Jake and I both have Latino surnames. Latino given names, too. He was born in Paraguay and moved to the United States at 3-years-old. I was born in Nampa, Idaho and moved to Salt Lake City at age 4.
Jake’s first language was Español. My only language is English.
Jake’s family in Paraguay lives in huge houses and has maids. My family in Nampa has made one too many cameos on the 10’oclock news.
My boyfriend of three years and I already knew all these things about each other, but as we sat down to watch CNN’s “Latino in America,” every one of these facts — and a few more — came through mad vividly. And it had nothing to do with the HD.
As we tried not to notice Soledad O’Brian’s hit-and-miss pronunciations of Latino names, images came across the screen that engrossed us both. The first of which were anti-immigration rallies and Latino marches against those rallies.
Jake: “Wow, can you believe that?”
Me: “Yeah, I was in it. With my dad. Remember?”
Cliff and I marched the Las Vegas Strip together three years ago to show our support for the immigrants already in this country. Jake was there, too. Not to march, but to report. He had a job and a deadline.
Forty years earlier my dad marched for migrant farm workers while Jake’s dad pursued a medical degree.
That’s just the beginning.
Old girl Soledad starts to tell us about a couple from the Dominican Republic. They moved first to New York City and then, when it was time to raise a family, settled in the South. Their two sons don’t speak their native tongue and have no interest in the culture they consider their parents’, not their own.
As the mother expresses regret over not teaching her kids Spanish because it’s integral to the culture, Jake cuts in.
Jake: “No shit!”
Me: “Hey! My parents didn’t teach us Spanish, either.”
Jake: “Oh yeah, huh.”
Next, the same kids (who later find an appreciation for their roots) explain that in the South you’re either known as white, black or Mexican — and they’re not Mexican.
I have a tendency to think of all Latinos as Mexican. I correct Jake when he uses a Paraguayan term over a Mexican term. I jokingly refer to non-Mexican Latinos as Mexicans from Puerto Rico or Mexicans from Chile, etc. Needless to say, the Dominican kid’s statement hit me hard.
I remember an old Native-American man approaching me in a grocery store as a teenager in Utah. He wanted to know what tribe my family descended from. “I’m Mexican!” I told him with a “how dare you” tone in my voice. And, I remember thinking the old man had nerve to assume every dark-haired, dark-skinned girl in Utah was Native-American.
Guess who has nerve now?
Now a Las Vegan, I’ve taken on the old Native-American man’s role and Jake’s now playing my part in the grocery store. EVERYONE assumes he’s Mexican.
When we sat down to watch the special, it wasn’t that big a deal. In fact, we watched it before “Glee” because we wanted to save the best for last. But “Latino in America” turned out to be more than another show to check off the DVR list. For Jake and I, it was an experience.
By the end of the show he had brushed away a few of my tears. We sat with our fingers interlaced, mesmerized by the stories of our people. I can’t speak for Jake, but for me, it opened my eyes. To us.
I love that I’m with a Latino man. I always wanted to end up with one. Mainly because I wanted someone who could identify with me and the way I see the world.
But as similar as our faces and names are, our experiences as Latinos couldn’t be more different. At first it made me a little uncomfortable. Now, I’m thankful for it.