Embracing Americanization, Another Way To Be Proud of Our Latino Identity

Americanization BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of belatina.com

As a second-generation Latina in the United States, I felt an interesting separation of my two worlds from the moment I entered school.

Growing up, I knew that I was not American enough to understand and identify with the culture around me, but also not Mexican enough to fully identify with the Latino culture of my parents, who grew up in the border city of Tijuana Baja California.

In retrospect, my parents’ origins perhaps made their Americanization process swifter than mine.

I was neither born nor raised in Tijuana, but aspects and habits of that origin have always been embedded in me. From the language of the border city, such as saying “marketa” instead of “mercado,” or “parkear” instead of “estacionar,” as an individual, I have always been navigating a delicate and interesting bicultural balance.

Although I speak from personal experience, I know I am not alone. 

According to the Pew Research Center, “about half of today’s U.S.-born Latinos (47%) and 80% of today’s U.S.-born Asians are the children of immigrants.” Chances are, if your parents were born outside of this country, you potentially would resonate some with what I’ve been feeling all my life.

The issue with “authenticity”

Now, I’ll be honest. I don’t feel “authentic” enough to represent either culture al cien por ciento. Going to Tijuana throughout my teen years, I could literally see the side-eyes from people raised in their colonias and inevitably looked at me as a gringa

I didn’t care, though; I was happy enough to be included in their weekend hangouts and experience their tardeadas. In high school, my cultural shock was mostly from being around only American pop culture and not socializing with peers who understood the magnitude and popular obsession of RBD or PXNDX at the time. I would go to Tijuana and listen to their music on the radio, then come back and feel like Los Angeles’ radio was missing out. 

Months later, one or two pop hits would make it to our mainstream radio. Fortunately, there’s been an interesting cultural shift, though – now we see more Latinxs appreciating and being proud of their culture, versus my high school era where Latinxs spent more time masking it. I would always question why others would shy away from making their Latin culture known. Pero bueno, I could only talk about my personal experiences. 

I visited family friends in Xalapa, Veracruz in Mexico on a different occasion, where I stayed for a few weeks after high school graduation. I suddenly realized how little Spanish I knew and how even worse I spoke it. 

At the same time, a piece of me felt at home. I felt a bond with Mexican pop culture, and to me, that was an invitation to explore more Mexican cities, although my parents weren’t from the area. I felt that I missed out on so much, being in Los Angeles, and only knowing Tijuana as far as Mexico went. 

I fell in love with Ciudad de Mexico, which in some parts is now actually more European or Americanized than ever. It seems that the melting pot of cultures and traditions is always present, even in the most authentic areas. This doesn’t mean that the richness of the culture isn’t there, though. Something as ordinary as eating the city’s go-to food made me feel closer to home and inspired me to continue learning about my Mexican culture.

Demystifying Americanization 

Fast forward a decade, and now we see more Latinos in American pop culture. We see more of our lives represented in shows like “Gentefied” and in films like “In The Heights,” where our generation’s creators are shifting pop culture and blending them into one, rather than labeling it as American or Latin culture. 

It’s not perfect, but it’s a great start for someone like me who felt that separation growing up — I appreciate seeing the mix of the two without it being one against the other. 

We all know representation matters, and I see myself in those characters that go through what I have gone through. There are episodes about being too white or too Mexican or that showcase immigration issues that only my people face. 

The most beautiful aspect of it all is that these characters are in some way also Americanizados, like me. They come from generations of Latinos but were born in this country. They grew up like me and have a sense of humor like mine — and are now paving the way for future generations to feel the encouragement of being Americanized and thriving from it, rather than having the pressure of being judged from the lack of “authenticity.”

This is only scratching the tip surface of television, though. According to Nielsen’s 2021 screen time research “Explore the representation of diversity and inclusion on TV” based on identity groups, Hispanic/Latinx represent only 22.1% on broadcast television, 3.6% on cable television, and 8.5% on streaming. Wild, right? What we think of as a huge crossover and notable progress is actually a small percentage of what could actually be. In future decades, we hope for this to keep increasing and showcasing the talent of our people to help future generations feel seen. 

Ultimately, it’s not a bad thing being Americanized. As personal as it is to talk, navigate, and thrive in two completely different cultures, it’s a blessing to be able to be taught from the two. There are unexplainable things in Spanish that I can’t put into words in English and the other way around. There are lessons my parents taught me that no American has ever gone through. I feel proud to take important lessons from both cultures and form my own opinion. As a second-generation Latina in Los Angeles, I am fortunate to be able to experience both cultures and hopefully continue seeing the two merge in mainstream media.