Another novel thing Salazar said he encountered at college was the way people of different backgrounds used different labels to refer to their ethnic identities.
“I had a dual lifestyle,” Salazar said. “We’re part of the border culture. It’s the best of both worlds.”
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For many Latinos in the United States, the notion of living in two distinct worlds has long been a source of pride, wonder and contention.
Rather than choosing to accept what society tells them they are, many Latinos will seek to discover what their true identity is for themselves.
Although he was involved with the Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlan, more widely known as MEChA, during high school, Salazar said college also exposed him to the more sophisticated social justice movements advocated by Chicano activists on campus.
“Exposure to Chicano consciousness confused me,” said Salazar, who personally shuns the Hispanic or Latino label for himself. “You start to question your identity.”
Psychology has contributed toward much understanding about ethnic identity and the manner in which the environment influences its development, said Emilio Ulloa, a psychology professor at San Diego State University.
Interestingly, college is often the place where a person learns more about their ethnic identity, said Ulloa.
Although he never graduated from college, lifelong Valley resident Max Reyes said he is well-versed in the principles of community activism.
Because of his father’s involvement with the Hidalgo Society, Reyes as a child was exposed to the Imperial Valley rallies of farmworkers’ rights advocate Cesar Chavez, he said.
However, as president of the Brawley-based Hidalgo Society, Reyes said he will use a number of labels interchangeably in order to establish dialogue with members of the community.
“I will use anything that will unite people to get to common ground,” Reyes said, adding he personally prefers Chicano.
The term Chicano, Reyes said, is often shied away from by people who rather “not make any waves, especially here in the Valley.”
“There are some people who don’t like the term (Chicano) but that’s their problem,” Reyes said.
Often, people will realize their ethnic identity is not quite set in terms of who they are and will search for understanding, Ulloa said.
“(Ethnic identity) is all a function of what a person knows and their experiences in the world,” Ulloa said. “Eventually they reach ‘achieved identity’ and are more comfortable.”
The daughter of a Mexican immigrant father and a mother born and raised in Texas, Monica Lepe-Negrete said her upbringing emphasized both her Mexican and American cultural heritage.
And even though her ethnic identity is something that Lepe-Negrete said she doesn’t think about too often nowadays, she is comfortable with her roots and prefers to think of herself as Mexican-American.
“It melds my culture and upbringing,” Lepe-Negrete said. “It gives me more of a sense of who I am as a whole.”
Lepe-Negrete, who works as an attorney in the Valley, also said she places a premium on the role that language plays in cultural awareness, making it a point to speak Spanish around the house to her 9- and 13-year-old children, who also receive private Spanish tutoring.
About half of the 16- to 25-year-olds surveyed by the Pew Hispanic Center identified themselves first by their parents’ country of origin, according to the center’s 2009 National Survey of Latinos. The study also revealed that only those Latino youths of third or latter generations refer to themselves as Americans first.
Also, changes in how recent immigrant arrivals choose to identify themselves is only now being seen, said Mark Lopez, associate director of the Washington D.C.-based Pew Hispanic Center.
In Calexico, Salazar said he sees evidence that a burgeoning immigrant rights movement is afoot. After becoming familiar with the tactics employed by Chicano activists during his college days, Salazar said such social justice movements are indicative of an enlightened consciousness and ethnic identity.
“Movements change people,” Salazar said. “If you have more to work with you have more causes to fight for or embrace.”
Staff writer Julio Morales can be reached at 760-335-4665 or at email@example.com.