This project explores the multidimensional self-perceptions of three young Latinxs in Phoenix, Arizona. Like snowflakes, no two Latinxs are exactly alike. Racial identity is abundantly more than a box checked on a census form or a word on a birth certificate. Identity is a perpetually growing tapestry of memory, of experience and of emotion. A thread within the tapestry can be the sound of a voice, the scent of a familiar dish, the dance of a dialect.
Along with the indescribable beauty of being Latinx comes the feeling of looking at the back of the tapestry, seeing a tangled mess of color and not knowing what to make of it. Latinx identity is not black and white. Latinx identity exists on a spectrum.
Somewhere along this spectrum are the stories of Josef, Marylyn and Reeb, people who have found their own ways of celebrating, sharing and loving the strength of heritage and of spirit that make them distinctly Latinx.
Marylyn Aguilar was born in Arizona to a Guatemalan mother and Honduran father. Although she profoundly recognizes her own struggle with racial identity, she embraces her Central American roots and the diverse ancestry that comprises them.
Aguilar talked at length about the fact that Latinx-on-Latinx racism is just as real as the battle of white vs. brown we see in America.
"I feel like even in the Latino community, Central America is completely disregarded," she explained. "There’s a lot of racism within just being part of Central America and being associated with it. Then when people assume you’re Mexican, it hurts. You’re not looked at in a good light from your own community, and then you come to a new country and they don’t even know who you are. You’re nonexistent ... It’s gotten a lot more annoying as I’ve gotten older. And maybe that’s just me personally. I refuse to get used to it. It’s annoying because I love my family’s culture so much."
However, Aguilar sees and practices solidarity amongst Latinxs of all backgrounds in spite of their intracultural racism.
"Stuff like that, you feel the connection to other nationalities," she said. "It’s like a big family, you fight with each other, but at the end of the day, you have each others’ back."
Like Marylyn, Reeb Menjivar fully embraces her Central American heritage in spite of the widespread erasure of the Central American people in broad discussions of Latinos in America.
Menjivar said coming to college at ASU was a huge culture shock for her.
"When I came to ASU I was like, 'Oh my god! There’s so many white people!' I had blue hair, my skin is like this ... My roommate was tall and blonde and there was a party … I was like the only person of color there. I felt like an outcast. I’ve always been kinda weird, but everybody was always my friend in high school. I think that’s the first time it bothered me. But that was the first time I was like, I don’t really feel comfortable starting a conversation with these people."
Since then, she has found community with people of many backgrounds, but has found a particular home with ASU's chapter of MeCha, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán. She met me in the MeCha room at ASU to show me some family photos.
Reeb, Marylyn and Josef are just three of millions of examples of the Latinx identity in motion. There is no denying that racial identity is convoluted and complicated. The beauty is that stories like these remind us that the fog of politics, discrimination and personal history can never be quite thick enough to eclipse the golden, tenacious heart of the Latinx people.