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Thoughts on Identity and Diversity for Hispanic Heritage Month (part 3)

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Chapter 3

This blog post is part of a series for Hispanic Heritage Month. To read the last entry in the series, click here.

In my last blog post, I shared how my family’s history and language began shaping my identity as a young boy, and how environmental factors – specifically early education – contributed to my becoming monolingual. 

This week, I want to consider my journey of identity as a young Latino through a different lens – the lens of media. It’s illustrated nicely in this photo of my sister and me when I was about 4 years old.

There are two things I want to point out. First, obviously I forgot to put on some pants. I remember distinctly as a kid how excited I was just to be alive.  I’d bounce out of bed and run outside barefoot to play, sometimes not even grabbing a tee shirt.

But second, take a closer look at the tee shirt I happened to be wearing. It’s a Davy Crockett shirt – the same Davy Crockett that helped take Texas away from my Mexican ancestors. I loved that shirt so much that it didn’t matter there was a huge hole in the front. I wore it until it was in tatters. Why? Because of the new technology of the day ‐‐ television.

As third-generation immigrants growing up in the mid‐1950s and 1960s, we were able to afford a black and white TV.  We watched programs like The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, Lassie, The Andy Griffith Show, The Rifleman, and, yes, Davy Crockett. (The song still rings in my ears!)  These programs, and pretty much all TV programming at that time, communicated non‐Latino lifestyles and views. When Latinos did appear, as in I Love Lucy, they were a bit stereotypical; portrayals were even worse in other programs. We know now what we didn’t then: exposure to media can affect how we think about life.

So, some of my most formative years featured me being a latchkey kid, coming home from school and sitting in front of the television until my parents came home, which was a pretty consistent dosage of viewing over a long period of time.  Think about it.

By the time I graduated from high school in 1972, I knew I was a Mexican American and I labeled myself as such. But through my exposure to mainstream national television programming, it was pretty clear to me that society did not really value Mexican Americans, African Americans, Asian Americans or any other racial‐ethnic minority or their culture.

This was reinforced on several occasions growing up when I encountered blatant discrimination at stores, parks, public swimming pools, and other venues. Not to mention that San Antonio was (and still is to some extent) segregated along racial, ethnic, and income class lines.

Now, coming out of high school, all I knew is that I was a Mexican American, I was an aspiring hippie/flower child, and I desperately wanted to go to college and learn mathematics. Little did I know that my postsecondary education would usher the next leg of my identity journey as a Latino. I dare say, it was transformational.  Check out the next blog to see what transpired: a metamorphosis of identity.  Quédate, ¡no te vayas!

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