By Christopher Heide
“I remember promising my mother that I would go to school everyday, if it meant that I was able to stay in Mexico," said 16 year old Mexican-American, Guillermo Romano, as he tearfully recalled his final moments as a native resident of Mexico City. Romano was only five years old when family prepared to legally moved to the United States, so that his parents could attend American universities. Little did young Romano realize, his proud heritage would be a source of ridicule and disapproval for the next few years of his life. “In retrospect” commented Romano. “I faced a lot of racism and stereotyping as I grew up, but I just didn’t realize it until I was older."
Until he was five, Guillermo Romano and his family lived in Mexico City, the most populous city in all of Mexico. In fact, according to Romano, every one out of four Mexicans lives within the limits of Mexico City. Even within Mexico, stereotyping runs rampant. “Those who live within Mexico City are known as ‘Chilangos’, which is basically the equivalent of calling someone a yank or a snob. It is basically a way of showing that Mexico City Mexicans are different from other Mexicans." Romano noted that many rural Mexicans feel a disconnect with those who live within Mexico City, as those who live in the city are often more economically well off and educated.
Romano also commented that because of the prosperity within Mexico City, very few residents feel the need to move to the United States in search of a better life. Despite the financial stability of the Romano family, Guillermo noted that his father was absolutely despondent about Mexican politics. “There is a tremendous amount of corruption Mexican politics and my father was simply disgusted with the whole thing. It is the main reason we moved to America."
Romano’s father, Guillermo Romano Sr., is a talented architect who was unable to prosper under the Mexican system of politics due to that rampant corruption. In fact, Romano Sr. lost a architectural contest that he entered because he refused to bribe the judges. After that incident, Romano Sr. felt compelled to move to his family to America where Romano says, “people are not forced to engage in politics, nor are they trapped by a corrupt political system."
In addition to this, Mexican public education is extremely inadequate. Because of this, Guillermo attended a private German school in Mexico City. “Private, foreign schools were the only way to get a proper education in Mexico,” said Romano. “Education was one of the primary reasons why my parents wanted to come to America."
As a result, Romano Sr. applied for a federal scholarship that would allow him to be educated in the United States. After Romano Sr. moved to Arizona, Romano, his mother, and his brother, Mau, all followed suit. Although his family would later move to Iowa, where his mother was able to receive a master’s degree in dentistry, and later to Washington, Romano felt that he received the most blatant racism while he lived in Arizona.
Not long after his entire immediate family had established residency in Arizona, Romano experience a particularly brutal case of racism. “In Arizona, it was legal to only have a rear license plate on our car, so my father had put a small Mexican flag on the front of our car. Because of this, our car was constantly being scratched or hit. I really didn’t understand what was going on at the time, but, in retrospect, I totally see what was happening."
“A lot of the Mexicans who lived in Arizona were either illegal or migrant,” noted Romano. This caused yet more problems for Romano and his family as he grew up. Although he didn’t get blatantly harassed, Romano said he could feel the disapproval from the “other Mexicans."
However, racism was actually not the most frightening part of Romano’s expedition to America. “I was actually terrified of leaning English,” recalled Romano. “In fact, the only English word that I knew was 'yellow."
In spite of this, Romano actually began to learn English in the most unexpected way possible; he learned English from another child his age. His mother had a friend whose son only spoke English, whereas Romano only spoke Spanish. Despite the obvious language barrier, the two boys became fast friends and actually, through their interactions, began to teach each other their native languages.
After living in Arizona and Iowa, Romano and his family moved to Washington. Interestingly, Romano spent a year in a boarding school in Canada, as part of what Romano calls “a family tradition."
Romano remarked that he actually prefers Canadian culture to American, as it somewhat resembles the positive aspects of the Mexican culture. However, like his father, he respect that Americans are not necessary drawn into the political system, if they do not want to be; they have a choice to be involved in politics, whereas the corruption of the Mexican political system infiltrates all parts aspects of life. In fact, Guillermo spent a great deal of time reflecting on the recent corruptions in the presidential election, of Lopez Obrador vs. Calderon, in Mexico.
In many ways, Romano considers himself a Mexican and not an American. In fact, his family only speaks Spanish at home. “I remember that when my brother was little, he tried to speak English at home, but my parents wouldn’t let him. They would simply not respond to him unless he spoke Spanish." While this may seem harsh, this is method in which the Romano family was able to maintain their Mexican identities.
When many immigrant Mexicans come into the United States, they try to assimilate into the American culture as quickly as possible. Because of this, Mexican parents attempt to speak English with their parents, even when they do not have sturdy grasp of the language. According to Romano, after awhile, these children have learned the hybrid language of “Spanglish;" a language that is not necessarily completely English or Spanish, but somewhere in between. This represents the ironic fact that many Mexican-Americans do not really belong to either the traditional American culture of a traditional American culture. In attempting to assimilate to the American way of life, Mexicans essentially rob themselves of their true identities.
Romano considers himself to be a true Mexican, as well as he appreciates his parents attempts to maintain his sense of culture. Romano still experiences a bit of racism from whom he identifies as the more typical Mexicans. Romano, who acknowledges that he has a lighter skin tone than most Mexicans, has actually been prejudiced because of the color of his skin. While Romano feels he is a true Mexican, he feels that his lighter skin tone, his family’s economic success, and his education have separated him from the more traditional, migrant, blue collar Mexicans. In this lies the disconnect.
It is no doubt that Romano and his family has faced numerous obstacles after coming to America, mainly because they do not fit the stereotypical ideal of Mexican-Americans. For example, his family did not receive their green cards until over five years after they first came to America.
Romano credits his strong cultural ties to his parents’ refusal to let their Mexican way of life die at home. Although Romano is able to now look back at the prejudices that he has faces, he acknowledges that they no longer affect his soul. Although his father has no desire to permanently return to Mexico, Romano is unsure that he feels the same way. “Ever since my family has come to America, we have just gone with the flow,” said Romano with a smirk. “I guess we will have to see what happens."