I thought I had made it when I had a green card and could travel to London for the weekend, but then my eyes were opened whenever I came back through customs and got pulled out of the line to be fingerprinted and questioned as if I were openly carrying a weapon. I thought I’d made it when I received my citizenship and a U.S passport, but then a saleswoman at the Beverly Hills branch of my favorite store, Club Monaco, snidely told me that certain necklaces I was looking at were “too expensive” for me to try on. She not so subtly reminded me that no matter what papers I had, and no matter how much money I had in the bank, I still didn’t belong in her store, off Rodeo Drive, simply because of what I look like: Mexican.
So here’s how I know I’ve finally made it in America. I’ve made it not because I assimilated, or because I have a little bit of money, or because my story made headlines. I know I’ve made it because I have earned the right to question the system in which I live. I’ve made it because I’ve earned the right to have my voice be heard. I’ve made it because I can disagree with and question what America is really all about. I’ve made it because I can demand more from my country. I, like millions upon millions of other immigrants both documented and undocumented, am a part of America whether certain people like it or not—and therefore I can work hard and make lots of noise in attempting to create a system that works for me. When political candidates say they will work for the American people, I want to say, I am the American people. Will you work for me?
As a child and teen, I loved the X-Men of comic and movie fame. They gave me hope because they walked among us, often as ghosts that just blended in. People walked by them without noticing them, not knowing that they were different. They knew they were different, talented, and amazing. Yet they feared being found out. They feared being known. I feared being known. I tried to blend in as much as I could, and in the process I lost so much of myself, of my culture, of my Mexican-ness. In that regard, I am a recovering American elitist. I am trying to find myself, to find out about my culture in this country, about my ancestors, what they lost, and what was taken from them.
Someday I want to tell my children the world belongs to them, because it does. I am tired of blending in and of being a ghost. I want to be seen. I don’t want to blend in anymore. I am most tired of being seen as the “other.” I am 100 percent Mexican and 100 percent American. I love being Mexican. My culture is amazing. I love being American. America is not a white Anglo-Saxon society anymore. In fact, it never really was. Let’s share the truth, let’s share our history, let’s get it right and stop fighting about it. Those who think that being an American means being racist, xenophobic, and narrow-minded are wrong. And thankfully, I think a lot of people in my generation—of all races and backgrounds—feel the same way. Which means the future is coming. Quickly.
Excerpted from the Washington Post best-selling book My (Underground) American Dream by Julissa Arce. Copyright (c) 2016 by Center Street/ Hachette Book Group. Reprinted with permission, New York, NY. All rights reserved
Julissa Arce is a best-selling author, writer and advocate for immigrant rights and education equality. Her second book, “Someone Like Me” will be published in September 2018.