Today, I introduce myself as Jaime A. Ortega, born in San Francisco, CA during February 1995, as the first to a happy, excited, and enthusiastic couple, who immigrated to the United States from Mexico. Of course, just from looking at my name, one could not even identify where I was born, along with the background of my family. So why then do people in our society believe they can quickly identify us by our name, skin tone, hair color or type, eye color, among other features present to our physical self. We all undergo experiences, from which we learn and, help shape us, that ultimately set us apart from everyone else and allows us to self-identify ourselves. As we grow comfortable with whom we self-identify ourselves with, we must learn how to confidently present ourselves to the world. We are all aware of the basic principles of identification, such as gender, ethnic background, religion, etc., but there is much more that defines us. In my life, heritage has played an important role in coming to understand who Jaime A. Ortega is. Heritage has become personal because it I have identified it and through that experience, it has helped define me.
Through the speaking of the Spanish language, celebration of holidays, practicing of traditions, and undeniable connection with the culture, I have come to see Mexican heritage as my personal heritage. An outsider would argue that I should associate myself with American heritage because I speak English, was born and currently live in the United States, attend school here, and observe dates important to American history, in the form of holidays. Although these are all arguable reasons as to why I could identify myself with American heritage, there are by far more reasons as to why I feel a strong connection with Mexican heritage.
Both of my parents were born in Jalisco, Mexico, specifically in a district known as “Encarnacion de Diaz.” Living in Jalisco, Mexico, my parents were fortunate enough to witness and participate in acts where heritage was proudly expressed. My parents grew attached with the culture behind Mexican heritage, and even after they immigrated to the United States, they remain proud of their heritage. In the United States, my parents express honor to their Mexican heritage through traditions, cultural and religious practices, the Spanish language, storytelling, etc.
When I was three years old, I had the opportunity to go back to Mexico with my mother and live there for seven months. Even though I was very young, I quickly noticed the difference between the lifestyles in Mexico and the United States. I found myself really enjoying my time in Mexico and grew very attached with the heritage, and all the practices around it. For the first time I felt comfortable being in a community, which was not necessarily created by my family, but definitely had a lot of followers that were from my family.
Upon my arrival back to the United States, it was obvious that the sense of culture I had experienced in Mexico, was not nearly as strong. The only time I saw Mexican heritage being represented was in my household, or other family gatherings. As I grew older, especially in middle and high school, I became aware of this American mainstream culture that everyone my age seemed to feed into, but did not interest me at all. Instead, I found other ways to keep me attached to the heritage with which I felt the most comfortable. Being the big soccer fan that I am, I realized that through soccer I was witnessing players on the Mexican national team carry on their heritage. The players on the Mexican national team express their heritage not only through the jersey they wear with the Mexican flag on it, but also through their ambition to compete, and represent their country in worldwide events. A soccer worldwide event in which Mexican pride is clearly portrayed is in the World Cup. Every four years, Mexican soccer players, playing for different club teams all around the world, compete against each other for one of the 23 spots open on national team to represent their country in the most viewed sporting event in the world. When I see the Mexican national team play, whether it be on television or in person, I feel a connection with my heritage, and the players on the pitch who are representing it.
In terms of American heritage, I never felt as strong as a connection as I do with my Mexican heritage. I was born to a Mexican couple, lived in a household where the heritage was always expressed, and as I grew I learned ways to have the heritage define me. In this regard, my personal heritage separates me from my national heritage, which is the American one. Even though I was born in the United States and the country has offered a lot of opportunities to my family and me, Mexican heritage best accommodates me personally as it has had an important role in helping me identify myself as the individual I am today.