The northern portion of the Golden Gate Bridge clings to the cliff sides of Marin County, the place where I was born and raised—known for its affluence, liberal politics and natural beauty. The demographics are mainly white; roughly 80%, with the subsequent population being 15% Latino, 5% Asian, and 2% Black, according to Marin’s census information (US Department of Commerce, 2010). Working class families are tucked away in designated pockets of the county where poverty offsets the abundant wealth. I grew up relatively wealthy, but when I was young I felt middle class compared to the kids dressed head to toe in name brands who would end up driving BMWs and Audis in high school. As I got older, the middle class feeling faded and I recognized my affluence compared to the national and worldwide standards. My family is composed of my father, a Chicano native of San Francisco, and my mother, a Texan with a long German bloodline. As a young biracial girl I can’t recall giving too much thought to my race, ethnicity, or pigmentation. I’m that girl that for “all practical purposes, ‘looked white’” (Hurtado, 2003a, p.193). My father seldom exhibited his Chicano culture, but luckily I was given the opportunity to experience a very authentic Latino upbringing through my nanny. Growing up as a Chicana in two different Latino life spaces I never perceived the “‘third space’ existence” I’ve occupied my whole life (Hurtado & Sinha, 2016a, p.30). Another intersection of my third space was that looking the way I did and living in such a demographically white area meant I didn't fit the Latina stereotypes and therefore was never acknowledged as the Chicana I am.
Both my parents are self employed; my father is a financial consultant and my mother is a graphic designer. When I was three months old my parents hired a babysitter to take care of me while they worked. My nanny was a young Guatemalan woman named Gladys Garcia. For the first twelve years of my life I spent almost everyday with her. Since I lacked a strong connection with my own mother until high school, Gladys became a mother figure to me. Gladys, who I endearingly nicknamed Tata, always wanted a daughter, so I fulfilled that dream. She would dress me, do my hair, and refer to me as mi princesa. I loved the attention. I really felt like I was her daughter too. Tata had children of her own, two boys. The eldest was my age and the youngest was four years younger than us, but only a year younger than my little brother. Her sons became my brothers and her extended family became my own extended family. For nebulous reasons my father hasn’t spoken to anyone in his family, except his father, for over 35 years, so the Garcias allowed me to participate in a traditional Latino family experience.
Growing up with the Garcia's was a gift that allowed me to experience two different life spaces. Everyday, my parents would make me breakfast and send me off to school. Tata, and occasionally her husband, Isidro, would pick me and my brother up from school, either before or after getting their own children. We would then spend the rest of the day at a park near one of our houses. Around six, she would take the bus home or, on the rare occasions when Isidro wasn't working, he would pick her up. The Garcia’s lived in a neighborhood of San Rafael known as La Canal, which consists of a considerable amount of Marin County’s low income housing. I have fond memories of el barrio —warm days at the park filled with pickup soccer games, traversing the playground, and buying paletas, elotes, and chicharrónes from the street vendors in La Canal. Although I clearly stood out, I never felt out of place until I was a teenager, when I began to wonder if Latinos thought I was mocking or infringing on their culture because I looked like a pura gringa. Before ever reading any Chicana feminist literature I couldn’t articulate what Hurtado refers to as multiple subjectivities (2003b). I looked white and was half Mexican. At home I was raised as a privileged white girl, meanwhile spending every afternoon of my childhood in a working class Latino community. Even though at a young age I could tell that the two realities I lived were in many ways dichotomous, it wasn’t until high school that I realized each reality produced a different trajectory.
Gladys’ eldest son, Jonathan, is only three months older than I am. We grew up like twins; he was my carnal (Hurtado, 2017). Tata brought him to work with her everyday; he was my first friend and my first brother. Jonathan and I did everything together from swim lessons to karate. We both did well in school; he liked math and I liked to read. During our youth we always seemed the same; young, playful, smart, athletic. However, during adolescence our interests and activities diverged. Jonathan prioritized soccer over education and I was balancing a social and academic life. I was taking AP courses and gearing up for the ACT/SAT while he focused on soccer and hadn’t thought much about college. Elaborated by Vanessa Witenko, Jonathan and I were set apart on different educational tracks (2016). In modern schooling two tracks have been established: honors and basic. For example, an honors track student will graduate high school having taken Calculus (most likely, AP) while a basic track student will have taken up to Precalculus. These tracks have proven to be racially segregated and have to do with networks of encouragement (Witenko, 2016). We shared people in our encouragement networks like Gladys, Isidro, my parents, our brothers, and the extended Garcia family. However, my network included additional supporters who created greater opportunities for me; like my tutor, my teachers, and my college counselors. I was afforded these advantages because I was in a higher socioeconomic class, attended a better school district, and was born from parents with a lot of instrumental knowledge (Hurtado & Sinha, 2016b). The discrepancy between our opportunities and eventual trajectories made me uncomfortable and outraged, because when I looked at Jonathan I never saw race or ethnicity or social class. I saw my own kin.
Jonathan ended up at our local community college and I ended up at UCSB. According to Hurtado’s lecture on the Latino/a Educational Pipeline: 17% of Latino students attend a community college and 8% attend a four year university (2017). According to this statistic, Jonathan is relatively privileged when compared to the other 75% of Latino students who don’t continue their education and unfortunately continue a cycle of poverty. Yet, I still felt resentful of my privilege when compared to Jonathan.
Although I don’t look as ethnically Latino as the Garcias, I consider myself Latina. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard Caucasian people tell me, “You don’t look Mexican!” implying that all Mexicans look the same. Following that, without a doubt, I am always asked, “But can you speak Spanish?” as if language is a mandatory requirement for heritage. Even from Latinos I get “Pero pareces una gringa.” To prove my ethnicity I feel compelled to speak the limited Spanish I know and whip out a photo of my father and grandfather. Until reading works like Voicing Chicana Feminisms I didn’t know that scholars had developed concepts like The Borderland Theory or the idea of a Mestiza consciousness (Hurtado, 2003c). After reading about these concepts I could articulate how I have been perceiving the world. However, I can’t directly relate to this feeling: “By standing on the US side of the river they saw Mexico and they saw home; by standing on the Mexican side of the border they saw the United States and they saw home. Yet they were not really accepted on either side.” (Hurtado, 2003d, p.18) I feel accepted in the United States and that is due to my phenotypic looks and social class. Nonetheless, I desire to not have to prove my Latinaness every time a person doubts that I could be Mexican. I occupy a different third space —perhaps a meta-mestiza consciousness. I perceive the US as home where I am accepted only as a white female simultaneously rejected from a culture I deeply feel I am a part of or at least yearn to be a part of. I feel as though “I could not exist” (Castillo, 2016). At least, not exist in the way I want: as a Mexican-American.
Size and party culture aren’t the only characteristics of UCSB that affect people’s social experience at the university. “It’s something you don’t even pick up on at first until you realize how much it’s affecting you internally and that affects your social life,” Leyla explains. Born and raised in Sacramento, Leyla never paid much attention to her own race. Her high school had equally as many black students as white students. She asserts that UCSB’s lack of diversity in terms of black students and faculty has had a drastic impact on her, socially and mentally. With black students making up only 5% of the student population, Leyla often finds herself being the only black student in her class and rarely comes across professors that look like her. In her attempt to fit in and find people who share her interests, she joined Greek life. After two years it became evident to her that Greek life isn’t made for people of color. At events where sororities and fraternities came together, Leyla would look around a sea of white faces and think to herself, “Wow, I really don’t fit in.” Now, as an active member of the Black Student Union and Black Student Engagement, Leyla knows that she’s not the only person that has felt socially isolated or socially dissatisfied due to the ethnic composition of UCSB.
It is distressing for me as a Chicana to live an affluent life and so vividly experience the working class Latino experience in the United States. It feels almost unfair that I got to go home everyday back to my comfortable life. For a long time I never felt like I could call myself Latina; I barely spoke Spanish, I didn’t like frijoles, I didn’t struggle. Most, if not all, of the Latinos in my community struggled with problems of race, ethnicity, social class, and lack of education. I felt too privileged to be Latina until I took my first Chicano Studies class (this one). Until I learned that my ancestors struggled and labored to provide this life for me. Generations past and present are struggling or have struggled in order to try and improve the lives of their future descendants. “I began to see who I was in a new context, with a deeper sense of responsibility and love of my people” (Baca, 2001). As the product of Chicana Feminism, I have gained un sitio y una lengua (Hurtado, 2003e). I have diction to express my sitio and my positionality (Hurtado, 2003f). I have diction to express how an individual may be affected by their intersections of the master statuses: sexuality, gender, class, race, ethnicity, and physical ableness (Hurtado & Sinha, 2016c). With this knowledge I will impact others. I have and will continue to make real change in real communities, as well as spread concepts of Chicana Feminisms so people can have the same epiphany Jimmy Baca had: “I didn’t know that education could make you see the world differently. I didn’t know it could make you a better human being.” (2014)
This piece was written for Intro to Chicano Studies with an emphasis on gender. The assignment was to write an “auto-historia” using “your skills, abilities, imagination, creativity, knowledge, feelings, and perceptions to write about the self” while incorporating concepts from our class and assigned readings.
This piece highlights my ability to write about myself and to apply a critical lens when being self-reflective. This piece also demonstrates that I can craft an essay connecting concepts from class with my lived experiences.