Mexican to Chilean: A Chicano Identity Transformation

One of the biggest benefits of growing up in a Mexican/Latinx household is the fact that living with any other Latinx family feels… incredible and so natural. My host mom has the exact same personality as my Abuelita materna, with the same sense of humor as one of my aunts, and the same mothering style as my own mom. My host dad has the exact same sense of humor like my dad and explains everything in the same manner, making me feel like I never even left home.

The first few days after arriving in Viña del Mar, Chile was a little rocky with trying to communicate and establish a relationship between us all because my host family assumed my Spanish capabilities were weaker than they actually are and I was having TROUBLE understanding their slang. Who knew that growing up Chicano in a majority white city in the Bible Belt while exclusively attending predominantly white [educational] institutions would limit my interactions with the Latinx community? Of course, I feel extremely lucky and grateful to have grown up with at least a small-ish Hispanic population around, but I never thought about the ways a smaller Latinx community would impact my identity formation, rather than a larger, more diverse Hispanic population. But as I began settling into the life here and finding my rhythm, I started understanding that the “Spanish” I was unable to comprehend was just a factor of learning their (extremely) specific slang, not that I was just running at half their brain speed. These “Chilenismos” I was hearing had piqued my curiosity, prompting me to ask all the bonafide Chileans I could find whether the phrases/words I knew were specific “modismos mexicanos” or not. Little by little, my not-so-fragile world came tumbling down as I realized that what I had always believed was standard or common Spanish was just my specific Mexican heritage hogging the spotlight.

Granted I joke some, but truly the most interesting aspect about coming to Chile to hone and refine my Spanish capabilities is getting to understand the Spanish language from a unique perspective- that of a bilingual, Mexican American who did not have the privilege of growing up within a diverse, multinational Latinx community.

Navigating Chile as a queer, Mexican American has been an incredibly refreshing and invigorating experience. Not only do I actually blend in and share a similar appearance with about 80% of the people around me, but I actually feel a sense of belonging. I’m finally part of the majority, never receiving those side-eyes or double glances because I’m the only brown person someone’s seen in their life or feeling uncomfortable for having to prioritize and lead with my Spanish for any random or general conversation. Most people don’t even realize that I’m not a local Chilean; well, until I open my mouth that is. Everyone almost immediately detects my accent, exclaiming with surprise and questioning why such a young Mexican is all the way out in Viña del Mar or Valparaíso. Fortunately, this has also been the catalyst for many new friendships because we always strike up a conversation and share that Latinx kindred spirit. It’s become so natural walking through and establishing a life here, however short and temporary.

As for the Latinx LGBTQ+ community here? Well… those are some stories I’ll have to tell later. Turns out Latino queers really know how to live their truth.

Impromptu photo session in the hills of Valparaiso

Noe Monarrez is a student at University of Tennesse Knoxville and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is currently abroad with ISA in Valparaíso & Viña Del Mar, Chile.

4 thoughts

  1. Those Chilenismos can really present a steep learning curve at first! I remember a menu with ave con palta (bird with avocado). I asked the waiter, what kind of bird? He laughed and said, chicken of course! Rebecca

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