Hi, I'm Megan, and I wasn't adopted. Really, I wasn't. But I looked like this when I was little, so it shouldn't be hard to figure out why all my teachers in school assumed I wasn't my parents' biological child. My dad was born and raised in Mexico. My mom was born in Utah and was raised all over the U.S. That makes me half Mexican, right? But, I look how I look, and even my mom has dark hair and eyes, so no one believed it. Even when I opened my white-girl mouth and started speaking fluent Spanish. And even though I clearly inherited my dad's eyebrows. And possibly his mustache: #Dontwanttotalkaboutit
As I got older, I started getting really bugged. I called my dad "Papi" and I loved his culture and family. I loved celebrating Christmas in Mexico, and playing with my Mexican cousins when we would visit every year. I loved Thalia and watching Mexican novelas with my Abuelita and my cousin Diana. I loved ChocoMilk and Maizena and REAL Mexican food like menudo and tamales. The kids at school who had dark hair and dark skin were "The Mexicans" (even if they were a different nationality). But lots of them didn't speak Spanish and had never stepped foot in Mexico, nor did they have the intense love for latin music and dancing that I seemed to have been born with. A few of them couldn't even tell me which ancestor of theirs had immigrated to the U.S. to begin with. So why should they be more "Mexican" than me?
We went to church every Sunday with the Latin American community in our part of Salt Lake City. I grew up learning all the children's songs in Spanish, reading my scriptures in Spanish, and getting in trouble if I didn't use the proper (and more respectful) form of "you" (usted) when speaking to older people. But in junior high, I had my church group of friends, who were Hispanic, and my school group of friends, who were mostly white. I still somehow didn't fall in naturally with the "Mexican crowd", and I even got bullied by a Hispanic girl, until she found out I was, indeed, part-Mexican.
On the other hand, it was always amusing to pass a group of people who would say something about me, without realizing that I could understand them, and then turn and shout, "Cuidado, nunca sabes quien te puede entender!" ("Be careful, you never know who can understand you!")
After high school, I wanted to see the world outside of the U.S. and Mexico. I spent five months in China teaching English to kids at a boarding school, learning some Chinese, and traveling around the country with others in my group-- using hand gestures and a Lonely Planet China guide to get around. I learned that China is magnificent and full of kind-hearted people who, at that point in time, loved getting their pictures taken with ordinary, un-famous Americans, like me.
After China, I decided that I wanted to serve a mission for my church. I always thought that, given my background, I would be assigned to a Spanish-speaking mission. But when I received the letter telling me where I would be going, it said that I was assigned to Brazil! I had always made fun of Portuguese as kind of a mixed up, cotton-in-your-mouth version of Spanish. But now I would have to learn it! I loved my mission, and I now love the Portuguese language, and the Brazilian people. They are loving, kind, and giving. And I wouldn't trade my experiences in Brazil for any amount of glossy dark hair, or chocolate-brown eyes.
It may seem stupid to some, and others may think me fortunate not to have to endure immediate judgments based purely on race, but as I got older, I found it harder to establish my identity. When filling out school forms, would I check the box marked Hispanic, or would someone who saw the form call me a liar if I checked that box? When I was chosen a National Hispanic Scholar finalist in high school (because I did end up checking the Hispanic box most of the time), I was almost afraid of winning, because then, people all over the country would see my picture and call me out as a fraud, someone who was stealing scholarship money from those who actually were Hispanic. My older brother, who was one grade above me, never had this problem because, not only did he have darker hair, but his name is Jorge. Who's going to say someone named Jorge is lying about his ethnicity? But no, instead of naming me Gabriela, as was the plan initially, my parents decided to name me after their wedding photographer's daughter. I was never called by my Spanish middle name, Karina (possibly because it's the name of one of my dad's exes). And since my dad's last name is Dennis-- not Martinez, or Perez-- my fate was sealed. No one seems to have heard about the rather large population of Dennises in Sonora, Mexico. Go figure.
*I'd like to stop here for a moment and acknowledge the fact that my struggle is a very tiny one in the big scheme of things. Hispanics face true challenges and discrimination in the U.S. every day, and my "problem" is not a big deal. This is merely the culmination of all my inner conflict finally seeing the light of day.*
Long story short: I love people of other countries and cultures. I am proud of my Mexican heritage and love teaching my four kids about where they came from. While we don't have the opportunity to go to Mexico as often as I did when I was little, they have each been to meet the family we love on the other side of the border. No, I don't look Mexican, but I AM one, and I will always claim my half-status of being. I will be forever grateful for the sacrifice my dad made to come to this country so that he and his future family could have more opportunities in life. People come here looking for something more than what they can give and receive in their current conditions. My dream is for a country full of people with a deeper understanding of this inherent human need that so many immigrants carry with them across our borders.
From the time I was young, I always thought that I would marry a Latin boy. But I ended up marrying a Spanish-speaking gringo named Ryan Jensen. He loves my culture and my heritage and my family in Mexico just as much as I do. And although he calls himself a white boy with no latin-dancing bug in him, he let me have my Mexican wedding in which there was much Mexican food and just as much dancing (Ryan's afore-mentioned deeply buried Latin-dancing bug was discovered). And I got to have the traditional daddy-daughter dance with my Papi.
And if you've never eaten real Mexican food like this, I'm immensely sorry.