I am Latinx for now: Latinx/Hispanic/Chicanx/Raza/Gente Heritage Month

Irasema Garcia is Director of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at GRID Alternatives, based in San Diego, and just celebrated her ninth year with us.

Like a lot of us, My journey to figuring out who I am has been interesting, with some moments filled with joy and realizations that transformed how I see the world and myself.

I was born in Mexico. I was one of many border kids in San Diego who were born in Tijuana. We would cross the border on the regular to grocery shop in the States and to see my grandma (nana). I went to kindergarten in Tijuana and then moved at the age of 7 before my family to start first grade and live with my nana.

At that time my uncle was a teenager and was identifying as Chicano, which is mostly a California identity. My mom did not agree because that frame of mind was keeping him from ‘assimilating’ and improving his life. She saw Chicano as a bad thing. I was too little to have an opinion; now as an adult I understand the consequences of her belief.

I was fortunate enough to grow up in a very diverse part of San Diego, National City. I loved that I could go to any friend's house and eat Filipino food, Indian food, Vietnamese food and it was awesome. So in that mix of kids I was Mexican, I was an import like my friends.

It wasn’t until college that a lot of the vocabulary and understanding about systems became clear. I understood for the first time the basis of my mother’s beliefs and I finally knew why we switched languages in our home from Spanish to English when I was nine. In her mind she wanted us to be able to compete and be ready for the challenges that she was already accustomed to dealing with because she was Mexican.

So here we are now. Who am I? I am Mexican with mixed heritage. Thanks to genetic tests I know I am Mexican with Indigenous ancestry, French, Italian, Spanish, Scottish and a few more. I am not Hispanic because I learned the history and harm of the word in college. I would say I am Latinx because that is what our people have chosen. Also as an older person in the last half of my life, I am ok taking a step back and letting younger folx guide us. I am sure that in a few years we will have another word to identify us. We are a ginormous diaspora and I am ok with the diversity that comes with it.

White supremacy and systemic racism reared their ugly heads as GRID was figuring out how to celebrate us and name us and call us. Many GRID staff were involved in challenging, painful discussions about how to honor and acknowledge our people during this time which the US government has proclaimed “Hispanic Heritage Month”. We chose to stop the process, address it, repair relationships and harm.

Part of the good that has come from this is learning a bit more about each other here at GRID, and we’ve had some practice with difficult conversations. Most important is the value of having the space to process together and how our journeys give us other opportunities to reflect on who we are and how we show up for each other.

So here we are, Happy Latinx, Hispanic, Chicanx, RazaGente Heritage Month my people.

Thank you to Sandra Romero, Danielle Mueller, Michael Sanchez, and Ingrid Murillo for being my partners and accomplices in this work and for helping edit this piece.

Hat tip: Latinx Heritage Month: Why celebrating begins with listening.

Irasema Garcia has spent her entire career working in the nonprofit sector. With over 20 years of experience as a trainer and curriculum developer, much of Irasema's career has been spent developing management, leadership, life skills; and equity, inclusion and diversity education. She is working on an organization-wide Equity, Inclusion & Diversity strategy. Irasema holds a Master's in Public Administration with an emphasis on Organizational Theory and City Planning and earned her Bachelor's in Social Sciences with minors in Ethnic Studies and Psychology.