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My Husband’s Story of Life on ‘La frontera’

My Husband’s Story of Life on ‘La frontera’

I struggled a lot in writing this post. Not because it was difficult really, but because this is my husband’s story and it’s one that I don’t take lightly. I really wanted to do justice to the challenges that he’s faced, and ones that we are now facing as a family. I know that we all have different stories to tell and I believe that we all need to be heard. With that in mind, I want to share part of our journey with families who might be facing similar challenges.

My husband was raised in Laredo, a small border town in south Texas. At the age of 13, his family packed up all their belongings and decided to make a life in Michigan, where his father was born. They moved there looking for a better life, but what they found was an unimaginable culture shock and a world so very different from anything they had known.

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Previously, my hubby had grown up in a land of Catholics and Tejanos. But, living in Michigan, he was suddenly aware that he couldn’t identify in the same way anymore. His parents, cousins…his whole family knew themselves as Tejano, a blend of Mexican and Texan cultures.  But now, being the minority, he heard labels like “Mexican”, “Latino” and “Hispanic” often. They were forced on him along with a variety of slurs about his now, less than acceptable heritage. It seemed he couldn’t escape being reminded that he was different, an outsider, a “Mexican”. In Texas, he’d only identified as “Ricardo” or “Riqui”, but when his family arrived in Michigan, he was pushed to change his name to “Rick” or “Richard”. His father insisted that they study more English and get rid of their Spanish accents, in an effort to fit in with the more assimilated families…the more Anglo families.

My husband felt like he couldn’t fit the distorted expectations of those living in the north and questioned his parents often about when they would return to Laredo. He grew to hate his new name, “Rick” and fiercely defended his right to be called by his birth name, Ricardo. On several occasions, he’s recounted to me how his grandmother in Michigan, a mexicana born south of the border, refused to call him by his name…the one that he’d known and come to identify with for so many years. He would get so upset that he would hang up the phone on her or refuse to visit with her when she wouldn’t address him in Spanish. It was like a slap in the face. Here he was, unaccepted by so many in this strange place, and even his familia made him feel like an outsider.

I’m sure it was disheartening enough coming to a place where you are ridiculed for being “Mexican” and chased down empty streets by Aryan nationals spouting racial slurs. I can’t imagine having to go home and be renounced by your own father, uncles and grandparents for “acting too Mexican.”

Growing up between the two communities wasn’t easy for my husband. Over the next 20 some years, he struggled with balancing his identity…to some degree, he is still in a balancing act.  His forced assimilation by his father left him barely speaking Spanish and isolated from the Latino community. He was too gringo to fit in with most Latinos and too Mexican to fit in with mainstream Americans. This left him in an odd place and it was difficult for him to relate to individuals on either side of the divide. Over time, he has come to realize that being Mexican American is a source of pride. He’s learned his history, found his roots and allowed himself to let go of the stereotypes and just be Ricardo.  It’s taken him so long to figure out what that meant and he still has a long way to go before he can feel that he’s completed his journey.

As a family, we’re facing another challenge together; how to raise a confident, bilingual, Latina daughter. Sounds easy, right? I mean, he is Latino after all…he has that in his favor…at least that’s what most would think.  But how do you teach your child Spanish when you’re not fluent yourself?  How do you include Mexican heritage in your daily life when you’ve missed out on so much of it?  How do you raise your daughter to be confident and shake off criticism when you struggle with it so much in your own life?

We take it day by day, practice our Spanish frequently, do plenty of online research into our history, attend every cultural event within traveling range, cook a variety of Mexican dishes, crank the Latin jams and meet up with other Latino parents who have similar interests and concerns.

We give each other support and we look to others for understanding. Having other bicultural Latinos on our side has been our greatest asset.  But, even with all that we have done to take part in our heritage and create our family identity, we still can’t help but wonder, “Will it be enough to instill in her a sense of belonging and a confidence about who she is?” Only time will tell.

This story was originally publish on Spanglish Baby, a bilingual parenting blog and language learning resource.

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  • Me and the Mexican
    November 9, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    Great post Chantilly!  Thanks for sharing.  Our family struggles with many of the same issues and it is nice to know there are other families out there like ours.  Although my hubby was raised in Mexico and is fluent in Spanish, he does not know a lot of the customs etc due to coming to the U.S. as an older teen.  We do not have "los abuelos" close by to rely on and like you, I do a lot of online research as well.  
    It is was it is therefore I'm trying to do my part to hopefully instill in our son confidence of his Mexican heritage that honestly I know little about.  
    Having other families to relate to, sharing ideas, stories and info is a great help!

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      November 11, 2011 at 7:22 am

      Tara, thanks for stopping by.  :)  We are so blessed to have a resource like the internet to do research and build community.  I can not wait until we finally have the chance to meet.  Hopefully soon!  ;)

  • Me and the Mexican
    November 9, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    oops, that one line is suppose to say "it is what it is…" therefore….

  • BiculturalMama
    November 9, 2011 at 9:04 pm

    Great, very thoughtful post. I grew up in Michigan, too, and it was hard being one of 2 Asian families in the entire town. I was teased, bullied. My parents didn’t speak to us kids in Chinese because they wanted us to learn English, but I wish they did because now it is so hard to learn when you’re older. I, too, want to instill my culture in my bicultural child, but it’s hard to teach her the language when I myself am not fluent.

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      November 9, 2011 at 3:48 pm

      Maria, thank you for sharing that.  I can't believe you're from Michigan too.  :)  We're from West Michigan, near Grand Rapids.  Michigan is rough for biculturals and the Latino population is growing there, but still, so many other biculturals are isolated and seen as "others".  One thing that I want to continue to do with my daughter is to keep biculturals and families like ours around us, to encourage us and remove that feeling of otherness.  

      Definitely, the language learning is so difficult!  For my husband it has been a constant struggle and a source of disconnection and embarrassment.  We are so desperate to finally become fluent that we are planning a long-term trip abroad within the next year.  I'm not really sure how we're going to do it, but we're going to make it happen because my husband wants and needs this…he deserves this.

      I'm really glad that you shared here and I'm glad to have found so many other bicultural mom's through this blog. If you've shared more of your story on your blog, I would love to read it, so feel free to leave a link.  <3

  • Connie Gomez
    November 10, 2011 at 1:09 am

    Wow.  I didn't know if I would fit in to this Blog, because my Husband and I are both of Mexican descent born and raised in Texas. I thought, "We are not really Bi-Cultural." But, the more I read, the more I learn. We kind of are. My Husband, Ricardo and I were both born and raised in the U.S. by Mexican parents. Both of our parents instilled our culture, language and roots in us. Therefore, we don't really identify with most Hispanic/Latino/Chicanos our age here in Houston. We both consider ourselves, Mexican..before we think of ourselves as Mexican American. And. as I read your post, I realized that we too will face the same problems as you…how to instill the heritage and confidence to be proud of who we are?! Not Anglo, not Mexican..but a mix of both cultures. The questions of how can we give our children the perfect balance? How can we allow them to grow and be themselves but still give them the right amount of guidance? WOW. THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS POST! I totally feel welcomed into your world and now see myself in a different light. BTW, we also have family in Michigan, I lived there for about 3 years as a child…we are from Detroit. :) GREAT POST. THANKS AGAIN!!! :D

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      November 11, 2011 at 7:29 am

      Connie, thanks so much for the comment!  You are exactly right!  You definitely don't have to be interracial or intercultural to be 'bicultural'.  :)  I feel that most, if not all, Latinos are naturally bicultural.  Transitioning from one culture to the other, mixing and matching, etc. are the qualities of a bicultural families.  ;)  Thanks so much for sharing part of your story with me.

      All of these are questions that I want to answer too and I got a really great answer the other day that I am going to post soon!  Every little bit counts in this quest for balancing bicultural identity and growing our kids' confidence!  <3

  • Jen Marshall Duncan
    November 12, 2011 at 12:34 pm

    I really admire you and Ricardo. You both work hard to make life easier for people who are bicultural–not only the people in your family but EVERYONE. Though I wish Ricardo didn't have to suffer through so many hardships, in the end it is a good thing–because it inspires the work you do. We are all lucky to have you sharing his story and creating communities for people to support each other as they go through the same types of issues. THANK YOU BOTH!

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      November 12, 2011 at 7:13 pm

      Jen, you are so sweet and supportive.  Thank you for being a part of my community and making me a part of yours.  All your insights and understanding have been so appreciated!  You are definitely part of my crucial support team that keeps me coming back and writing whenever I start to doubt myself.  Thanks so much for all your appreciation and love….we appreciate all that you do too.  HUGS HERMANA!  So blessed to have connected with you!  <3

  • BellaVida
    November 15, 2011 at 6:32 am

    How wonderful and generous of you to share this story.  I can only imagine the countless people who are in similar situations.  It's not easy growing up with two cultures.  When it comes to finding happiness its up to each individual to find the right balance for them.  For many that is a lifelong journey but at least we have choices.  Each day we can wake up and make new choices. 

  • Cristiano Aparicio
    September 7, 2012 at 12:24 pm

    Your article made me think about identity word politics. Would it make sense to call myself bicultural latino? Doesn't that mean I am not only latino? I would call myself then a US American Latino, right? Since there is not a latino look, "bicultural" latino implies someone who looks latino and is bicultural. No?

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Pati&ntild
      September 7, 2012 at 12:46 pm

      That's an interesting question Cristiano. When I think of the word Latino…I more consider the cultural aspects of the word…not necessary the visual identity. You could be black or white or brown and still be 'Latino'…although I admit I probably do use it interchangeably when discussing race sometimes. It's not really the best word, but it's one that unifies the community for many…or for some it may be a different term, the language, food, etc. I know many (including my husband until recently) who don't prefer the word 'Latino'. My husband has actually always identified as Texan or Tejano…sometimes Mexican, but 'Latino' is a more recent development.

      I think it's important for individuals to create their own labels and while I use the term "bicultural Latino" online because it is the term preferred and understood by many…we don't actually use this term much in real life…lol. We're 'bicultural' or 'Tejano' or 'Mexican American'.

      Labels are a funny thing, but they do serve a purpose by unifying at times, either between or within communities.

      Also, for me, I do consider every American Latino 'bicultural', as well as any individual who celebrates a second culture outside of mainstream U.S. culture.

  • Chantilly Patiño
    Chantilly Pati&ntild
    September 7, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Thanks Letty. :) I couldn't agree with you more. Each of us has to find the blend that works best for us. ♥