Opinion: Growing up mixed in The United States


Andres Fuentes

Cody Downey, mass communication junior and copy editor for The Maroon, laughing with his fellow copy editor, Riley Katz. Cody writes about his experiences growing up with two cultures. Photo credit: Andres Fuentes

Cody Downey

Finding an identity is hard for any kid growing up. However, it is even harder when you share two different heritages. I choose to call myself a White Latino. My mother is a Latina and my father is a white man. Growing up, I never really saw any difference between them. My mom may have been a little bit more tan and spoke another language, but I didn’t think that was odd.

It wasn’t until I was older that I would discover that, for some, my life was different. Throughout my life, people have always asked me questions about being of mixed race, especially being half-Latino. Sometimes they would come out of ignorance and others would come out of sheer curiosity. The most common question I got was “Are you Mexican?”. The answer is no. I am Guatemalan and Honduran. Many people tend to assume I am of Mexican descent just because of how close Mexico is to the United States. Another frequent question was if my mother was legal. The answer is yes. My mother was born here in New Orleans and is just as American, if not more, than the next person. The final question was usually if my mom spoke English. The answer is yes. She was taught both English and Spanish growing up so, she is fluent in both languages.

I would have questions from Latinos as well. The one that was always asked regardless of the age of the person was why I didn’t speak Spanish. As a child, my parents had taught me some words. Growing up, I would use them a lot such as leche (milk) and cochino (nasty). However, I never became fluent. It wasn’t because my parents didn’t want to teach me or didn’t care to, but because I just wasn’t interested then. My disinterest usually causes contempt from other Latinos. Many in the community believe you aren’t a “real Latino” unless you can speak Spanish. For a while, this had made me feel disconnected from the community.

These questions would come every now and again. But, I’ve grown to understand that no one intended to be hateful with them. The only people I had ever known who were like me racially were my cousins and a handful of my friends. So after a while, I learned to not take them too personally. However, I have still had my fair share of awkward situations. Once I stayed after school and was waiting to get picked up by my mom. I had someone waiting with me, and when my mother finally showed up, he didn’t believe she was my mother. My whole life I never had someone say that to me. It was weird to think that someone didn’t think that my mom could be my mom. That moment showed me how little people really knew about Latinos in general.

Reasons like the ones I mentioned are why, in more recent years, I’ve become more attached to Hispanic Heritage Month. Growing up, it wasn’t something that was heavily talked about. But if it was, maybe people wouldn’t have so many negative conceptions about Latinos. It could change the way many people think. It’s more important to me than for that, though. Hispanic Heritage Month is important to me so that my four-year-old little brother won’t have to feel odd when he experiences situations like the ones I dealt with. He will know that he is a true Latino regardless if he speaks Spanish or not. He won’t have to feel weird answering questions about his heritage. He will feel proud to be a part of, not only one culture, but two cultures.