What is Hispanic enough?

Frank Palomino, one of the plaintiffs in the U.S. Supreme Court case Mendez vs. Westminster, poses his son in a photo.

Growing up I have always felt too white. To this day there are times when I still do.

I am half Hispanic, but it is difficult to appreciate my own culture when I grew up in a watered-down version of it. Not once has my Mexican mother celebrated or acknowledged Hispanic Heritage Month, Día de los Muertos, or any holiday or event.

It was probably because my mom had not experienced any of these traditions herself. My mom is part of the second generation of her family to be born here and with that generation a lot of the culture and tradition was lost, including the language.

I feel frustrated that I didn’t grow up speaking Spanish, only knowing a couple words and phrases. If I did know Spanish, I think I would feel like I belong.

In a way I blame my great grandfather Frank Palomino, who the family called ‘Ol Papa, for choosing not to teach his kin Spanish. He had his reasons, and I believe he was just trying to give his kids the best life he possibly could.

He decided upon this action so that his offspring would not be discriminated against. It was the 1940s and Hispanic children had to go to separate schools from Caucasian kids. With him being one of the plaintiffs in Mendez v. Westminster, the U.S. Supreme Court case that outlawed segregation of Mexican American students, I heard a lot about it growing up.

It has to be one of the most crowning achievements of my family. I have complete and utter respect for my great grandfather and the four other families who were a part of the case. Unfortunately, I never had the honor to thank my great grandfather because he passed the day before I was born.

I owe it to him to keep on his legacy, even though the lighter skin Hispanics back in the day were able to attend school with  Caucasian children.  

As I’ve gotten older, I have learned a lot more Spanish, done more research on authentic practices of my culture, and have learned to embrace that just because I am only half Hispanic doesn’t make me any less of one.

It is in my blood, my DNA and my life. There is no escaping the inevitable. Hispanic culture has now had a much greater impact on my life than it used to. My nationality is American, but I have to recognize that my ethnicity is half Mexican and that matters too.

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