A Study in Germxican American Education and the New Mestiza Consciousness

Abstract: 

This paper is based on the life of a young woman whose ethnic background is comprised of German and Mexican ancestry. Using oral history as the methodology, this paper discusses what it is like to be a multi-ethnic individual in today’s society. Her experiences show what “Mestiza” meant in the past, and what the “New Mestiza Consciousness” (Anzaldúa, 1987) holds for the future. She took every opportunity to know herself and form a Germxican identity, which guided her educational trajectory. Her experiences illustrate how a New Mestiza Consciousness can positively influence the educational goals of young Latina females. Baltazar Flores was my research partner on this project.

Table of Contents: 

    Introduction

    This paper presents research on the educational experiences of Latinos/as in the United States, as well as the individual experience of a “Germxican” student (half Mexican American, half German descent). The term la mestiza refers to a person of racially mixed ancestry, particularly of European and Native American descent. In the past, and in some places still today in the United States, these multi-ethnic persons have been referred to as half-and-half, half-breed, mixed blood, and other pejorative names. Anzaldúa (1987, p. 38) said, “Because culture forms our beliefs, we perceive the version of reality that it communicates.” Therefore, we do not always have a full understanding of the experiences of individuals who do not belong to our own cultural group. The following personal history attempts to provide a more holistic view of the experiences of a young mestiza who was interviewed for an oral history project.

    Multi-Ethnic Origins

    The informant’s story began when her parents met through an interesting accident many years ago. Her mother, a young woman from Germany, was riding a bus from Florida to California to experience America firsthand. She was sitting in the first row when another woman asked her to switch seats. The bus wrecked on a bridge in Fort Stockton, Texas. The passengers seated in the first five rows were killed instantly. When the informant’s mother climbed out of the bus, she broke her ankle and was taken to a local hospital. A nurse took the informant’s mother into her home and cared for her. Upon discovering that they had a mutual love for horses, the nurse introduced the informant’s mother to a man twenty years her senior. He was the county commissioner and a second-generation Mexican American. After some time traveling back and forth between Germany and Texas, they were married. It was this match that would lead a friend of the informant to label her “Germxican,” a name that she is proud to call herself.

    Gloria Anzaldúa (1987) portrays a dark side of multi-ethnicity as she discusses the mestiza consciousness.

    In a constant state of mental nepantilism, an Aztec word meaning torn between ways, la mestiza is a product of the transfer of the cultural and spiritual values of one group to another. Being tricultural, monolingual, bilingual, or multilingual, speaking a patois, and in a state of perpetual transition, the mestiza faces the dilemma of the mixed breed… (p. 100).

    Being mestiza means to not belong, as an outsider or existing in between worlds. From a young age Anzaldúa was treated like an inferior. This treatment led her to rebel against both of her cultures. Eventually she realized that this in-between consciousness made her stronger by informing her unique character and identity. The informant, on the other hand, had unique cultural strengths nurtured from an early age. Being a person with “mixed blood” never had a negative connotation to her. Instead she was taught to embrace both cultures and so she grew from these experiences.

    The informant’s father only received one year of formal schooling, after which his own father became ill. As the eldest son of the family, the informant’s father became the head of the household and a father figure to his siblings. Although this prevented him from studying, he found his way into politics and an array of other jobs, including ranching. His mother was born in Mexico, and his father lived in Texas before its annexation by the United States of America.1 Then, “upon the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo in 1848, Mexicans became Mexican-Americans with the stroke of a pen” (Moll & Ruiz, 2002, p. 364).

    The informant’s mother made a point to return to school and receive a college education. She has a bachelor’s degree and began translating books in order to become financially independent. The informant’s brother recently lived in Germany studying film and animation.

    Childhood Experiences

    The informant experienced a relatively happy and normal childhood. In middle school she began to notice other people’s family units falling apart, but her family always managed to stay together. Her parents were her role models, and she considers her mother to be her greatest teacher: “[S]he would sit me down in front of C-SPAN and say, ‘With this accent, where are they from?’” (personal communication, October 29, 2006). Her mother has always been supportive of her interest in traveling, which she has done extensively. Her mother’s guidance was the reason that the informant was bilingual at an early age. She is fluent in both the German and English languages. While still a child, her mother planted the seeds that grew into a lifelong love of learning.

    According to this young Germxican, Fort Stockton is a small town with a diverse school system where everyone knows everyone. The informant joined the school band and admits she was a bit of a band nerd. Band introduced her to traveling, and she soon took trips to places such as New Orleans. The informant did not feel that the school system treated her differently because of her ethnicity. The children, on the other hand, were fascinated by her ability to speak German. It was the informant’s mother who brought to her attention that her classmates could speak two languages as well (Spanish and English). Perhaps she realized that it was just her language, and not herself, that was different.

    Bilingual and multilingual students are rare. Typically, when two languages are introduced from an early age, it is easier for the child to become fluent in both. In contrast to the informant’s family, research suggests that many Latino families do not encourage bilingualism from an early age (Pearson, 2002). Then again, it does not appear that many non-Latino families encourage bilingualism either.

    College Years

    According to authors Moll and Ruiz, “Mexican Americans also exhibit low achievement and mobility” in terms of education (Moll & Ruiz, 2002, p. 364). In contrast, the informant’s strong work ethic led her to both high achievement and mobility. This can be attributed to the teachings and support of her mother and father from an early age and her own personal ambitions. If anything, her ethnic identity grew as a strong backbone, helping her to develop and hone her skills, and encouraging her to discover herself and her potential. As a mestiza in modern society, she has many more opportunities than the women who came before her, as discussed by Anzaldúa (1987):

    For a woman of my culture there used to be only three directions she could turn: to the Church as a nun, to the streets as a prostitute, or to the home as a mother. Today some of us have a fourth choice: entering the world by way of education and a career and becoming self-autonomous persons. Educating our children is out of reach for most of us. Educated or not, the onus is still on woman [sic] to be a wife/mother—only the nun can escape motherhood. Women are made to feel total failures if they don’t marry and have children (p. 39).

    The informant has chosen the road of education for her future. It is during this time in her life that she has become more in tune with her Mexican heritage. She has chosen to take advantage of these modern opportunities. With a full grasp of her own consciousness, the “New Mestiza” has a chance to build her own future, unlike the mestiza of past generations. As American “culture” continues on its path of pushing marriage later into the life cycle, the problems previously faced by single, educated, career women are changing. With these kinds of changes in mind, the “New Mestiza” has more time to learn, focus, and fully develop that “self-autonomous person.”

    The informant has recently graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree. The college experience has had a major impact on her life at many levels, including the development of her ethnic identity. She began her career at UNT studying interior design, but soon realized that it would not benefit society in the way that she had hoped. Events on campus made her more aware of what was going on around her, leading her to choose Development and Family Studies as her major. She double minored in history and German. The informant always identified with teachers. She currently teaches in the German labs on campus and has taught one semester of English in Mexico. Although she has strayed from teaching along her journey, the informant has always been drawn back to this field. Teaching has inspired her to study family and marriage, and perhaps become involved with Family Life Educators who work with the whole family, teaching them how to be united and therefore achieve greater success.

    The informant’s decision to attend the University of North Texas was based on the need to experience life outside of West Texas and the small town of Fort Stockton. After visiting several campuses including the University of Texas at Austin, she chose UNT because of the aesthetics and greenery: “UNT is so nicely integrated with the community, you know, it just kind of meshes…” (personal communication, October, 29, 2006). Finding UNT to be the ideal environment for her studies, the informant is disheartened at the thought of graduating, at which time she will have to leave.

    The informant’s only disappointment is not being able to focus on all of the things she wants to do and learn at once. In Fort Stockton, the expectations of education were not very high, but when she arrived on campus the first thing she had to learn was how to study effectively. She took Spanish, and through the department went on a field trip to Mexico. Her father was ecstatic about her decision. In a way, Mexico opened her eyes to her father’s side of the family. On her return, she learned about Latino-oriented organizations on campus such as MUEVE (Movimiento Unido Estudiantil or United Student Movement), LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens), and HOLA (Hispanic Organization for Leadership and Advancement). She is now the president of MUEVE and the vice-president of HOLA. These groups interact with others on campus and soon she found herself delving into the MIO (Model International Organization). She currently works as an intern for an agency in her field that helps people. Her parents saved her college money through the Texas Tomorrow Fund, which will enable her to attend graduate school and perhaps pursue a Ph.D. in the future.

    Conclusion

    There are many differences between the dreary mestiza consciousness of the past and the ambitious “New Mestiza Consciousness.” This young woman is in many ways the perfect example of the “New Mestiza.” She has taken every opportunity to know herself and what she is capable of achieving. She is living proof that a union of two cultures, when nurtured and educated, can produce a powerful and interesting life experience for the multi-ethnic individual.

    References

    • Anzaldúa, G. 1987 Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza. San Francisco: Aunt Lute Books.
    • Moll, L. C., & Ruiz, R. 2002 The schooling of Latino children. In M. M. Suarez-Orozco and M.M. Paez (Eds.), Latinos: Remaking America (pp. 362–374).Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
    • Pearson, B. Z. 2002 Bilingual infants: Mapping the research agenda. In M. M. Suarez-Orozco and M.M. Paez (Eds.), Latinos: Remaking America (pp. 306–320). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

    Endnotes

    1. Due to the fact that the annexation of Texas occurred in 1845, it is uncertain whether the informant refers to her actual grandfather or great grandfather. The informant’s father is at least 20 years older than her mother, so this is still a possibility depending on when they met.