latinx in america

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. 

Josef Rinderer, 22, sits at Daley Park in Tempe, Ariz. on April 9, 2016. Rinderer's mother was born in Costa Rica and his father in Switzerland. Rinderer has visited both countries, but said he has chosen to associate less with his mother's side of the family. "When I look at myself and I look at where my character comes from, I think it really comes from my father’s side," he said. "That’s where I’ve found my passion, my drive, and my values. When I look at my father, it’s almost like I was created from a specific image out of his image. I was his image."

Josef Rinderer, 22, sits at Daley Park in Tempe, Ariz. on April 9, 2016. Rinderer's mother was born in Costa Rica and his father in Switzerland. Rinderer has visited both countries, but said he has chosen to associate less with his mother's side of the family. "When I look at myself and I look at where my character comes from, I think it really comes from my father’s side," he said. "That’s where I’ve found my passion, my drive, and my values. When I look at my father, it’s almost like I was created from a specific image out of his image. I was his image."

Josef Rinderer looks through family photos at Daley Park in Tempe, Ariz. on April 9, 2016. "I embrace both sides equally, but I’ve never truly immersed myself in either of the cultures," he said. "I don’t know why. I’ve really struggled, especially with my mother’s side. I embrace the Costa Rican people and the Latino people, that I embrace, but I don’t necessarily embrace my family ... It’s not that I look down at them, it’s the values they hold true to themselves that really bother me." 

Josef Rinderer looks through family photos at Daley Park in Tempe, Ariz. on April 9, 2016. "I embrace both sides equally, but I’ve never truly immersed myself in either of the cultures," he said. "I don’t know why. I’ve really struggled, especially with my mother’s side. I embrace the Costa Rican people and the Latino people, that I embrace, but I don’t necessarily embrace my family ... It’s not that I look down at them, it’s the values they hold true to themselves that really bother me." 

Josef Rinderer shows a photo of himself with a childhood friend at Daley Park in Tempe, Ariz. on April 9, 2016. "When I look at this picture, I see myself sort of assimilating into white culture," he said. "I sort of just became white, for all intents and purposes. I would act white, I would hang out with only white people...and that’s not wrong, just later on in life when you realize people start treating you differently because of your skin color ... you notice things are different and you start to realize, why are they treating me differently?" 

Josef Rinderer shows a photo of himself with a childhood friend at Daley Park in Tempe, Ariz. on April 9, 2016. "When I look at this picture, I see myself sort of assimilating into white culture," he said. "I sort of just became white, for all intents and purposes. I would act white, I would hang out with only white people...and that’s not wrong, just later on in life when you realize people start treating you differently because of your skin color ... you notice things are different and you start to realize, why are they treating me differently?" 

Josef Rinderer sits at Daley Park in Tempe, Ariz. on April 9, 2016. "Mine is a story not about finding myself in who my parents were," he said. "My story is about finding myself in my own thoughts. Because I’ve never been able to connect with my heritage, so I had to find my own way to be accepting of myself."

Josef Rinderer sits at Daley Park in Tempe, Ariz. on April 9, 2016. "Mine is a story not about finding myself in who my parents were," he said. "My story is about finding myself in my own thoughts. Because I’ve never been able to connect with my heritage, so I had to find my own way to be accepting of myself."

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.  

Marylyn Aguilar stands for a photo in Tempe, Ariz. on April 10, 2016. Aguilar said her parents divorced when she was young, though she still remains close to both sides of her family to different extents. However, Aguilar's identity struggle has also been shaped by the fact that she grew up in Laveen and West Phoenix, cities with large Mexican populations. "When I was younger, I felt a lot closer to the Guatemalan side," she said. "Now that I’ve gotten closer to my dad’s side, it’s a little more even. But at the same time, I don’t feel as connected to either, only because I’ve been so far removed from my culture because of where I’ve grown up, which is predominantly Mexican ... It’s a weird feeling where you feel connected to your culture but you don’t at the same time ... I feel like a lot of Central American kids have that constant identity struggle, because you’re being pulled from different directions. There are so many issues that play into that."

Marylyn Aguilar stands for a photo in Tempe, Ariz. on April 10, 2016. Aguilar said her parents divorced when she was young, though she still remains close to both sides of her family to different extents. However, Aguilar's identity struggle has also been shaped by the fact that she grew up in Laveen and West Phoenix, cities with large Mexican populations. "When I was younger, I felt a lot closer to the Guatemalan side," she said. "Now that I’ve gotten closer to my dad’s side, it’s a little more even. But at the same time, I don’t feel as connected to either, only because I’ve been so far removed from my culture because of where I’ve grown up, which is predominantly Mexican ... It’s a weird feeling where you feel connected to your culture but you don’t at the same time ... I feel like a lot of Central American kids have that constant identity struggle, because you’re being pulled from different directions. There are so many issues that play into that."

Marylyn Aguilar shows photos of her parents outside of her apartment in Tempe, Ariz. on April 13, 2016. "Central Americans got it hard when it comes down to figuring out who we identify with," she said. "It’s taken me until now to identify as Afro-Latina because of American standards about how they treat black people here in this country. It's been very hard to touch on ancestors who are from Africa and from the Caribbean because it’s not the same thing as the way they’ve been treated here, but they come from the same places. At the same time, I have Indigenous roots."

Marylyn Aguilar shows photos of her parents outside of her apartment in Tempe, Ariz. on April 13, 2016. "Central Americans got it hard when it comes down to figuring out who we identify with," she said. "It’s taken me until now to identify as Afro-Latina because of American standards about how they treat black people here in this country. It's been very hard to touch on ancestors who are from Africa and from the Caribbean because it’s not the same thing as the way they’ve been treated here, but they come from the same places. At the same time, I have Indigenous roots."

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."

Marylyn Aguilar shows a photo of her older sister, Michelle, outside her apartment in Tempe, Ariz. on April 13, 2016. "When my parents came down to Arizona, they weren't doing well and they ended up divorcing," she said. "My dad just up and left and my mom had to start working. She was a single mother and we rarely saw her. My older sister gave up her childhood to raise me and (my little sister) Angie. (Michelle) is like my mother. Like my mom is my mother, but Michelle is my mom. And Angie’s like my best friend."

Marylyn Aguilar shows a photo of her older sister, Michelle, outside her apartment in Tempe, Ariz. on April 13, 2016. "When my parents came down to Arizona, they weren't doing well and they ended up divorcing," she said. "My dad just up and left and my mom had to start working. She was a single mother and we rarely saw her. My older sister gave up her childhood to raise me and (my little sister) Angie. (Michelle) is like my mother. Like my mom is my mother, but Michelle is my mom. And Angie’s like my best friend."

Marylyn Aguilar poses for a portrait in Tempe, Ariz. on April 10, 2016. "It’s very hard to identify with anything really," she said. "First of all, because people don’t even want to recognize that those countries are even there. It’s so much more of you and it’s a huge identity crisis. There’s so much more to being Latino, but that’s just an umbrella. That's not a term that we necessarily even like! It’s a huge identity crisis. I’m still learning different layers of who I am."

Marylyn Aguilar poses for a portrait in Tempe, Ariz. on April 10, 2016. "It’s very hard to identify with anything really," she said. "First of all, because people don’t even want to recognize that those countries are even there. It’s so much more of you and it’s a huge identity crisis. There’s so much more to being Latino, but that’s just an umbrella. That's not a term that we necessarily even like! It’s a huge identity crisis. I’m still learning different layers of who I am."

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. 

Reeb Menjivar, 20, poses for a photo in Tempe, Ariz. on April 8, 2016. Menjivar's mother is Salvadorean and her father, whom Menjivar has never met, is Honduran. "I guess I don’t look a certain way, so people will assume that I’m Mexican or that I’m black or that I’ve got Indian or Egyptian roots or a bunch of stuff," she said in regards to people who incorrectly refer to her as Mexican. "It used to make me really mad when I was younger, but I think I’ve gotten better at understanding that people don’t get it. I just thought everyone was so dumb, you know what I mean? I’ve become so much more understanding now. It’s just correcting people. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal for me anymore, but it used to be. I think it still is for some people, and I don’t see a problem with that at all."

Reeb Menjivar, 20, poses for a photo in Tempe, Ariz. on April 8, 2016. Menjivar's mother is Salvadorean and her father, whom Menjivar has never met, is Honduran. "I guess I don’t look a certain way, so people will assume that I’m Mexican or that I’m black or that I’ve got Indian or Egyptian roots or a bunch of stuff," she said in regards to people who incorrectly refer to her as Mexican. "It used to make me really mad when I was younger, but I think I’ve gotten better at understanding that people don’t get it. I just thought everyone was so dumb, you know what I mean? I’ve become so much more understanding now. It’s just correcting people. I don’t think it’s as big of a deal for me anymore, but it used to be. I think it still is for some people, and I don’t see a problem with that at all."

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 Menjivar shows a book her mother handmade for her at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. on April 15, 2016. "With my own culture, I think it’s kind of unknown because it’s not like the majority or anything like that," she said. "So we’re always categorized as like Hispanic, we’re always grouped into one thing but we’re all so different. There are so many different cultures. People don’t take the time to even try to understand that we all have different cultures and traditions. A lot again with the erasure of people’s existence."

Reeb Menjivar shows a book her mother handmade for her at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. on April 15, 2016. "With my own culture, I think it’s kind of unknown because it’s not like the majority or anything like that," she said. "So we’re always categorized as like Hispanic, we’re always grouped into one thing but we’re all so different. There are so many different cultures. People don’t take the time to even try to understand that we all have different cultures and traditions. A lot again with the erasure of people’s existence."

Reeb Menjivar shows a book her mother handmade for her at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. on April 15, 2016. ""My mom has always been the one who really taught me a little bit about what I do know about Salvadorean culture," she said. "Because my grandpa’s always been like 'you’re American!' Because I guess he kind of didn’t want us to miss out on anything because of discrimination that happens ... But I was telling him recently, 'I’m brown!' I look like this and I can’t hide and I’m not gonna try to be something I’m not. Yes, I was born here and I recognize that, but I still hold strong to being proud of being Salvadorean. I think he was doing it out of love and protection, but it was wrong of him to do. I’m not mad at him, but I’ve gotten into conversations with him. We can’t disregard our own culture. It shapes who were are." 

Reeb Menjivar shows a book her mother handmade for her at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz. on April 15, 2016. ""My mom has always been the one who really taught me a little bit about what I do know about Salvadorean culture," she said. "Because my grandpa’s always been like 'you’re American!' Because I guess he kind of didn’t want us to miss out on anything because of discrimination that happens ... But I was telling him recently, 'I’m brown!' I look like this and I can’t hide and I’m not gonna try to be something I’m not. Yes, I was born here and I recognize that, but I still hold strong to being proud of being Salvadorean. I think he was doing it out of love and protection, but it was wrong of him to do. I’m not mad at him, but I’ve gotten into conversations with him. We can’t disregard our own culture. It shapes who were are." 

Reeb Menjivar poses for a photo in Tempe, Ariz. on April 8, 2016. Menjivar is a sophomore at Arizona State University studying film. "(Through my film career), I want to make a point of saying hey, (Central Americans) are here and they exist," she said. "They’re human and they deserve respect. That's something I really really wanna represent and show in my film." 

Reeb Menjivar poses for a photo in Tempe, Ariz. on April 8, 2016. Menjivar is a sophomore at Arizona State University studying film. "(Through my film career), I want to make a point of saying hey, (Central Americans) are here and they exist," she said. "They’re human and they deserve respect. That's something I really really wanna represent and show in my film." 

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.