May 30, 2012

A Conversation About Identity

II. Esther Cepeda: I’m a Minority Within a Minority

Tell Us Your Story

Join the conversation about ethnic identity on the Pew Hispanic Center Facebook page.

Any day you learn something important about yourself is a great day.

That’s how I felt the day the Pew Hispanic Center published its report “When Labels Don’t Fit: Hispanics and Their Views of Identity.”

That was the day I realized I’m a minority within a minority – one of the mere 21% of respondents who trace their roots to a Spanish-speaking country but identifies primarily as an American.

No biggie, really, I always knew I was different that way; the report helped me understand why.

Well, I was already familiar with part of it – I grew up in mini-UN part of Chicago where everyone’s parents were from somewhere else and we were lucky enough to attend a school that treated us equally as new converts to the religion of Americana.

Pair that with thousands of hours of watching Tom and Jerry, Bugs Bunny and the Flintstones and I was practically apple pie incarnate – well outside the 47% of survey respondents who said they consider themselves to be very different from the “typical American.”

As a bicultural, bilingual Chicagoan, I feel pretty typical. And I get a little crabby when asked where I’m “really” from when I say I’m American – probably just like the rest of those who identify themselves as American.

Why am I “American?”

Well for one, because I say so.

There are many other reasons, but the biggest one is that my parents are not from the same Spanish-speaking country. Being the U.S.-born child of Ecuadorian and Mexican immigrants effectively makes me pan-ethnic Hispanic or Latino (and I’m firmly in the Hispanic boat – hearing the term “Latino” is like nails on a chalkboard to me) instead of simply Mexican-American or Ecuadorian-American.

I can’t dis half my heritage, can I? Basically, I’m a mutt. And what could be more American than that?

Esther J. Cepeda is a nationally-syndicated columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group and is based in Chicago.

Views in this conversation series are those of each author alone, and not the views of the Pew Hispanic Center, which is nonpartisan and non-advocacy.