Mexican heritage a source of pride

Adrian Northrup

There have been times in my life that I have felt like a raisin in oatmeal. Yes, that sounds strange, but it is the truth. You may ask, “How is that possible?”
As you may have noticed my last name is Perez. My parents immigrated to the United States in the late 1970s from Mexico.

Through twists and turns, we ended up in Wisconsin. I grew up in Waukesha, a city of about 67,000 people, where the percentage of Latinos is about 8.6 percent. It is here that my identity crisis began.

My parents raised my sisters mainly in Milwaukee, mostly on the south side, which is primarily a Latino area. My sisters attended a Spanish immersion school, which accounts for their ability to speak better Spanish than me.

Now I don’t blame my parents for wanting to leave Milwaukee. They wanted to provide their children with better opportunities, and I respect that. It is just now, as an adult, I realize I wanted to live in an area where people spoke my language, ate my food and listened to my music.

For the majority of my life, I have lived where I could not relate to anyone like me. I was once told by a co-worker, “I didn’t realize you were Mexican, I thought you were just really, really tan.”

At the time I laughed, but in a way it hurt. I did not know how to show my pride without installing “La Cucaracha” as my horn, or blaring Mariachi music out the window. Yeah, it sounds ridiculous, but I have come to an age where I feel its OK to talk about my own personal heritage.

In part, I have the university to thank for that. UW-Eau Claire consists of mainly Caucasian students and has such a small percentage of Latinos. Everyone knows Eau Claire is not the most diverse school or community. I give lots of credit to the Office of Multicultural Affairs for recruiting minority students. They put in a lot of effort, and it is paying off. They convinced me to attend here. I might be “really, really tan,” which has made me stand out like a raisin in oatmeal. However, I am enjoying being a raisin now.

There are more and more Latino students each year, and I feel like I can take some credit in that. By being here, I’m increasing the diversity on campus.

The few Latinos that are here are a tight-knit group. We have different backgrounds, but we all like frijoles (beans) and tortillas. We are trying to show our pride and heritage, to diversify this school. It is going to take us years to integrate more minority students, but eventually I’ll see a Mexican store where we can all buy real Mexican food (sorry Taco Bell), and listen to people talking in Spanish. It takes a lot of effort to be a minority and Eau Claire has welcomed me with open arms. Hopefully, I will soon see more raisins in this oatmeal.