Growing Up A Coconut: A Millennial Hispanic Story

One of the hardest questions to answer growing up was: What is your culture? What is your heritage? Do you have any traditions? What is your family background?

I always felt like an outsider compared to all the other kids in my class who would share stories about making tamales every Christmas, talking to their grandparents in Spanish, telling ghost stories of “La Bruja,” and then make inside jokes about these stories. They were all sharing a bond over their culture. The same one most people think I have because I am, by definition Hispanic.

A lot of these kids were first or second-generation Americans, so they could all share that bond over that direct connection to their past. I, on the other hand, was the fourth generation American on my mom’s side and third generation on my dad’s side. I didn’t have that direct connection to the Mexican-American/ Hispanic culture like the other kids in my class.

When my family crossed the border on and sailed across the sea from Spain, they left behind not just their “home” but the culture too. They did this for many reasons. Discrimination was one big issue. Speaking Spanish was frowned upon, and practicing some of their traditions was a big no-no. So they taught their kids to assimilate into the American culture. Keep some of the heritage, but not all of it, and hide it from those who don’t share it. My mom told me how her grandparents wanted their children to be American, grow-up white, and not be labeled “Mexican.”

My family- Three generations of Mexican-Americans enjoying wine in Mexico City

Since my mom’s family was raised to be refined Hispanics, she was pretty white. I am not saying her family doesn’t look Hispanic, we do, or have those underlying Hispanic idiosyncrasies just not as noticeable compared to others.

My dad’s side of the family is a bit different. I am the 3rd generation American born on his side. My great-grandparents on his side keep a lot of the values when raising my grandparents, which translated to how my dad and his siblings were raised. My dad may not have prevented the stories or traditions, but he kept the idiosyncrasies, way he spoke, and other things.

So when they married and had kids then divorce, my mom raised me how she was raised. The only difference was the time, and the culture was “filtered through” for the third time. So I didn’t need to learn Spanish to communicate with family, we didn’t have/want to make enchiladas for dinner, it was a different time. Let’s be honest to the late ’90s, and early 2000s were very, very white American. And for some reason, I was very attracted to that culture.

Growing up, I felt like I related more to the “white kids” on TV. I dressed like them, played with their toys, and talked like them. I never really felt connected to the other kids who were not as Americanized as me. I ate meat patties for dinner while their moms made chile relleno. I watch Bananas in Pajamas while they watch telenovelas with family. I was white in my eyes.

I know what some of you might be thinking….”Don’t you want to get back in touch with your culture and roots, though? To bring that back into your life and family?”

Honestly no. Why would I act like I am in touch with a side of me I never knew? I don’t want to pretend like I have a connection that I don’t or even will ever have. That would be fake, disrespectful, and almost culturally appropriating what some say is my own culture. I also feel like if I got in touch with my “heritage,” it would be for the wrong reasons. I won’t be doing it for me but because other people are telling me to. Nowadays, it seems like the popular thing to do is to get in touch with your heritage that you don’t know anything, or even cared about before this recent trend.


Even after going to Mexico City, I felt even more sure of how I felt. I was very much a White American in another country with no connection to the people around me who are supposed to “my people.” I was a tourist, not a girl reconnecting with my roots.   I just felt like I wasn’t part of this culture and probably won’t ever be part of it. I enjoyed everything I saw, ate, and did. I appreciated it as an outsider who was learning about a new culture.

Maybe that’s just me, though. I am just too far disconnected from that side of my DNA that it just seems so foreign. It would be disingenuous to people who are actually in touch with the Hispanic culture. Why fake that I am part of the community just because of my skin color, looks, DNA, and what I have to check off on a box.

My identity is what I make of it, not what others think I should do with it. If you feel the same, drop a comment below. If you believe everything I wrote is rude, drop a comment too. I am curious about what others think about this topic.



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