Boyle Heights Beat originally published this story one year ago on Sept. 16, 2011.
For the first time in my 24 years, I tuned into the commemoration of “El Grito” on Univision yesterday, which featured a well-preserved Vicente Fernandez singing. Once again, the emotion connected to the occasion alluded me, perhaps because of my own lifelong questions about identity and heritage. What’s the difference between Benito Juarez and Miguel Hidalgo? Don’t Cinco de Mayo and September 16 mean the same thing?
I come from a Mexican mother and a Honduran father, so you’d think I’d know a little more about this. But it was only last night that I learned that “El Grito” is a celebration commemorating Mexico’s independence from Spain, and the most important national holiday observed in the country.
I am not alone. There are thousands of Latinos like me, who were born or raised in the U.S. and come from immigrant parents. In this situation, we dilute our heritage to welcome new languages, customs, and history. We celebrate Cinco de Mayo in droves because it’s the American thing to do, but most of us won’t tune into Mexican Day celebrations on the local Spanish-language channel or in our neighborhood.
And it’s not only us who trade our native customs for American ones. My mother, for example, who was raised in Autlán, Mexico, did not celebrate Mexican Independence Day today””and I can’t recall her ever doing so.
My dad always tells me that when he emigrated to the U.S., he was told he needed to renounce his allegiance to Honduras in order to be a U.S. citizen. The compulsion to fit in and live the American dream replaced Mexican and Central American independence days for my parents, who wouldn’t dream of missing celebrations of the Fourth of July or Memorial Day.
Today, as my interest in my own heritage grows, I spend most of my time in Boyle Heights where I see myself in the faces of its residents. Seeing immigrants and acculturated Latinos, like myself, is like watching a carousel of my past and present. Although I do not live in the neighborhood, the sights and sounds of the community make it feel like it’s where I belong.
As I write this, I plan to head over to today’s Mexican Independence celebration at Boyle Heights’ Mariachi Plaza, but without my parents. I’m sure I will be one of many Latinos that will hear “El Grito” but who won’t know what the people thronging the square will be screaming about. Yet, in spite of my questions and disconnections, I see Boyle Heights as a place to connect with my heritage and culture.