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Hispanic Heritage Month Guest Contributor: What It Means To Be Hispanic by Rep. Angelica Rubio (NM)

I’m in my third year serving as a New Mexico State legislator, representing the border city of Las Cruces in a state that still shys away from calling itself a "border state". A state that annually still celebrates the colonization of our Native sisters and brothers but thrives on selling Native American culture to tourists.

It was while I was in Mexico City recently, attending a conference with American and Mexican state legislators, that I was struck with a wave of emotion that spurred a series of thoughts about how we could come together despite our differences to improve life for everyone in our state. A state that recently welcomed 45 with large crowds and a large percentage of Hispanic’s in the audience.

Thinking about the current state of our border, and the history of its militarization, actions supported by Democrats -- along with the ever-evolving identity crisis that your typical New Mexican struggles from, there’s something to be said about being in the country from which my parents and grandparents came, and watching 45’s visit unfold from afar. It is also so very special, that in the shadows of the wall, and the lies we’ve been told about our beautiful borderlands, and all that has been said about my Mexican brethren, that I can find peace in the central neighborhoods of Mexico City, and be grateful that I can speak the language so effortlessly and connect with those that have been most notably labeled, “bad hombres.”

But love for Mexico, my first language, and the history of my antepasados weren’t always so poetic. Both my parents, Maria and Eduardo, are from Chihuahua, Mexico, and having immigrated to this country over 60 years ago, they never learned to speak English. They didn’t have to. They lived on the border. But for me, growing up the youngest of six along with a mix of first and second-generation Mexican Americans and anglo peers, assimilation was a survival tactic.

So for most of the week, I have been contemplating writing on the dichotomy of this life, and the two worlds in which I grew up in, and continue to live in. There’s the world of living with pride in being Mexican in New Mexico, something that I grew into when I first got to college. And the second world, of assimilation, and the shame that came with it. For a time, I called my parents, my grandparents, describing myself at one time, “Italian.” My mom was forced into learning how to make Americanized versions of my favorite meals, because I didn’t want to bring my friends over to the smells of frijoles, or accidentally opening up the fridge to only find a head of a pig (a reminder that Saturday we would be making tamales). These are just a few examples of my forced attempts to be like everyone else, and it was all in an attempt to hide my otherness. The story of so many New Mexicans.

The day after 45 left New Mexico, I was sick to my stomach. I had learned that maybe 40 percent of those who had attended, identified as Latino/Hispanic. Whether or not that is true, it doesn’t surprise me. So many New Mexicans have similar stories to mine and are trapped in a generation-long, identity crisis. We have northerners who celebrate conquest and in the south, we have Chicanx who look down on newly arriving immigrants.

And so when the reports came out about 45's campaign rally in New Mexico, during which he promised to win back the state with Latino/Hispanic votes, I was reminded of that little kid in Lake Arthur, N.M., who refused to call herself Mexican because like those 40 percent in attendance at the rally, it is better to assimilate and become someone like Trump, rather than take pride in who we really should be--New Mexicans, who come from Mexico, as complicated as that might seem to be for peoples’ identities. So during the month of September and October, in which we celebrate what it means to be Hispanic in this country, I am reflecting on the fact that it’s complicated. It’s important to celebrate our successes and opportunities, but it is also very important to reflect on our dark history too, and the stories we have had to tell ourselves when we’ve been seen as the other for so long.

Angelica Rubio is a state representative in New Mexico.

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