Marina was a Mexicana whom I met when I was in the police academy. We met just by chance because the Chicago Police Department, in its infinite wisdom, divided all the new recruits into four different classrooms based on race, ethnicity, and sex in order to be politically correct. There we were, in the police academy gym, and the instructors asked all the white males to step forward. They were immediately divided into four groups. Next, they called the females who were sorted out on the basis of their gender regardless of their race or ethnicity. Then, the African-American / Black males were equally divided into the four groups. And last, but not least, the Hispanic / Latino males were assigned to a classroom. The department tried to avoid racial and sexual discrimination lawsuits using this system for hiring new police officers.

Anyway, Marina and I were assigned to the same classroom where the entire class was assigned desks by alpabetical order. Since her last name was Perez, she sat directly in front of me. Well, we became good friends because we were partners for many of the training activities. She was a very pretty Mexicana, but a little on the plump side. However, she could meet all the physical requirements for calesthenics, running, and self defense. I was single at that time, but she had a boyfriend then, so we remained just friends.

One day during self-defense class, we had to practice applying a wrist lock on each other. We had to command each other to walk in a certain direction, lay face-down, and then handcuff our “arrestee.” If the arrestee didn’t obey, we applied more pressure on the wrist lock until they complied. By then, I knew Marina well enough to joke around with her. The instructor observed everyone to make sure they were applying the wrist lock properly.

Well, when I had Marina in the wrist lock, the instructor told me that I did it well and then walked away. I took advantage of the fact that he wouldn’t be back for a few minutes. So, I steered Marina around the mat by tightening my grip on her wrist. I told her to get on her knees and she did. I told her to lie down and she did. Then, I asked her if she wanted to go out me. I was just joking, of course. She immediately said “No!” I applied a little more pressure on her wrist and she changed her answer to “Yes!” even though she had a boyfriend. Then, I told her to tell me that she loved me. With a little bit more pressure, she did. I just had to smile.

When I released her, she said, “You’re gonna get it!” Now it was her turn to restrain me! Well, I immediately apologized, but it was too late to be sorry. But I was surprised when she applied her wrist lock on me. I was able to control the pain. You see, I would just recall all the times that my mother used to hit me with the belt, the broom, the extension cord, or whatever else was within reach whenever I angered her. Thanks to my mother, I had a high tolerance for pain and Marina wasn’t able to make me do anything I didn’t want to do. Eventually, I just went through the motions and let myself be restrained. After classes were over, we saw her boyfriend and I told him what I had done. He wasn’t very amused, but I thought it be better if I told him instead of Marina.

Eventually, we finished our academy training, but I always saw Marina at traffic court since they assigned our courtrooms by alphabetical order. She later broke up with her boyfriend and invited me to go to her family Thanksgiving Dinner, which I did. Later, I went to her family Christmas party, but we remained merely friends. I didn’t see her again for a couple of years.

I met her again through her fiance who happened to work in my district. We just started talking one day after roll call and I learned that he would soon marry Marina. We became friends after that. He was Lithuanian so he had lived in the same neighborhoods as me. We had a few things in common. Well, when they married, they invited my wife and me to their wedding. When I asked Marina about his family, she told me that they weren’t too happy that he was marrying a Mexicana. They wanted him to marry a nice Lithuanian girl. So at the reception, the hall was evenly divided with the Lithuanians on one side and the Mexicans on the other. They had hired a DJ for the music, but they had also hired some Mariachis to play while everyone ate dinner to show everyone how wonderful Mexicans are. However, the Mariachis were late! And his side of the family was upset. Eventually, the Mariachis showed up, but dinner was almost over. The police had pulled over their van for running a redlight and the driver didn’t have a driver’s license or auto insurance. So it took a while before they got to the reception. Well, the Lithuanians were upset at the Mariachis and the Mexicans were embarrassed by them!

I’m Mexican!

¡I'm Mexican! ¡Soy mexicano!

The other day I was walking around the Arizona Mills shopping mall in Phoenix and noticed that a teenager with black hair, brown eyes, and a perpetual tan was wearing a T-shirt that said, “I’m Mexican,” on the front. On the back the shirt said, “I’m Mexican / I’m not Latino / I’m not Hispanic.” I wasn’t surprised to see such a message since I have always felt the same way. I mean what am I supposed to call myself? As a teenager, I was even more confused. In grade school, I told everyone that I was Mexican. Then in high school, another Mexican told me about that I was a Chicano. Back then, all the older Mexicans like my parents, aunts, and uncles all thought that Chicanos all belonged to gangs. So I stuck to being Mexican. But now that I’m more mature, I still don’t know what or who I am. No matter what I call myself, someone within earshot will disagree. Lately, I’ve been telling everyone that I’m Mexican. And I’ll keep telling everyone that I’m Mexican until I figure out my identity–whatever it is!

I'm Mexican!

I am a Mexican!

The Finish Line

What do you call someone of Hispanic descent? I am truly confused about what to call myself. I have heard a lot of terms, good and bad, to describe Spanish speakers or people from Spanish-speaking countries, for example, Latino, Hispanic, Latin-American, Mexican-American, and on the negative side, beaner, spik, and wetback.

But what should I call myself? What term should I use to describe myself? None of the terms seem adequate. Latino, Hispanic, and Latin-American are too all-encompassing and include a lot of Spanish-speaking nations, but they don’t describe any of my individual characteristics. And let’s not forget that I have been born and raised in the United States of America as an American citizen.

When I think back to my childhood, I used to tell everyone, “I’m Mexican.” When I was a student at the Lithuanian Catholic grade school Holy Cross, the nuns would ask me what nationality I was and I would answer, “I’m Mexican.” Sometimes when visitors came to class, the nuns would tell the visitor, “This is David. He’s a nice Mexican boy.” Now that I look back, that seems to be the best term to use today in our politically correct times.

Let me explain. If I say that I am a Mexican-American, that seems redundant. I was born in the USA to parents who emigrated from Mexico and I speak fluent English. My parents were born in Mexico and were citizens of Mexico. My mother eventually became a naturalized U.S. citizen. If you asked my parents what they were, they would reply, “Somos mexicanos” in Spanish. So when I say, “I’m Mexican” in English, without a Mexican accent–okay, perhaps a bit of a south side accent–, I imply that I am an American citizen of Mexican descent. If I were a Mexican national living in the USA, living and working here, legally or otherwise, I would say, “Soy mexicano,” perhaps even because I couldn’t speak English.

So I say to you, “I am a Mexican,” in English, without a Mexican accent, but with a south side Chicago accent. Do you hear me? I am a MEXICAN!