Mayte Garcia-Salgado reflects on honoring Latinxs in America

Honoring Latinxs as Americans

By Mayte Garcia-Salgado, E&W 2021

Kellogg’s efforts to improve diversity has encouraged me to serve as an advocate on behalf of my community. The Hispanic Management Association gave me a platform to amplify the Latinx experience at the school. During my time as president, I hope to encourage students to bring their perspectives to the classroom and share their stories, like my own.

Growing up in Chula Vista, California (colloquially known as Chulajuana[1]), I never identified as an “American.” I grew up in between two countries, Mexico and the United States — a transnational space where I regularly crossed the border to cut my hair, visit my family, or eat a solid taco de adobada.[2] When asked the proverbial “What are you?” question, I stated with fierce pride, “I’m Mexican,” no hyphen necessary.

Looking back, I think my lack of acknowledgement of my American identity was a coping mechanism, a way for me to ignore that American culture did not accept me as part of its story. A student of the California education system, my Latinx educational history can be summed up into a few words: the Mexican American War and Cesar Chavez. Yes, in a state where nearly 40% of its population identifies as Latinx, two topics is the best our state education system can do.

It wasn’t until my time as an undergraduate when an ethnic studies course sparked my interest to delve more into the Latinx experience. Brown University Professor Ralph Rodriguez beautifully explained to me how history and institutional policies manifests in lived experience and identity. I then began a journey to learn as much as I could about my American history.

What I found was a story filled with both dark secrets and triumphs. I learned about the brutal lynching of Mexicans in the Southwest pieced together by scholars, family testimonials and archival research. I read how the United States government responded to growing xenophobic sentiment by deporting millions of Mexicans (both foreign and U.S.-born), not once, but multiple times. But, I also read about how Sylvia Mendez won her fight to integrate “Mexican” and “White” schools in California. I lived to see a Puerto Rican girl from the Bronx challenge every thinkable racial and gender norm to become the first Latina Supreme Court Justice.

Yet, my journey culminated in many tears, finally confronting that something was stolen from me. When I was a child, I often pondered why my family and so many other Latinxs I knew had similar stories in terms of socio-economic hurdles and what I now know as racially-charged encounters. And I, like much of American culture today, equated these obstacles to “cultural differences.” My family was poor, because they simply did not work hard enough or they did not value education enough. In reality,  they live in a country that was not set up for them to succeed and to this day, continues to erase their contributions to the American narrative. I cried on my journey, because my ignorance created a vacuum that perpetuated stereotypes and fueled feelings of rejection.

Knowing who you are is inextricably tied to your history, in my case, Latinx history. During Hispanic Heritage month, it is important for our institution to celebrate Latinx narratives and continue to create spaces like the Hispanic Management Association for Latinx and the broader student body to find both a community and shed light on our lived experiences. Once we begin to grasp the complexities of our experience, we heal from our past and finally honor Latinxs as Americans.

[1] Nickname due to the overwhelming percentage of  former Tijuana residents who have relocated to Chula Vista

[2] Marinated pork