Understanding my Mexican Hair. Many people in the United States would guess that I am Latino and specifically Mexican, but some of the time people believe that I’m Asian. Some have even guessed that I’m Korean, Chinese, Japanese or Filipino because of my hair. But people who correctly identify me say it’s because of my “Mexican” ethnic background.
Some people assume that “Mexican hair” is a brand of hair dye. But, many Dominicans know that “Mexican hair” looks nothing like an actual person’s hair. Every time I meet someone new or get into an Uber, strangers know, and assume I’m not from there. They’re even surprised to hear I’m Latino because they think I look Asian.
Before going to the Dominican Republic, I felt that I had a pretty good understanding of my race and ethnic identity. I recognize and own my Mexican heritage and am proud to call myself Latino. That said, in the Dominican Republic people would just refer to me as “Mexican.” Upon testifying in the states for a period of time, I learned that it didn’t feel right for me to say I was American. As an 11-year-old boy, I wasn’t sure how I should identify – as an American or Mexican. All I knew was that it didn’t feel right.
So, what does it mean to be Chicano?
“When I was introduced to the concept of being Chicano,” says the author, “I was told that this term referred to the child of two Mexican parents who gave birth in the United States. I was around 12 years old when I heard of this, and instantly felt that I knew exactly who I was.” At first, he felt confident in knowing exactly what being Chicano meant.
As he’s grown more mature, he’s learned a deeper meaning behind identifying as Chicano. “Being Chicano” has more than one meaning – it refers to not only his parents but also acknowledging indigenous and Spanish blood blood he has.
“I recognize myself as Mexican because my ancestors have been fighting through all of these different invasions – specifically with Spaniards coming and invading Mexico and crossing various indigenous tribes,” he says. “That said, saying that I am Chicano would not only tell you about my parents but at the same time is telling you that I am acknowledging everything that makes me who I am.”
The term Chicano was created to denote a person who is born of parents of Spanish and indigenous descent. I had recently heard the word when I was 12 years old, and instinctively I knew that it meant someone like me. When I was older, I learned of the deeper meaning behind being Chicano.
It’s not just about my two Mexican parents, because if you’re Chicano you are acknowledging the mestizo history your ancestors faced as conquistadors brought Spanish colonizers into Mexico. Nowadays, many people of Mexican or mixed Indio-Spanish descendants have this mix in their blood — and saying that someone is Chicano would acknowledge everyone who has it in him or her without negating anything about them.
Being Chicano in the Dominican Republic
It was difficult trying to explain to people what my experience has been like living in the United States but not being “American.” Many people jumped to the conclusion that I was Mexican or “gringo.” It is also important to be aware that race relations in the Dominican Republic are unique in that it is an island shared with Haiti.
Many people I met were not very open to being friendly with their neighbors and instead focused on the negatives. So, for a Chicano living in the Dominican Republic, it is essential to have an openness of mind to have a conversation about what exactly it means to be one of them. I did not always explain this successfully, and at times agreed with others that yes, I am more Mexican than my American friend and flowing locks as well as cooking tacos might indicate as much.
I was often faced with conversations about race in the Dominican Republic, which can be a bit complicated to explain. Many people jumped to the conclusion that I was Mexican or “gringo.” It is also important to understand how unique the Dominican Republic is culturally. Very few people seemed willing to be truly open-minded when talking about the neighbor country, focus instead on the negatives of their context. One challenge of being Chicano in Dominican Republic is explaining this without agreeing that yes, I am Mexican and my hair could be Mexican as well.