Finding Identity


I’m finding that as a substitute teacher, I am growing more interest in race issues.  I sub often at a local high school, where the campus is rich in diversity, but poor in social skills. Part of that has to do that they’re high-school students who have the usual adolescent self-centeredness that makes it difficult to be more sympathetic toward others. However, as the fall semester winds down, I’m beginning to have a pretty nice collection of observations, but I’m not sure how to categorize them yet. For example, today, as I was taking attendance, I called out the name “Miguel”. After a few times of calling his name with no response, I decided he was absent. Just as I was about to move on, a Hispanic ninth grader retorts, “it’s Miguel, not ‘Meeguel’.” Not to mention Miguel never accounted himself for attendance, I couldn’t understand this girl (rudely) correcting me on my “mispronunciation” of a Spanish name. Now what is this—assimilation? Ignorance? Or just stupid rude behavior?

I covered for an English 1 class today, who were reading through Breaking Through by Francisco Jimenez, a Mexican emigrant. The book was translated in English, but was peppered with Spanish words and names. Oddly, many students who read with Hispanic accents didn’t know how to read the Spanish words when they came across them, or could even understand the words. A lot of times they would read the word in an American accent, which completely confused me. One usually assumes that if another person has an accent, it is a result of having learned that language when they were older, and therefore still keep the first language. Yet these incidents defied that theory and I realized that these particular Latinos (whether full or part) actually only speak one language: English, and they have picked up the phonetics of their peers, who are apparently English language learners.


These English speaking Latino students are associating themselves with the Hispanic crowd, putting on the “minority” label, if you will. This is a typical habit of people of multiracial/multicultural backgrounds. What they are doing is called hypodescent, associating themselves with their “subordinate” race. The opposite, hyperdescent, is when one chooses to identify themselves with the more “superior” race.

Multiracial people living in a multiracial society are forced to find an identity. My Puerto Rican relatives in Puerto Rico know without a doubt they are Latinos, or specifically Boriqueños, but I (half white, half Hispanic) need to find out which racial group I associate myself with, if any. (See Race: None Selected.) An expression of that may be in the way I dress or the way I speak.

Of course we don’t have to even identify ourselves with our racial heritage, but so many of us do. Unfortunately for high school students, they feel the need to quickly find a racial group to identify with, building pride and allegiance in that, and the end result becomes favoritism, snobbishness, racism, and arrogance, and quite a bit of other things. Still, a lot of it is sheer ignorance as this is a typical conversation between  my high school students and me: “Are you Hispanic?” “Yes.” “Oh, so you’re not white, then?” “No, I’m white, too.” “But then you’re not Hispanic.” “No, I am half white and half Hispanic. Get it?” “No, not really. So you’re Mexican?”
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