Why I Feel I'll Never Be "Mexican Enough"

“You can’t speak Spanish?”

I dread the question. I do. It’s loaded with more than the inquisitor is prepared for. My culture is more than a language, and no, I don’t speak Spanish.

Most days I feel as though I’m caught between two worlds, two identities. You see, I’ll never be “Mexican enough” to most people. I stumble over words in Spanish. My hips don’t salsa like they should. I’m further removed from native traditions than I’d care to admit. I’m just not “as Mexican as you thought.” And even still, I’ll never be quite “American” either. It doesn’t matter what I do, the words will still roll off your tongue — Mexican-American. The hyphen that keeps me at arm’s distance from you — the hyphen I prefer over the multitude of other things I’ve been called instead.


When you balk at the idea of a Spanish-less Mexican, I can’t help but feel the tension, frustration, and resentment of all I have lost. Because in order to be worthy of the American Dream, my family was convinced that we had to let go of much of who we were, and at 24 years old, I’m trying to get that back.


And to be honest, it is one of the greatest pains of my heart— to long for a country I’ve never called home, a language that should have been mine, and the depths of a culture that is so far removed. My heart aches. At 24 years old, I am grasping for straws, trying to reclaim an identity that has only been my shadow.

When I think of how I got here, I am pointed to the American Dream, and the work of my family to do everything they could to get us here. Don’t speak Spanish — you don’t need it, and they’ll treat you differently at school. Don’t leave the house without enough sunscreen to keep you from getting darker. Don’t wear those pants with the hole because they’ll think you’re poor. Don’t put your hands in your pockets at the store. Don’t do anything that would make you look “different.” Walk the walk. Talk the talk. Keep your head down. Work hard. Assimilate.

And we did. The Aguilars did. We moved to White suburbia. We forgot our native tongue. We straightened our hair, and we left Tito Puente for the Rat Pack. We got college degrees and the careers they only dreamed of. We let go of one world to embrace another, but as an adult, I’m still wondering if we really had to. How much did we have to lose?


I’m taking a Spanish class. I just signed up. I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can talk to the parents of my students, and sing to my grandmother in the language of her heart.


When you balk at the idea of a Spanish-less Mexican, I can’t help but feel the tension, frustration, and resentment of all I have lost. Because in order to be worthy of the American Dream, my family was convinced that we had to let go of much of who we were, and at 24 years old, I’m trying to get that back.

I’m taking a Spanish class. I just signed up. I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can talk to the parents of my students, and sing to my grandmother in the language of her heart. I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can build connections in this community, and I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can read Latino literature. I’m taking a Spanish class so that I can listen, and learn and understand. I’m taking a Spanish class so that one day my students and my own children can be proud of their heritage in ways I never could.

And though my language skills will improve, even without Spanish, I am Mexican. It is the way my hair curls, my skin bronzes, my heart loves. It is in the way I drink té de canela and sing old canciones with people I love. It is the way my fingers caress the strings of my grandfather’s guitarra. It is my tia’s laugh, my grandmother’s abrazos, and my mother’s tortillas on Sunday morning. It is a family willing to give up so much as long as they have one another. And you can take my language away from me, but you can never take away my culture. I am Mexican, and I may not quite speak the same tongue as my people, but my heart will always speak the same language.

“I can’t speak Spanish, but I’m learning,” I say. “I promise you — I’m learning.”