I was the secret result of an affair. My father cheated on his wife with my mother and left us behind while he raised his real family. I think he was embarrassed for bringing shame to his family by means of adultery, so I was kept a secret for about 12 years. Not knowing one of your biological parents is like not knowing a part of yourself.
As a result of this secret, I did not acknowledge the fact that I was Hispanic. It was not as though it were a secret, I just did not want to be different than the rest of my family and friends. I identified with my surroundings; I was the second of three children born into a European-American family, in a town with no real diversity. After my mother and step-father were married we moved into a different neighborhood, an equally monocultural society. Everyone looked and acted just like us, it was the cultural norm.
Over time, I got to know my biological father, but it was always tense between us. When I learned that he had waited until then to tell his family that I existed, my heart was broken. I felt ashamed, as though there were something wrong with me. I still do not think I have fully recovered from that wound. Regardless, by the time I was 13 I went to move in with him. I initially I moved in with my grandparents, which I thought was strange, but they were welcoming and I enjoyed it there. They never treated me as though I was anything but a blessing in their lives, in fact, that’s how they treated the whole family. Every member of this family was loved and each had an open door policy; if a family member needed a place to live, they were always welcome and they were not treated as though it were burdensome.
I ended up developing a strong relationship with my grandfather, who I lovingly call my Papa. Papa always told me that he was so sorry he missed out on getting to know me, and for me missing out on getting to know my roots. He wanted me to take pride in being Hispanic, explaining that I should be proud of where I come from. He and his parents worked hard to become American citizens, something that I always took for granted. I didn’t want to hurt his feeling by telling him that I didn’t identify with this culture because I didn’t come from this culture- I came from that ethnocentric white neighborhood, I did not understand the value of diversity. Still, I spent time listening to his stories, eating his delicious Mexican food, and hanging out with what felt like every family member, almost every single day.
Eventually, I began to feel proud to be a part of this family; everyone gave me such a warm feeling of belonging and I loved it. I realized that this was something I wanted to be a part of. They even changed my last name from my mother’s maiden name to the family name of Hernandez. I was officially a part of this family.
I loved to listen to Papa telling me stories about his life, his family coming here from Mexico, the discrimination he has experienced, his love for the Marine Corp, the importance of family, and my new found Mexican heritage (I am a very light skinned girl, so imagine my surprise in learning my grandfather was a dark skinned Mexican!). I was so drawn to him and the pride he took in his heritage, which was something I had never witnessed before. In my European American culture, everyone was the same, and that was considered normal. I began to realize different can be exciting.
For a while, I felt as though I had to maintain two different cultural identities depending on which family I was with. This ended up making me more aware of the differences between the two groups, including the positives and negatives associated with them. At this point in my life, I have cherry picked the qualities that I admire the most from both cultures, and combined them to create my personal cultural identity. They both play a role in who I am today.
These time in my life and these major experiences defined my cultural identity. I don’t pretend to think anything I experienced compares in any way to the experiences of minority groups, but they are my experiences, and they changed me. From my European American traditions and values, to the pride I take in my Hispanic roots, I know I am fulfilling the hope for success and happiness that my great grandparents worked so hard to make available to me. I now have a better understanding of my culture, and a deeper appreciation of who I am.