¿Ella es Mexicana … o No?

Indy Maven board member Arianna Cruz explains what Hispanic Heritage Month means to her, having both Mexican and Filipino roots.
Arianna Cruz dancing

Arianna Cruz and her padrinos
Arianna Cruz and her padrinos

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, and I think of these months a bit as a time to reflect. It’s a beautiful season to see the celebration of all of these different cultures during these different months.

For me, I feel like each year I’ve gotten to spend these months growing a little bit more into who I am, especially about my culture and learning about this really big piece of me that I didn’t always get to be exposed to — or even lean into.

When I think about what being Hispanic or Latina means to me, I think a lot about the cultural identity journey I’ve been on.

As I’ve gotten older and as I’ve gotten to explore more of who I am, I have really reflected on my struggles with my cultural identity. I feel like it’s not talked about enough how hard it can be to be a mixed kid.

Arianna and her Buelo
Arianna and her Buelo

I’m very proud of my Mexican and Filipino roots and I’m very thankful for the opportunities that my dad and my Buelo put into getting to the US so that I would have more opportunities available to me. When I think about their journey here, I think of how brave they are. I think about how strong-willed they have been since coming to a place where they hadn’t really been before — never having set foot on land here, in my dad’s case. And when I think of my roots and where I come from, I think of bravery and family because on both sides, they wanted a better life for themselves and their future families.

But it’s hard to channel that bravery when you feel like you’re in the middle sometimes.

Growing up in a rural area, I was seen as very, very Mexican and very Filipino even though I didn’t speak the languages, but I wasn’t white. I didn’t look like the other kids in my school. But often when I’m with my Mexican family or Latino strangers, I don’t feel like I’m enough of a Mexican. It can be so hard to not be able to closely identify with a piece of you that feels so big.

So, what do you do when in one area you identify with you are not enough, yet when you try to lean into the other … you’re still an outsider?

I think back on the memories that do connect me closer to my culture.

I think of my mom and I dancing around the house, doing the washing machine while Selena sings (IYKYK).

And I think of mi abuela laughing as she watched us while my Tita came in carrying a big Tupperware of calabacitas.

I think about my summers with Buelo and Buela. I think a lot about my mom and the cultural norms that she grew up with and the varying cultural pieces that she raised me with.

I think about being in my first quinceañera with my godsisters, learning all the dances, and being whisked away that night.

I think about growing up going to bailes with my mom and mi madrina, and how I would move my feet in different ways trying to keep up while the bands played.

Arianna and her Tita
Arianna and her Tita at Arianna’s quinceañera

I think of my quinceañera that my mom encouraged me to have, as she had one. I think about sharing that day with my closest friends as my damas and my family from both sides.

Hispanic Heritage Month has allowed me to explore this chunk of me that I’ve never quite known how to approach and appreciate how I interact with this piece of me while I continue growing into the woman I am and hope to be.

I know I’m not fluent in Spanish, and it’s something I actively practice. I’m still trying to find that ideal ratio of water, tomato, and rice — something I excitedly work to perfect.

Arianna (left) at an Indiana Latino Institute event
Arianna (left) at an Indiana Latino Institute event

As I’ve continued to step out of my shell, I have started to find more community in the Indianapolis Hispanic community and they’ve welcomed me with open arms, not demanding I know how to speak Spanish or thinking less of me if I need a little warm up when a cumbia song comes on.

In this season of life, I’m able to lean into my Mexican background comfortably knowing that I don’t know everything, and knowing that I’m not whatever image of being a perfect Mexican I thought I needed to be. All while proudly saying that I am Mexican, even though I don’t fully speak the language.

Because speaking a language doesn’t define my culture, but rather, I’m defining how I get to celebrate my culture. Throughout this Hispanic Heritage Month, and every month to follow, and every year that follows, and every Hispanic Heritage Month that follows, I’m excited to continue growing into more of who I am.

Y parte de lo que soy es Mexicana.

During the day, Arianna Cruz can be found creating community connections and dreaming up marketing strategies with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Indiana. She moonlights as a magazine founder and the owner of MORE Magazine, Making Opportunities Reachable for Everyone. Chat intentionally with her by connecting on LinkedIn.

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