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Just A Kid From Chula Vista

Sep 19, 2022

I've always struggled with my identity, not because I don't know who I am or because I'm going through a crisis, but rather because I just find it difficult to describe myself to others in a way in which they can understand my unique experience. I was born and raised in Chula Vista, California, a city in the South Bay region of San Diego a couple of miles north of the Mexican border. Both of my parents were born and raised in Mexico, and with my dad's family being from Tijuana (Mexico's bordering city to San Diego), I must've been a few days old when I applied for my first passport.
 
When I Googled "Chula Vista" as I wrote this blog, it came up as being at the center of one of the most culturally diverse zones in the United States, which makes perfect sense. While growing up with immigrant parents, learning two languages as my "first language," and frequently crossing an international border may seem unique to many, it's honestly extremely common in my hometown. Pretty much all my friends, classmates, and teammates have had somewhat of a similar lived experience, regardless of their race or where their family tree is originally from.
 
I recognize that I've lived a privileged life since I've never been "the only one" of any of my demographics in my life – or if I have, it's never presented me with any problems or issues at all. In fact, I didn't even notice it until I came to Cal. UC Berkeley is the first place where my demographics made me stand out in some sort of way. The funny thing was that, due to my experience, I honestly had no clue what Hispanic, Latinx, or Chicano even meant, because to me I'm simply Mexican American. There were those that asked, "Where are you from?" "San Diego." "No, but like where are you originally from?" or the "How long have you been speaking English?" And I honestly took no offense to it. I simply found it hilarious that people even paid attention to these little things. But throughout all of this time, I've realized that I never had a proper answer for all of these questions. So, after a couple of years of thinking about it, I finally have it written below.
 
Whenever I begin my deep-seated contemplations, I always start out by searching the definition of the topic that I'm considering, regardless of how basic the word may be. After looking up "identity" and "identification" in the dictionary a few minutes ago, I think a proper way to describe the word would be as the "psychological orientation of the self in regard to something (such as a person or group) with a resulting feeling of close emotional association." It's my distinguishing character which not only makes me unique, but also makes me belong to something so much bigger than myself. The beauty is that in my case, this is multiplied by two.
 
In my eyes, I'm 100% American and 100% Mexican. I'm perfectly fluent in English as well as in Spanish; I was raised in American culture, yet fit perfectly in to the Mexican one as well; I have both blue and green passports; I was born and raised on the northern side of the border, but have also spent a few years living on the southern side as well.

While this experience is not shared by many and therefore makes me identify with a much smaller group, I simply view it as a tremendous privilege that I must use to my advantage and the benefit of my community. Crossing an international border every single day has taught me to view things from a different perspective; constantly speaking, writing, thinking, and even dreaming in two different languages has allowed me to broaden my ideas and increase my personal growth as I've come across amazing people on both sides of the border.
 
The best part is that there are clearly two sides to this story. The exact same questions I've gotten in Berkeley or elsewhere in the U.S. about my Mexican heritage I've also gotten in Mexico about being a "gringo." Funnily enough, I've even had Cal classmates and friends have a shocked look on their face when they hear me speak Spanish for the first time. Whether it's in the United States, in Mexico, or elsewhere, I know I'll probably continue getting questions about my identity. To me, being raised in a border city will forever be one of the biggest blessings and privileges with which I was raised. Regardless of whatever happens in my future or wherever it may take me, I guess this month celebrating Hispanic and Latinx Heritage can serve as a reminder that I will forever be just a kid from Chula Vista at heart.

Fernando Andrade is a redshirt junior midfielder/defender on the Cal men's soccer team. Read more about the busy Golden Bear in this Cal Sports Quarterly feature, Relentless Dedication.