WE DID NOT realize it immediately. In fact, it took years of living, laughing, and learning about one another to understand what bound us. Kat and I began this journey of amistad over ten years ago. As a queer, first-generation Latina raised in El Paso, Texas, Kat has taught me so much about what it meant to grow up knowing she was a lesbian in a Catholic household dominated by the dichotomy of machismo and maternal strength. As a proud Chicana born and raised in Las Cruces, New Mexico, I am still learning about the complex history of my own family, who has lived here for generations, and what that ancestry means for my children and me. Over the years, Kat and I began to share stories and life experiences, all of which had one resonating theme. Once we named it, it began to take shape.
We are Pochas. We exist at the intersection of brown pride and assimilation. We are simultaneously our ancestors’ wildest dreams and American failures struggling to find our way. You may have heard “Pocha” used as a derogatory term for a person of Latinx ancestry who has lost their own culture and language to assimilate into whiteness. Pochas often find themselves at the crux of deep cultural pride and societal pressure to assimilate in order to find acceptance in the dominant culture. For many Pochas, there are times when our identities meld beautifully. There are other times when they clash, leaving us with feelings of confusion and shame about who society says we should be, who our cultura says we should be, and who we truly are.
It was only when Kat and I began to dissect our contradictions that we began to take pride in our identities as Pochas. We both shared a history of family members being punished for speaking Spanish or having heavy accents when attempting to communicate in English. Both of us witnessed some of our own family members choosing proximity to whiteness so that they could experience success in the same ways that their non-Latinx counterparts could. For many of our ancestors, proximity to whiteness was not only a means to success but a matter of survival. Assimilation promised opportunities for safer housing, secure employment, better schools, and the chance to move beyond living paycheck to paycheck and actually begin to accumulate wealth. The “American dream” seemed attainable only if they could become American enough. This was often true not only for those in the U.S. but for those residing in Mexico, too. The standards set by white supremacy have extended far beyond our borders for many years. The influence of whiteness has ingrained itself into the daily lives of many, and still, we have not completely forgotten who we are. This in-between is the fertile valley of a Pocha.
While speaking Spanglish or imperfect Spanish is often the telltale signature of a Pocha, it is about so much more than language. It is a broken relationship with our raíces, our roots. It is an inability to connect the fragmented pieces of that relationship with our ancestry to an American culture that in itself feels more fragmented every day. Ultimately, though, it is a need for belonging. This basic human need leaves us fighting internal battles about the ideas and biases that were steeped in whiteness from the moment we were born. These biases infringe on our perceptions, causing us to question our validity as brown-skinned beings. Structures compel us to forget our powerful history, one that precedes colonization. Despite this pull towards the dominant culture, there is a desire that leaves us searching for more. There is an urge to deny the individualistic tendencies of American society and instead live in collectivistic joy with our gente. There is a deep knowing, el conocimiento, that pulls us back to our roots. This knowing is a grounding space that holds us in the smells, sounds, and comfort of belonging.
Belonging means asserting your existence as a complex mezcla in a society that wants to simplify. By labeling you, this society can more easily assign your place in the world—as if knowing one thing about you, whether skin color or political party, someone could have a realistic glimpse into your complex life.
So it is here that we take our stand. Pochas do not have to exist in a cultural binary. We do not have to be Latino or American, brown pride or assimilation, religion or faith, curvy or flaca, salsa or ketchup. The wholeness embodied in all that a Pocha is can be your home. Both de aquí y de allá, from here and from there. To choose one or the other is to deny the path that got us here to begin with. The existence of this in-betweenness was not an accident. Our ancestors fought for our opportunity to be everything all at once. They struggled so we could more easily find our pathway to abundance.
As Kat and I came to these conclusions, we realized we weren’t alone. There are thousands of Pochas just like us. Too brown for some, too white for others, and together we are reclaiming this state of being. We are reclaiming our belonging. We are thriving in our cultural fluidity. Las Pochas are exactly who we need to be.
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Thank you. Gracias. Tlazocamati.