Living an in-between life

  • Published
  • By 2nd. Lt. Ana Ruiz
  • 82nd Force Support Squadron
As we celebrate "Hispanic Heritage Month", it has given me time to reflect back on where I came from growing up to where I am today.

I grew up in a small town in Texas, living in-between tacos and burgers, country music and ranchero music, a Spanish-speaking household and an English-speaking school. I knew that with my family and family's friends I could hug and kiss people on the cheek all I wanted, but when it came to greeting anyone else , a firm handshake from a good distance was sufficient.

Being a Latino for me meant embracing an in-between life and this also meant embracing being misunderstood by people all around me. When I visited my family in Mexico, I was not considered a "Mexicana", but rather, "Americana". Being back in the U.S., I was quickly branded as "one of them Mexican kids"; so I learned at a very young age what stereotypes meant and how they could be used to try and define someone. My perception was because of where I was from and what my nationality was, it seemed like people thought most of us would grow up without accomplishing anything significant in our lives.

Fortunately, I also grew up in a community where the school system believed in helping its Spanish-speaking students. I took English Second Language (ESL) classes up until the 2nd grade, and all my teachers kept a close eye on me to make sure I did not fall behind because of a language barrier. By middle school, I was included in the gifted and talented class. Wow! For a kid who was supposed to be a nobody, I was growing up to be a somebody. Now that was something my mother was proud of, and I did not think she could be any prouder after that point. Little did she know how much more I would accomplish in life, ultimately leading up to me being accepted into the United States Air Force Academy. I feel very privileged to have had people push my potential. I am convinced that I would not be where I am now without the support system I had from my family, teachers, and school principals.

I know that not all Latinos are Mexican, but I believe most can relate to some aspect of my story. To be Latino means more than speaking Spanish, being tan 365 days a year and eating rice and beans as my staple foods. To be Latino in the United States means having pride in one's Old World culture, but for me it has also meant overcoming language barriers and adjusting to different customs to thrive in the New World. Latino is more than a label. Latino is being blessed to be part of a fluid culture that encompasses both the uniqueness of Latin heritage and the privilege to blossom in a melting pot of opportunity.