Top of the Email: The Hyphenated American MeOpinion
Yesterday, we posted a story about a history book under scrutiny because of the way it portrays Mexican Americans. In a post responding to that story, a reader wrote, “Why can’t we skip the hyphenated titles and just be Americans?”
As an American who has to frequently hyphenate, I completely agree.
Although I agree, however, the need for political correctness, affirmative action and the legal documents that continually ask us what our race is keeps us from being simply American.
When I wake up in the morning and look in the mirror to put on my makeup, I don’t say, “Good morning Mexican American/Native American Brandy!”
In fact, I don’t even think about my race or skin color at all until someone else asks me “What are you?” When I say I’m American, they give me that look; so then I have to say, “I’m Mexican and Native American.” There it is—the hyphenated.
The reality is, we’re all mixed. Americans come from all different backgrounds and cultures, and our ancestors mixed with other groups, including the indigenous. In fact, most white people will tell me, “I’m part Cherokee.” The Cherokee definitely loved to mix bloodlines with the Europeans and got a lot of grief for that.
But back to my point.
I’m American. I’ve only been to the border towns of Mexico twice in my entire life. I’ve never had the blessing of traveling abroad, but I do plan on changing that soon. So when people ask me, “When did you cross over?” or “When did your parents cross over?” I really want to lose it.
My family never crossed over. They have always been here. There were here before this became the U.S., and they were here when the area of New Mexico belonged strictly to my ancestors, the indigenous ones. But if we’re thinking on American terms, I’m a fourth generation American.
I’ve met white people who are second and third generation American. Why don’t we question their race? That’s simple. They don’t look like me. Simply because of how I look, I have to constantly justify my Americanness.
I grew up watching Happy Days, Mork & Mindy, and The Brady Bunch. I watched the launching of MTV. I bought the first Purple Rain record. I wanted to be like Madonna when she first made her debut. I don’t think I can get more American than that.
However, I have to still mark a box that says I am Hispanic and American Indian. Often times, I just mark Other for fun.
I also have to worry whether I’m getting a job because of my hard work and intelligence, or simply because I meet a quota. I have worked so hard all my life, so it’s a pride killer when it’s the latter.
It’s not to say that affirmative action wasn’t necessary. It definitely was in my mom’s time. However, we are in 2016. We shouldn’t be getting jobs because of our skin color, or to meet a quota. If anything, education should be equal across the board so no one has to worry about being “disenfranchised.” There should definitely be laws in place for hiring discrimination, but that doesn’t mean a white person should be overlooked for a job simply because of a quota. The person who is most qualified should get that job regardless of race.
And if we are American, we shouldn’t have to mark a box. Why can’t we simply be a citizen, non-citizen, or resident alien for tracking purposes?
As long as all these things are in place, and as long as people assume someone who looks like me is not American, we will never overcome the issues of structural racism. Nor will we stop being hyphenated.