During my third semester at the Freedom Archives I cataloged the raw audio materials of Colin Edwards’ series on Californians of Mexican Descent. In this ten part radio program from the early 1960s, Edwards interviewed Mexican-Americans from various socioeconomic backgrounds in order to create a comprehensive series that grasps the multiplicity of the Mexican-American experience. Through a series of patterned questions asked to each interviewee, themes including conflict over identities, pressures towards assimilation and divisions between generations, were all explored. It was interesting to find that many of the themes present in this series are sentiments that still exist within Chicano/as community. There is an underlying sense of not qualifying as solely Mexican or American, but rather needing to successfully navigate through and occupy both spheres. Although there were many relatable issues, one thing that struck me when listening to these interviews was the various outlooks towards discrimination faced by the Mexican-American community.
Accounts of racial, social and economic discrimination varied amongst the interviewees but having grown up in a predominantly Latino community, I was unaware of discrimination towards Chican@s in educational or professional settings. I never felt like a “minority” in the community which I grew up in and those surrounding me I was always part of a majority population where there was no discrimination based on being “other”. It was not until I moved away for college that I was made so conscious of my ethnicity and culture. At home, it was easy to navigate being Mexican-American because most people were Latino so there was a semblance of a shared experience. Now that I have left that comfort zone and I interact with diverse populations I feel the need to be an American who simultaneously embodies and educates others on the whole Latino experience, who points out the intersections of gender, race and economic standing. In college, a defining feature of my identity is the fact that I am Mexican. I am often questioned about my language, customs and asked to challenge ill-informed stereotypes. At home I am seen as too American because I am not fluent in Spanish and I don’t retain traditional customs and beliefs, I am deviating from my upbringing.
After listening to individuals sharing their sentiments and experiences, I felt a sort of validation. Never before had I worked with materials in an academic setting that explores what for me is a lived reality. Seeing this specific form of social history documented and studied in such a way reinforces the importance of individual lived realities. Even in institutions of higher education where students are actually given the chance to study different histories, they don’t always get the chance to work with such personal accounts that resonate with and reinforce overarching historical themes.
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