Sunday, December 5, 2021

Column: Juggling two identities at MSU is stressful

February 13, 2019
<p>Edwin Jaramillo</p>

Edwin Jaramillo

Photo by Anntaninna Biondo | The State News

I am a first-generation Mexican-American college student. 

Being born in the United States has always made it a challenge for me to navigate my identity. I was born and raised in Southwest Detroit — Mexicantown — a unique area that allowed me to be proud of my cultural upbringing, but also to express myself and live the life of an average American. 

I knew a dual life would be tough. But I never realized how truly exhausting my bicultural background would be until I was accepted into Michigan State.

I have always noticed being a first-generation student, particularly as a Mexican-American, places me and others in a separate spectrum. I am from the United States, so I have no issue navigating the American way of life. But I feel I can never be considered a true American. 

Yet to my Mexican-born counterparts, I am considered American. My parents raised me to be proud of my Mexican roots, yet made sure I learned the customs of the United States — primarily the English language.

Coming to MSU, I was shocked — shocked to see the representation I was so used to in Detroit wasn't present. I was hit with the hard reality that I didn't fully connect with the MSU student population, nor the Latinx population I was said to belong to within MSU.

In my first year at MSU, I found myself at crossroads. I struggled to identify who I was. 

The classroom setting didn't make the experience any better. Icebreakers to get acquainted with classmates always led to a rating of how Latino or American I was.

"You're Latino?" "Where are you from? But like, where are you from?" "Your English is great. You don't sound Latino."

These questions became a regular occurrence throughout my time here. 

Feeling homesick, I made it a priority to find a Latino student organization on campus that would make me feel at ease. Fortunately I did, but to my surprise I was met with obstacles in this pursuit as well.

I can speak and write in Spanish, but through the years I noticed my mastery being diluted, as English is what I primarily use. My Spanish is not perfect and littered with mispronunciations. 

Finding the Latino student organization felt like home initially, however I struggled to communicate and connect at times. I found myself a stranger in both of my "home" communities and asked myself — am I Mexican or American?

I realized that having this bicultural background was — and still is — stressful in my everyday life. 

If I don't speak English perfectly I am quickly jumped on, but if my Spanish isn't also spoken perfectly, I am met with the same outcome.

Traditional American food such as hamburgers and pizza are too bland, but whenever I eat Mexican food my stomach doesn't always receive it well.

I have to know about artists such as Vicente Fernández and Rocío Dúrcal, while also being perfectly aware of Blink-182 and Taylor Swift.

I grew up with so many traditions and customs that were passed down from generation to generation, only to be considered not one or the either. 

Currently, being Mexican-American comes with its set of stigmas. However, being a journalism student, I find myself with a unique view and unique opportunities. I feel a sense or moral obligation to bring to light issues that otherwise wouldn't be considered.

While I continue to attend MSU, I've come to the realization that although my bicultural background comes with its set of negatives, it also comes with its advantages. 

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I am living and experiencing stories that I don’t see represented in the media, and although at times I feel like a fish out of water, I have learned to better handle the situations in which I do not feel comfortable.

I understand and appreciate now that my perspective that is different. I'm doing my best to make that perspective visible.

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