My name is James Lee. I grew up in the Rio Grande Valley, the most southern region of Texas, in a small town called Brownsville. While I grew up in classrooms full of Garcias, Sanchezes, and Cardenases, my last name was Lee.
My father’s family name comes from China, or so we’ve been told. My childhood best friend, who is Asian and Mexican American, has a Korean father who jokingly insists my family name is also Korean. The truth is we aren’t entirely sure. My father, who identified as Mexican-American, lost touch with that side of his family after familial disputes, and I have never been able to fully explore that side of my heritage.
From an early age, identity was a very confusing topic for me. I looked slightly different from my peers and I had a different sounding last name. Because of historic discrimination in the education system, my parents also raised us different, and didn’t teach us Spanish because they believed it would hold us back like it had for them. With these experiences, I never fully understood who I was. It wasn’t until after listening to my black friends and classmates discuss identity in college that I realized I wasn’t alone.
Identity is so complex, and much of it is very personal. I think in Hispanic and Latino culture, we often want to stereotype or simplify our people as mestizos, with an emphasis on indigenous oppression alone. But the truth is we are so very diverse, and our people look like the world. Emphasizing that diversity is important to me because of the experiences I had growing up.
As the rise in hate crimes increases against Asian Americans, and we continue to see the bias against Black Americans, this has become even more important to me. As a friend, I hope you walk away knowing that the struggles of other people, are our struggles too, because we are a mixed people, and while you may not be Asian, Black, Indigenous, or Middle Eastern, your hermanas, hermanos, and hermanes are. And showing up for them is showing up for us.
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