To Be or Not to Be… Alejandra
By Alejandra Rivera
My story began at birth. Original, right?
My father was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and was an undocumented immigrant when he met my mother in the United States. To my knowledge, he still lives in Mexico today. My mother was born and raised in California, US, but her side of the family is from Durango, Mexcio. I was raised by a single mom in California and I cannot be more grateful to her and to rest of my “village.”
Mi mama me nombro Alejandra Adriana Rivera. Coincidentally, Alejandra was originally supposed to be her first name. Adriana is the feminine version of my father’s name and Rivera is his apellido. But at 5 years old, Alejandra wasn’t as easy to answer to anymore.
I had just started kindergarten at a private Catholic school. After a few too many “Alexandrias” and “Alejondras” I was fed up with correcting everyone. It was too hard for others to pronounce my name and even harder for me to continually correct them. From then on, I went by Ali to ease the burden on everyone.
Growing up with an Americanized nickname, a fair complexion, and 16 years of private Catholic school education, I did not present as Mexicana and I eventually had a hard time even self-identifying as Mexican.
I would proudly introduce myself to others as “100% Mexican” but solely based on my parents’ background. Although I was surrounded by Mexican culture at home, I didn’t always feel like I fit in or that I had the right to claim it as my culture.
For me, being an American-born Mexican felt like living on a cultural spectrum.
Depending on the situation or the crowd, I would feel more or less uncomfortable with expressing myself around others. Sometimes I would feel “too Mexican” to mesh and adapt to the American lifestyle. But other times I didn’t feel Mexican enough around some of my undocumented extended family and older family members from Mexico.
In those instances I felt like I would never fully comprehend la cultura or la lucha de mi gente, and during those moments, my American upbringing was an unwanted privilege that isolated me from my family.
I felt segregated within my own identity—homeless between two heritages.
Through my work with the Latino Caucus for Public Health and the Latinx Voces en Salud Campaign, I slowly found power and pride in my unique background. Sharing my story helped me realize that I was not alone and I found comfort in my fellow Latinx community members.
I was able to bridge the gap within my own identity.
It’s time I reclaim my full heritage and my full name. It wasn’t until recently that I started to ask myself, why would I mispronounce my own name just to make other people feel comfortable?
My name is Alejandra Adriana Rivera.
I have always been proud of my Mexican heritage, but I now realize that it’s my Mexican-American heritage that I truly need to embrace.