In the United States, most people would guess that I am Latino and specifically of Mexican origin. To my surprise many peoples immediate thought is that I am of an Asian ethnicity. I’ve been called Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino half the time. But, the people that correctly identify my ethnic background say it is because of my “Mexican hair.”
Now, you may be thinking what exactly is “Mexican hair”? When I first heard this, I was taken back because I have never been told my hair was “Mexican”. I am still not even sure what Mexican hair looks like, but I know that many Dominicans think I have it. Every time I met someone new or got into an Uber people knew and assumed I wasn’t from there. People were even shocked to hear I was Latino and would say “Oh, you really aren’t Asian? I thought you were.”
Before coming to the Dominican Republic, I felt that I had a pretty good grasp about my race and ethnic identity. I recognize and own my Mexican heritage and am proud to call myself Latino. However, in the Dominican Republic people would just refer to me as “Mexican.” In the states, I don’t tell people I am Mexican, rather I say that I am Chicano. I started to identify this way when I learned that I was too American to be Mexican and too Mexican to be American. As an 11-year-old boy I wasn’t sure how I was supposed to identify-I just knew it didn’t feel right to say I was American.
So, what does it mean to be Chicano?
When I was introduced to the concept of being Chicano I was told you that this term was used to refer to the child of two Mexican parents who gave birth to their offspring in the United States. I was around 12 years old when I heard of this and immediately felt that I knew exactly who I was. However, as I got older I learned a deeper meaning behind what it meant to be Chicano. Being Chicano not only referred to the relationship between my two Mexican parents and the land I was born on, but it also acknowledged the mestizo history behind being Mexican. As you may know, the indigenous people south of the border had to face the invasion of conquistadors, specifically a high number of Spaniards. This resulted in a mix of Spanish and indigenous blood for many folks. Now, many of the people who are Mexican or of Mexican heritage have this mixture of cultures in their blood. That said, saying that I am Chicano would not only tell you about my parents but at the same time is telling you that I am acknowledging the indigenous and Spanish blood that I have. I am not negating any part of it and am proud of everything that makes me Chicano. That is what I mean when I say that I am Chicano.
Being Chicano in the Dominican Republic
It was difficult trying to explain to people what my experience has been like living in the United States but not being “American”. Many people jumped to the conclusion that I was Mexican or “gringo.” It is also important to be aware that race relations in the Dominican Republic are unique in that it is an island that is shared with Haiti. Many people I met were not very open to being friendly with their neighbors and instead focused on the negatives. So, to be Chicano in the Dominican Republic really requires a level of openness to truly understand why and what I was trying to explain. I did not always explain this successfully and found myself agreeing that- yes, I am Mexican and I guess my hair could be Mexican as well, whatever that means.