Last year I was so honored to be one of TikTok’s Latinx Trailblazers, for many reasons but most of all because I am incredibly proud of my Mexican heritage (congratulations to the 2021 Trailblazers…proud of u!).
Mexican culture to me is so warm and vibrant. It represents people who work tirelessly to provide for their families — the center of our worlds. I am so grateful to be a part of a family that has Mexican roots because it is reflected in the way my family and I gather, the way we value our collective, and always make sure that every member of our house feels loved and supported.
For those of you who have Mexican families, you know that the love and support doesn’t stop at the bloodline. Everyone who has ever entered my house and met my family knows my dad as the dad who cares about everyone. Over the years, he became a stand-in for many of my friends who didn’t have the best relationships with their own fathers. He is strong and caring, and will always make sure you’re full of delicious food and have a safe way home before leaving our house.
In 1933, my grandfather immigrated from Mexico to America as a 17-year old who had big dreams of becoming an actor in Hollywood. After settling in San Francisco and marrying my grandma, they spent every summer in Mexico visiting his five siblings and their families. My dad, pictured below as just a kid himself, grew up steeped in this love and tradition every summer too — going to the Manzanillo beaches with his cousins and working in his uncle’s restaurant when he got older. I know that if my grandpa could see me now he would be proud to know that I have become someone people within our culture can see themselves represented in, and that to me is one of the most special parts of my journey so far.
One of the hard parts about this journey, though, has been coping with the idea presented to me by people online that I am “not Latina enough.” According to the U.S. Census, my ethnicity is considered “Hispanic or Latina” while my race is considered white. I am both, not either, and I am proud of who I am. It has never made sense to me that I would be excluded from celebrating a piece of myself I value so much. Plus, when it comes to discrimination, haven’t we had enough of that? I still can’t believe that after the year that we had last year, with so many breakthroughs and so much forward thinking in terms of racial bias and striving toward equality, that I would still be fielding messages about not being a “true” Latina.
This has also been painful for me because the identity and community I found on TikTok through the members of the Latinx community that have been welcoming was so special to me. Amongst my siblings, I have the darkest skin, eyes, and hair, and “look” the most Mexican. I always kind of felt like I stood out. My high school was majority white and as a competitive dancer, a lot of my community there was white, too. It’s hard when you don’t see yourself in the people around you, when you’re built in a different way and have physical features that aren’t among the ones people are proclaiming to be the prettiest or most desirable. In 2020, my last year as a competitive dancer, I started to embrace my roots and chose a Spanish song and costume for my solo. Sadly because of covid, I didn’t get to perform it at any competitions, but I did share it with my studio (the first minute of it is below, filmed on my mom’s iPhone, lol). A few months later, becoming a part of the Latinx creator community also helped me see the beauty in myself and has since strengthened my connection to my culture and where I come from.
The hate and speculation about whether or not my heritage is “enough” has made me appreciate several amazing encounters with my culture that much more. After appearing with Julia Michaels, Becky G and Khea in their music video earlier this year, both Becky and Khea poked fun at the fact that I couldn’t fluently speak Spanish. I realized I had avoided it because I was trying to fit in with the majority around me (even though my dad speaks Spanish fluently). So, after seeing two such powerful, beautiful humans encouraging me to keep learning, I asked my dad to officially teach me (sorry it took so long, dad / perdoname papa por la tardanza de estudiar Espanol). A few months ago we went down to a Tijuana orphanage together to volunteer and practice. There was so much love in the room. The kids and I danced and laughed. For the first time in a while it didn’t matter whether or not other people thought I was Mexican enough. I was just happy to be there, surrounded by people who welcomed me as one of their own, the way my own family has done for so many others.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage this month, I want to encourage everyone to be boldly themselves. If you’re Hispanic (it doesn’t matter what “percent”) celebrate the way you feel is right. If you’re not Hispanic at all, take this time to learn about some amazing individuals in the culture, support some Hispanic owned businesses, or explore the history behind why Hispanic people deserve to be respected and celebrated. Beyond all, this month and every month hereafter, don’t let anyone tell you you’re not enough. The only person with the power to decide that is you, and we both know that negative self talk isn’t true anyway.
If you’d like to read more of Sienna’s Journal, please visit www.siennamaegomez.com and sign up for her newsletter!