A Salvi-Chicana Identity

A piece I wrote for the October issue Brooklyn & Boyle, a local Boyle Heights arts monthly.

El Salvador, circa 1984, Dia de la Virgen

“You don’t look like you’re Salvadoran” and “You don’t sound like you’re Salvadoran” were two things I heard all the time while growing up. In fact, I still hear them as an adult. Usually this is followed by, “Mmmmm! I love pupusas!” As if all Salvadorans enjoy the delicious pancake-like-meat-and-cheese-stuffed dish – we do. But really, what does a Salvadoran look like? And what does a Salvadoran sound like?

For what seems to have been most of my life, I have been the only Salvadoran on my block in East Los Angeles. I was the only Salvadoran in my elementary school class, and later met the other Salvadoran kid in Boyle Heights while doing time at Roosevelt High School. We formed the “Yes, We Are Salvadoran, Live In East L.A And Not Pico Union Club.”

My childhood was complicated. While attending Harrison Elementary, I was forced to learn the Jarabe Tapatio for Cinco de Mayo celebrations, my mother rushed to El Mercadito and bought me a fabulous red, white and green dress (which by the way, is also the typical dress for Dia de la Virgen celebrations in El Salvador). I liked it so much, I joined Folklorico under the direction of Mr. Palafox. I was so incredibly amazing, and tall, they dressed me as a boy. Since I had picked up on the violin in the 3rd grade, by the time I reached El Sereno Middle School, I joined Mr. Martinez’ Mariachi class. To my astonishment, most of the violin players were Asian. So, our mind-blowing and spectacularly talented Mariachi group was made up of 3 Mexicans, 4 Asians and a Salvadoran. We SO would have won “America’s Got Talent.” In high school, I tried to join MEChA. The club president, who was sporting the latest in Ché couture, asked me where I was from – a question that growing up in East L.A – I had tried to avoid all my life. I quickly realized she was asking what state of Mexico I, or my parents were from. I told her I was born in El Salvador, which unbeknown to me, meant I was not allowed to be part of MEChA. Aztlan apparently imposed borders on Central America. We didn’t cross the border! The border – oh you know the rest.

As mentioned, life was complicated. I unconsciously avoided the realities of growing up Salvadoran in East L.A. My parents, are both Salvadoran, but sadly, I lost my father to the Salvadoran Civil War in the 80’s. My mother came to the states, remarried, and I grew up with a very loving step-dad, whom I have known all my life, as my father. He’s from the great state of Zacatecas, Mexico. Naturally, I grew up culturally Mexican. Holidays consisted of Perez Prado, Celia Cruz, La Sonora Dinamita, tamales wrapped in banana leaf and my dad’s Mexican and delicious arroz con leche mixed in with some banda music and my Tio’s Roger & Zapp. But this was my private world – the secrets of my heart, that as a child, I didn’t know meant that I was different.

Confused and full of rage, I bemoaned all things Chicanismo while at ELAC. More Ché-loving-chancla-wearers? Are you kidding? Hells nah! Then, the most incredible and amazing thing happened. I transferred to CSULA and met la profesora Dionne Espinoza. Caught up in the magical world of “This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color,” I felt my life lift into a sphere of consciousness I had never known. Who was this Gloria Anzaldua woman? Cherrie Moraga? Ana Castillo? What was this about Gender studies? And what was that about Women’s Lib? Liberal, Socialist, Marxist, Radical, first, second, third wave feminism?! What?! ¡Qué?! Lowered cased bell hooks?! La Raza Cosmica what?! And wait for it… yes, I was…[dramatic pause]… the new mestiza! Undefined by man made imposed borders and divisions, calling for a deeper understanding of the complexities of culture, identity and experiences –  ladies and gentlemen, sound the alarms, I had arrived! Take THAT 1995 RHS MEChA club president! Say hello to my little friend know as ¡Concientización! The building of a Chican@/Latin@ transnational diaspora! We have the technology – better, stronger, faster, more radical! In fact, so much more, it will be Xicana with an “X”!

So – to answer the questions, what exactly does a Salvadoran sound like or look like? Well, let’s just say that we put Tapatio on one taco at a time, just like you, and we may add a “voz” and a “puchica” here and there. We may even purposely confuse you by calling a jacket a “chumpa” instead of a “chaqueta” – which by the way, is not ever real Spanish, you Pochos. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter, because if we took a trip to Arizona to see the giant hole in the ground other wise known as the Grand Canyon, we’re all Mexican anyways.


60 thoughts on “A Salvi-Chicana Identity

  1. ex360 says:

    I just had the hardest time looking for a CHUMPA in Costa Rica. They call it “JACKET”, yeah, I know. Greatings from your country with the warmest people in the whole wide world 😉

  2. OneBigMix says:

    Love this post. I am half Salvadorean, Salvadorian, Salvadoran, however you want to spell it 🙂 Great to get another perspective as I grew up in an area with a very large Salvadoran population, where people immediately knew where I was from after saying que onda Vicho? or Sipota nos vamos!

    1. wc says:

      Vicho! hahaha…a word I need to teach my Mexican friends. Every time I speak “Salvi” they say “its like a whole other language!”

  3. Ana says:

    Ok, I am so with you on this. I didn’t know I was Salvadoran until I was 7! I heard Los Tigres Del Norte before I ever knew of Los Hermanos Flores.

    I ate Tacos and Menudo before I had ever set my eyes on Pupusas and tamales de elote.

    We are transnational mujeres.

    For the record, El Salvador and all of Central America was once part of Mexico. To add to that, one of the tribes we come from, Pipils, are related to Montezuma’s Aztecas.

    We are One human race … just add the tapatio on top of the curtido and you are set. 😉

    1. wc says:

      You’re so right Ana! The borders are all man-made territories. Much of Oaxaca is really an extension of Guatemala and so forth.
      and you’re so on the money, I always put Tapatio on my curtido!

  4. stoptheinvasionoforegon says:

    wow another anchor baby who thinks they belong to another country and joins racist ethnic groups .
    did it occur to you that real Americans are not hyphenated – did your parents come here illegally?
    if so please self deport yourself and go be a chica Salvadoran or whatever down there.
    you should write a blog thanking all the english speaking English Scott and German Americans for providing you with free schooling.

      1. Tracy López says:

        Please, don’t give a pupusa to “stoptheinvasionoforegon” – he doesn’t deserve it. LOL.

    1. criada says:

      Dude, my German great grand-parents never learned anything more than rudimentary English after moving here in the 1890’s. Most didn’t, and I’ll bet yours didn’t either. According to my grandpa his parents loved America, but were still deeply connected to their roots. Having a connection with your family roots isn’t racist.

  5. jaswrites says:

    A great post. I really enjoyed reading it!
    When I first started learning Spanish, I thought all Latin-ancestrial countries were the same and all spoke Spanish (at least that was what “Spanish 1” class implied). But now, I’m getting to know of the diversity in the Latin-American world.
    I must say, the Salvadoran culture is very impressive and deep. You are very lucky to be a part of it!

  6. blackwatertown says:

    Interesting post. Not met many Salvadorean people that I’m aware, bar two young guys (when I was a young guy) with whom I worked in the Hamptons on Long Island. I suspect they were illegals – myself and my girlfriend were.

    We were backroom staff in a restaurant/night club. Most of the work in the village of celebs and rich kids appeared to be done by central Americans and Irish (that’s me). So these two guys were general maintenance and moving things around. I was a cook. Nice guys. Hard working. No excitement.

    Except when Pele came in one night. Amazing. Especially as hardly anyone cared. He was just some black guy none of the waiting staff had time for, and foreign with it. Meanwhile the El Salvadoreans and Irish could hardly believe we were meeting him in the flesh. The world’s second greatest footballer ever (after George Best, obviously). Charming, gracious, smaller than expected, and looked a little like he had a small football under his top – hey, we all let ourselves go at some point.

    I learnt a lot about the American work ethic that year. Though I met some hard workers – the head chef from the Bronx, Italian roots – the main lesson was that the locals really like to delegate to outsiders – foreign illegals work hard and accept less pay. But the welcome does not necessarily extend to sidewalks or street lighting for those too poor to have cars.

    It’s interesting to see the current campaign against foreign workers. Regardless of the rights and wrongs, I wonder who’ll do the work in future?


    1. wc says:

      wow! thanks so much for sharing that story! Pele is the only reason I *still* support Brazil! and what an amazing visual as to how you and your co-workers reacted towards him… blog waiting to happen!

  7. Tracy López says:

    Hola cipota 🙂 I relate to your story on multiple levels. I’m a gringa but my husband is Salvadoran. I’m immersed in the culture 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – just like you were in Mexican culture. Our two boys are of course 1/2 Salvadoran and 1/2 Anglo. We try to raise them with pride in everything that makes them who they are. (Yet I have a love of Mexican culture, so that sneaks in as well.)

    You’re adorable in the photo. This is a great post and I’m so glad WordPress chose if for the dashboard so I had a chance to read it. I love any story that ends in a person accepting and loving who they are. At the end of the day, that’s the journey we’re all on, isn’t it?


    1. wc says:

      Aww, gracias Tracy, voz si sabes! and thanks for sharing and teaching your children about culture and identity, that is so important!
      and yes, im pretty amazed that Word Press featured it and it got seem by people who identity and know what I’m talking about. Identity is what we make of it and acceptance is so crucial.

  8. nearlynormalized says:

    It is in your hands, the mixture and then being American–give it some time and your flower will always bloom. Old, tired, white men have lost and they will go down fighting, but I know it is your world; be kind and strong, you will make the difference.

    1. wc says:

      Thank you, I hope that young women coming up in a world that is so hateful of brown immigrants can find strength in their identity. But maybe through narrative, we can all share some of that responsibility that makes us such a diverse and wonderful nation.

  9. Ava Aston's Muckery says:

    Thanks for the fascinating look into your internal culture clash. We are who we are for a reson and I suspect you a pretty nice human being! Keep up the good work.



    Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  10. Muhammed Ismail says:

    compliment of the season ,how are doing hope you are fine if so let give thank’s to almighty GOD,I really appreciate what you are doing to people ,may GOD bless and i wish you succes in everything you do plus a wonderful future.pls, i need you guidance ,becos i’m a new member on the site i need more information

  11. womenawayfromhome says:

    I know exactly what you feel! it is not always to be away from home and misunderstood!
    I am from north Africa but I am always getting mistaken for a Spanish, Italian, Greek or even Turkish!!! sometimes it might be really funny. Mu husband likes to call me “the perfect spy”.
    But it does annoy me when people do confuse North African culture and society with the Middle-eastern one. In fact not only people, but also the media, advertisement and sometimes even highly intellectual people.
    nothing kills me more than the mistakes in the films pretending to be located in North Africa and using another accent or dialect from the middle east!! or filming a scene that is supposed to reflect middle eastern objects and culture, but having in it purely north African traits!!!
    it just shows how little people still know about other cultures and how much confusion is still sustained in the world, either by the media or by old believes!

  12. itandehui88 says:

    Me encanto to Blog. Im a Mexicana, but raised in L.A as well. Unfortunately every time i go to Mexico, im considered an American and in the states im considered full on Mexican! my best friend is Salvadorean just like you! she loves tacos as well! and i love pupusas!

  13. camezcua2 says:

    I truly enjoyed your post, being half Salvi/Mexican I can relate trying to explain “what is a Salvi”. Being raised in the I.E. there isn’t many us. And for that pendejo of a M.e.C.h.A. president, que se chinge! Apparently he just wanted to look cool in his “che” t-shirt and chanclas! LOL! Que viva las pupusas, la quesadia y los platanos fritos! 🙂

  14. marisol says:

    Love this post !!,
    I know exactly what you feel! it is not always to be away from home and misunderstood!
    Stay positive and I’m dominican, caribbean, jewish, raised in new yorker and hey by marriage Canadian citizen too…by the way I love pupusas , congrats for being freshly pressed.

  15. Robert Sanchez says:

    Great post Wendy. I also have been discriminated. People alwaystell me, im to tall to be Mèxican (i’m 6’5). Mostly my own people are the ones who discriminate me.
    Groups of people always treat the outsiders different.

  16. Ileana says:

    Great post, Wendy! I connected to many parts of your story as I am Salvi-Filipia, grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area and went to a liberal arts university. 🙂 Keep writing!


  17. fernando torres says:

    I don’t any of your guys know but term chicano refer to only mexicanamerican born here in the united states. Best Answer: Chicano is a cultural identity for persons who live in the United States and have a strong sense of Mexican-American ethnic identity and an accompanying political …

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