Opinion: My Mexican-American identity crisis
The Zócalo plaza in Mexico City.
November 30th, 2012
12:00 PM ET

Opinion: My Mexican-American identity crisis

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN.com contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist.

By Ruben Navarrette, CNN Contributor

San Diego, California (CNN) - On a recent trip to Mexico City, I had barely made my way down the concourse and arrived at the immigration processing area when I got stumped.

Signs pointed the way to two lines: one for "Mexicanos" ("Mexicans"), another for "Extranjeros" ("Foreigners.")

I stood there for a few seconds, unsure of where to go. Growing up in Central California, I had been called a "Mexican" my entire life. It's ethnic shorthand in the same way that my friends in Boston refer to themselves as "Irish" or my friends in New York describe themselves as "Italian." Later, I settled on "Mexican-American."

But, this was Mexico. And, in the homeland of my grandfather, there was no need for shorthand or hyphens. I was simply an American. I speak Spanish, good enough to handle either end of an interview in that language. But I don't have the vocabulary of a native, and I can't shake my American accent.

So I took my U.S. passport and got in the line for Extranjeros.

Read Ruben Navarrette's full column
soundoff (8 Responses)
  1. WorldMundoWelt

    I read the comments to this blog and I can't help but observe that they are all justifying his perspective. As an American with Mexican heritage, the boundary wasn't drawn by me, but the white American and the Mexican national. I am both and neither. I grew up in the south, and was the "Mexican kid" as well as the author. I was not always treated like an equal American in the workplace or in the schoolyard. To be called an American without regard to my roots is to attempt to whitewash and ignore the ills that my grandparents and parents in Texas had to endure before the Civil Rights movement. By the way, Some of my forefathers moved north while it was still Mexico.

    August 18, 2013 at 8:14 am | Report abuse |
  2. john


    I've read your rants for a number of years. You are an American citizen of Mexican descent, just like I am an American of German and English descent. The problem is that I am not bothered by my heritage and you clearly are. Please get the psychiatric help you so desperately need and quit writing these idiotic articles for the clueless editors at CNN to publish.

    December 8, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • WorldMundoWelt

      John, you're white. That's the difference. I am as American as President John Tyler, but my skin is brown. I like the color of my skin, but in this day and age I still make some people nervous. That doesn't feel good, and it makes it really hard to forget that I in fact have Mexican roots. I enjoy bringing something different to the table.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  3. Joe

    hyphenated americans are just americans.

    December 7, 2012 at 10:19 am | Report abuse |
  4. pittd

    Why is this a "crisis"?? A crisis is when your life is at risk, or that of someone you love. You've got a great job, you're obviously educated and computer literate. You've got it better than most people in the world. Sheesh, quit whining and get over it.

    December 6, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Christopher

    The author is an idiot, a real idiot. Did you think countries are racial borders where if you are that race you are a citizen automatically? This would be like me going to Russia and expecting them to consider me a citizen because I'm white too.

    You were born in Cali but think you might be a Mexican citizen? 1st class moron.

    December 1, 2012 at 6:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • WorldMundoWelt

      I define an idiot as someone who can't detect hyperbole and subtlety.

      August 18, 2013 at 8:37 am | Report abuse |
  6. Roby

    He would be shocked by the other differences between the United States and Mexico. For example how they treat illegal immigrants and what rights foreigners have in Mexico.

    Mexico should really clean up its own house before ever making demands of us.

    November 30, 2012 at 1:43 pm | Report abuse |