay. People obviously haven’t learned anything, and I really hope one of these days they realize just what they were doing. I’m grateful to be a Latin American, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

For me be a Latin American is to be part of one of the best culturas de todo el mundo, significa ser de lo mejor, ser latino es ser parte de los carnavales y las mejores fiestas del mundo, de los paises mas bonitos, o de los paisajes más exuberantes, ser latino es tener de las mejores tradiciones, ser latino es estar para otras personas cuando se necesite porque eso es ser latino, ser latino es tener de los paises mas grandes hasta los paises mas pequeños, ser latino es de hablar portugues hasta hablar frances, ser latino es de lo mejor, ser latino es tener de las mejores comidas del mundo, los mejores restaurantes y las mejores culturas tambien, ser latino tambien es pasar por dificultades y muchos problemas, pero si eres un latino echado pa’ alante sabes que eso es temporal, que todo lo malo va a acabar y te queda ser feliz, y siempre estar agradecido de todo lo que tienes, ya que muchas personas o tu mismo te buscaste tu destino, ser latino es saber que no todo es facil en esta vida, pero ser latino tambien es salir adelante como sea, ser latino es tener ingenio para hacer lo que te propongas, ser latino es de lo mejor, ser latino es “lo mero bueno”, ser latino es saber que todo es pan comido si te lo propones, ser latino es de las majores cosas del mundo, ser latino es tener de las mejores fiestas del mundo, las mejores navidades, los mejores carnavales, ser latino es lo mejor.

For me, being Latin American is being proud of who I am. And I am really proud of having Latin roots and being able to represent it and have a great and interesting culture. Even though I was not born in Mexico, I still like to represent it and learn more about it so that one day, I could go and visit and see all my parents told me about it when they were growing up. Also, for me, being Latin American means not only getting to represent one culture but two different cultures. 

I like being able to say that I am Latin American. I am not ashamed of who I am or being Latin American because it’s who I am, and I am glad that I get to represent it. Another thing I am proud of being Latin American is that there are a lot of hard-working people who work to get ahead in life and want to be someone in life. And that my parents work hard every day so I can be a better person. I wake up every day and am proud to be Latin American. And that is what being Latin American means to me: being proud of it.

What it means to be Latin American to me is to have many opportunities, and it is honestly a privilege. In other Latin countries, many people do not have the opportunity to travel to the United States and have little to no opportunity to be successful. In the U.S., being Latin, you have a lot of opportunities that a lot of Americans do not like. Being able to speak two languages is a blessing. But sometimes Latin Americans are not accepted just because they are Latino, and that’s not okay.

It means to be proud of who you are and your culture, such as food, music festivals, events, and family. Be proud of being Mexican and enjoy having a wonderful culture and enjoy what your culture is and does—being Latin American means having a deep connection to our roots and history. It’s about our language, whether it’s Spanish or something else. Latin Americans are known for their music, art, and movies. 

Latin American food has a delicious flavor, with dishes like tacos, tamales, and pozole representing our heritage because people automatically know where it’s from. Having famous people who have made their name known for being Mexican is a privilege to recognize our country and heritage and love who we are. The big cities, the amazing views, and mostly the people make Mexico what it is. Mexico is a sometimes welcoming place and a very popular place to visit. 

Para mi se significa una maravilla porque siento que me divierto mas representando mi país y me gusta porque se que mi sangre es latina yo siento que la sangre latina esta en mi sangre porque me gusta mas latino américa porque alla es donde naci y me crie con toda mi familia y aya ise mi infancia con primos y amigos porque jugabamos canicas en la tierra y tambien asia otras cosas porque tenia ganado yo en mi casa tenia una vaca y dos chivos que uno era bravo porque peleaban con el otro.

To be Latin American is to maybe not be born in Mexico but to have Mexican blood. 

I was born in Arizona, but growing up, I went to Mexico a lot because I have a lot of family there, so we would visit, and every time we went to visit, we would learn more about our ancestors and how they lived and grew up. 

My mom didn’t always have papers, but my dad did. So he helped her get some so she could visit where she was born and also her family. I think all Latinos are constantly judged, whether it’s because of where they were or weren’t delivered, how they dress or talk, or even their skin color. Biculturalism also ensures you remember where you came from, who you are, and how much your ancestors gave up for you. We have to admire and love our culture. We should never be ashamed or embarrassed. We have a beautiful culture with beautiful traditions. 

Each and every one of us has that Mexican blood running through our veins, and it’s never going to go away, so that’s why we should just embrace this beautiful culture. My grandparents sacrificed so much for my siblings and parents just so that we could have the best life possible. They came to the United States with no place to stay, no money, no food, no anything. They are the real reason I have what I have today. I look up to both of my grandmas so much. They are truly who I want to be when I grow up. Because of them, I have the most amazing parents, and I am a part of a beautiful family with a fantastic culture. Some people had their parents leave Mexico with nothing for the United States instead of their grandparents and I am so grateful for them.

Even though I was born in Mexico, most of my life was spent in America. 

From a young age, I had to do hard work because Mexicans are hard workers. And when my friends would have to hang out, I would always do this before I could. I remember that they always told me that they never did the chores that I did, like mowing the lawn and cleaning up the dog poop. They said the only chore they did was clean their room, and they got paid for it, and I never got paid for mine. 

However, when I did my chores, my reward was my mom making delicious drinks and food. And I choose that over the money. And I am grateful for that because now I know the value of hard work. I would always get compliments on my skin in the summer cause everyone likes the tan. So, I’ve never felt ashamed of myself or my skin. 

Luckily for me, my mom learns English easily, so I would not have to tell her what something is in Spanish. I do know that people do translate for the parents, and sometimes I can see that they don’t want to. So I’m just grateful that my mom could learn English; now I don’t have to translate things for her, and she can do things on her own and not always need me. I mean, sometimes, here and there, she asks what this word means or what is in English, but overall, she is good at English.

To me, being Latin American is something special. I love our culture and how we do some things differently. I love food and traditions. It’s very important and special to me because some people don’t get us or get to experience what we go through. In our culture, our parents could be strict, or we have different beliefs. I appreciate and love my culture, and it feels good to be Latin American. We have a lot of traditions; for example, for Christmas, we go to church, and they have food and activities you can do, and we have fun. 

I like how our cultures support one another and their family reunions. Most of our races or cultures are Catholic. Some are not. 

Most times, for Christmas or New Year’s, we make tamales, pozole, and menudo for food, and for drinks, we can make horchata and agua de pepino. I forgot what the other drink is called, but it is agua de it, a red/purplish drink. Sometimes, there’s cerveza for the older people, mostly the dads and uncles. There’s this day in January, I think, it’s a holiday, los three magos reyes, and we eat the rosca; if you get a baby from your piece, then you have to make tamales or food for the rest on February something, and it’s a fun thing to celebrate because not only its fun but the rosca with some chocolate is so good. 

Once a year, this play goes on at my church, and then after the play is done, we walk behind the Virgin. My uncle and cousin sometimes participate in the play. The play is about what happened to Dios, and it’s sad to watch; they even walk with the cross as if it were real. Also, for Virgin’s birthday, we take her flowers, we dress a certain way, and we do the church after there are people dancing with the feather la danca, and then the viejitos come and dance, and it’s fun to watch. I love being Latin American. Even though I can be a no-sabo kid, I love my culture. 

One thing I learned in Mexico is that when you say no sale, that means there is a car coming, but if you say no sale, it means no cars are coming, and you’re free to turn or go forward. It’s confusing, so try not to get it wrong, or bad stuff can go on, as you can crash. I love how, in Mexico, they do funerals differently. It’s so beautiful. Yes, it’s a lot of walking. We walk to the church behind the deceased, and after church, we walk to the cemetery. We say our final goodbyes, bury the person, and play music.

To me, being Latin American means having certain traditions that run in the family and just being with your family a lot because people think we aren’t close to our family members. But we really are—maybe not to all of them, but to many of them with whom we are very close. Sometimes people think that our families can be abusive to us and believe that people are mean to us all the time. Just because you hear something doesn’t mean it’s true—our families are nice, but sometimes we do deserve the discipline they give us. Still, we don’t, and when we do, it’s because they are trying to teach us that what we did was wrong and not to do it again.  

Also, to be Latin American means being hard-working and doing some sort of task. Some of us have to help clean around the house, like washing the dishes, cleaning our room, or even cleaning the house to help our mom and dad when needed. It’s not always that we need to clean; some of us who can work with our parents try to work with them. We usually go and work with them after school, and we get to help them make money and make our own money. Being Latin American means being a hard worker, sometimes with just the simplest things, which I love. We always try our best to be the hard workers our parents hope we can become.

Something else that means being Latin American is how much family we have. We have a lot of family, some that we might not even know at all. We’ve all had that awkward phone call or FaceTime with someone we didn’t realize was our family. We didn’t even know who they were because we had very distant family from wherever we came from or wherever they moved. Sometimes, it just so happens that they’re going to visit, so you mentally prepare yourself for what’s about to happen and how it’s going to happen, but you can’t control that whatever happens, happens, and that’s life. But it will get a little awkward if you’re meeting them for the first time, and they will tell you things, and you don’t know what to do or say, so you just agree to whatever they’re telling you.

That’s what it means to me to be Latin American. It can be very complicated, but we learn as we go because it is tough for us as teenagers and kids to understand what’s happening with our parents. And we do see them stress a lot, and we don’t know how to react. But I’ve learned the best thing to do in that situation is to try and comfort them. It means a lot to our parents if we’re there. They might not show that they love us or even tell us, but they do, in their own way.

It means a lot to me to be Latin American; my parents moved to the United States to give me a better life so I can have many opportunities. To get a better education and to travel anywhere I want when I’m older. Another opportunity I have when I’m older is that I can get a good job to earn good money.

What does it mean to be Latin American?

What I think is that a Latin American is someone who is Hispanic but has lived most of their life in an English country. Being Hispanic means that you speak Spanish and eat your country’s famous food or just their food in general. You speak Spanish in your home, and Spanish is what you speak. Spanish was your first language, and it was important to you because how else would you communicate with your family or some of your friends who have just moved or haven’t learned yet? Sure, there can be some downsides to being Hispanic, but that’s what we are. Nobody is perfect, Hispanic or not; every single one of us is human.

Hispanics take holidays to another level. Families from their home countries come, and we make a bunch of food that will probably last us another week, staying up past 12. Meanwhile, the party has just started. Being a Hispanic can be a lot of fun, but there are some downsides, like having a drunk family member who’s drunk all the time. Not all of us may have this, but there are some families that do, and to be honest, that’s sad because you are not going to have that trust with them as you have with your family. 

Some families have people with addictions like smoking, drugs, etc, and again, that’s sad because you are watching your family member, your own blood, ruin themselves by doing stuff that’s not necessary, maybe because something is happening in your family or something but either way, that’s pretty sad and again, no family is perfect; there is always a downside to almost everything. Being Hispanic means that you’re different in your own way. 

Some people feel weird around other people who aren’t from the same place or have the same culture because they are not used to it, but we have to understand that it’s their culture, and we have our own; everybody is different in their own way. 

Now, we’ll move on to what it means to be an American. Being American means that you were born in an English country; we are very different from one another. When I think of America or Americans, it is their skin color. Americans have it easy, if I’m being honest; us Hispanics aren’t white, and because of that, we get treated differently. Some Americans have a problem with our skin tone or our culture, and that’s not fair. When we say something to them, they instantly threaten us by talking about calling immigration and telling us to go back to our country and to go make tacos or something like that. I don’t think it’s fair. Being Hispanic can also be scary because some of us are always going to live with that constant fear of immigration pulling up to our house and taking us away. 

I know I’m saying a lot of bad things about being an American, but other than that, American people can be pretty fun and pretty cool. For example, there are holidays like the 4th of July where we get to throw fireworks, have a cookout, and just have a fun time. There’s carnivals and fairs, so if we stay late enough, you can see the fireworks. Another holiday I like is Memorial Day, because Memorial Day is when you honor and remember your relatives who have served in the Army or any of those branches. If it weren’t for them, the U.S. would be a lot different than what it is today. Thanks to them, I probably wouldn’t have the people I have in my life right now.

Another thing I like about the U.S. is its food. Being American has a lot of good benefits, like leaving the country without being worried or scared, something Hispanics won’t be able to relate to because not all Hispanics have papers, social security, or a passport to travel with, so once you leave the country, there’s no turning back, so that’s why it’s hard for Hispanic people to leave their country. Another benefit is having medical insurance, so you won’t have to pay that much for a trip to the hospital. Another benefit is being able to buy a good, pretty decent house. Most Hispanics won’t be able to afford that kind of money because most of the time, we get paid less because we can’t get a good job—they either ask for social security or a degree from college and to get a degree from a college, you have to most likely have to have social security to get into the college so that’s another benefit of being an American.

What does it mean to be Latin American? I get that question a lot, actually. I’d just say it’s great but with its downsides. I love the culture, food, dances, etc., but not the racism, violence, family problems, etc. Even after the bad stuff, I am still proud of it. Being able to be Latin American gives me so many opportunities that I could get if I tried my hardest. My parents came to the U.S. just for us to have good opportunities. Some Latin American kids don’t realize that and go out and give their whole future away. They go out to do drugs, vape, drink, and not take school seriously, and that doesn’t make your parents proud. 

Instead of doing those things, go out and do good stuff. Be proud of your culture, share your stories, and your language. Dance to the music that your parents grew up with. Latin American culture has been around for a while now, Aztec, Inca, and Mayan. Some of the things they did back then we still use now for our culture. Telling people that you’re Latin American is just a great feeling. The wrong side to this is that people can be very cruel just because they don’t like you because you are Mexican, Salvadorian, Dominican, etc. Some say go back to your contrary, yet they love our food. We are now used to ignoring them; they want to see you fail because “we’re not like them.”

That’s the Latin part of Latin American culture, but now for the American part. Just being born here gives you so many more advantages. Some people actually like you even more just because you were born here. Also, being born here is like a good feeling that you are safer. You can also learn the language more easily. The people that just come to this contrary after growing up somewhere else find it hard to understand and learn English. It’s also a good feeling when you help someone who only spoke Spanish for most of their life. It’s someone who’s like you, but you can help them with things you struggled with. 

Another part is what it’s like to be bicultural, where the opportunities are better than full-on Latin people have. I was born here, so I have rights, papers, and more freedom. But then another thing is that people start forgetting about their language. They only speak English because they spend most of the day and week at school speaking English. 

It’s important to remember where you originated from. So embrace your culture; even if it’s from both sides, you still show what it’s like to be Latin American.

Spencer Tuinei
  • Communication Specialist
  • Spencer Tuinei

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