For Me, Soccer Represents the Identity Divide Mexican-Americans Feel

My story began on May 7, 1995 in Tijuana, Mexico at 5:30am, after a “miracle birth.” Yes, a miracle because I had the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck.

Most newborns get wrapped by blankets when they’re handed off to their parents. I was wrapped by a blanket and a soccer jersey. Soccer has been a huge part of my life. Which explains why October 10, 2015 was one of the best days of my life. I attended the Mexico – US soccer game at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif. Mexico won in dramatic fashion and I left the stadium the happiest I had been in a long time.

Credit: Leticia Bustamante

But that wasn’t what was imprinted on my mind. I noticed something, something I felt provided an accurate, real-world example of what it’s like for many young Mexicans or Mexican-Americans in the United States that feel they have to choose between their cultures.

There were more than 95,000 people at the Rose Bowl. Hundreds of people wore jerseys that had stars and stripes on the right side and the Mexican crest right above the heart on the left side. These were people who couldn’t be forced to choose between their two cultures. Perhaps they don’t identify strongly with either one. Perhaps they didn’t want to be judged by family or friends for choosing one over the other.

For me, choosing who to root for was a no-brainer. I rooted for Mexico.

Credit: Leticia Bustamante

As someone who is undocumented, I understand how hard it can be to choose. I know how it is to feel like no matter which side you choose, you aren’t welcome on either one: Ni de aquí, Ni de allá, like the famous India Maria film would say. For many Mexican-Americans, it is hard to choose a culture because they are born in the US, but raised with Mexican values.

I am not a citizen of the country I live in and I have not stepped in the country where I am a citizen since 2000. If I were to go back today, I would be recognized as a foreigner. When I think about that, I feel American because that’s how I would be seen in Mexico. Here, I feel the complete opposite sometimes, especially at school.

I am blessed enough to say that I attend my dream school, UCLA. But it’s at UCLA where I feel the most Mexican and the most foreign.

Credit: Leticia Bustamante

Mexicans make up a minority at UCLA. The majority are white Caucasians. It is here where I am reminded that I am not American because I am not blonde and blue-eyed and do not celebrate Thanksgiving or take family vacations because we cannot afford to take a week off of work. I don’t have parents who speak English or have college degrees. I have to explain why I cannot take out loans to study abroad, why I cannot vote or why I cannot join them for spring break in Cancun.

But nothing reminds me I’m a foreigner more than the fine box at the end of scholarship applications that says “I am a US citizen or legal resident.”

Nevertheless, I know I’m blessed to live in this great country and I am blessed to be Mexican. I love that I had the opportunity to grow up listening to Smokey Robinson and Michael Jackson and The Beatles one day and the next day listen to Chelo Silva, Selena, and of course, Vicente Fernandez.

Today I live a mile away from Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, but I am humbled by the memory of living in a small one bedroom apartment with twelve family members for the first two years.

Credit: Leticia Bustamante

I love that I grew up in the individualistic American society where I can become successful for me and my family.

Whether or not people regard me as American doesn’t even matter at the end of the day. Sometimes being undocumented doesn’t even matter. I’ve gotten this far. But one thing is for sure: I always carry that Mexican crest above my heart.

We should not be criticized for not being Mexican or American enough. We should be celebrated for being bicultural. We should be proud.

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