What is Aztlan?

Originally published in La Gente Newsmagazine in the Fall 2009 issue.

To me, Aztlán means to “remember your roots;” it means to appreciate the lives of your parents and their parents, so that you can understand and appreciate what is a part of you. Aztlán is a call to remember the past.

As a child, every now and then I would realize that my family only spoke Spanish to me because they were from a different country, and that my teachers didn’t understand that language. As a college student, I realized that my life had some of the “typical” experiences that Hispanics face when they immigrate to the United States.

My mother was a housekeeper. As a young girl, this simply meant that she had a job, a place to go after she dropped me off from school. For me, there was no social significance behind it. However, it represented something bigger than just my life.

Being a housekeeper is a common way for an immigrant mother to make a living. I began to realize that there were other women who spoke Spanish that went to big houses and took care of other children, while they left their own children at home or at a daycare.

A barrier began to appear between everyone else and the people who shared my heritage, and this barrier gradually began to sharpen as I continued to observe my surroundings. Statistics about academic success, family values, place of origin, and education all became a part of this barrier.

People told me that I had to have a college dream because that is what my parents suffered for. What were my big dreams that would repay their sacrifice? Did my parents suffer? All they told was that I had to do well in school and to find something that would make happy.

I never really interpreted my life as being the “typical Latino experience.” Those questions of “what am I” only occurred in the context of the existential question of “who am I” I was satisfied with being la hija de mis padres.

Now in college, there is a push to have that appreciation for all those little things that make me Latina/Chicana/Hispanic/Mexican/Guatemalan in America. To some people I wasn’t Latina at all; I was a whitewashed first-generation young woman who didn’t appreciate her past.

These terms that are supposed to define and categorize me frustrate me. If these words only apply to those whose parents worked more than one job and live in a predominant Latino neighborhood with many obstacles to academic success, am I allowed to classify myself? I have come to ask myself this question as I surround myself with people who are passionate about these identities.