Ashley Wilson remembers an assembly line in her grandmother’s kitchen days before their Thanksgiving celebrations. In her cross-cultural family, it is traditional to gather together and help prepare an assortment of tamales — a traditional Mexican dish that is made of corn-based dough (or maize) and filled with any assortment of meats, chili, cheese, beans or vegetables. These dishes are commonly made for holiday celebrations or special occasions, and the process of making this delicious corn husk-covered dish can take a village. Literally.
In most Latin-American cultures, it is tradition to marry someone within the same culture and religion to make the transition into “una familia,” as Wilson suggests, more unified. But Wilson’s Mexican mom fell in love with and married Wilson’s Caucasian dad, so Wilson, who was raised along with her brother in Austin, Texas, U.S. experienced an upbringing combined with both Chicano and American traditions, both of which have a wide variety of cultures already embedded within their roots.
But while growing up, Wilson didn’t understand that she was any different from her white peers, mainly because she believed that since her father was predominantly Caucasian, she too, could be represented as such. Slowly, this idea began to shift.
“I would be with my family and be the cutest little Hispanic girl, but when I was at school, I thought I had to assimilate and blend in with everyone else,” Wilson says. Going to a primarily white high school, Wilson began to see the differences in her own hidden diversity.
As a teenager, Wilson was very outgoing; she made friends easily and was always looking for an opportunity to have fun. Being a cross-cultural kid, these characteristics align with her personality and ability to adapt to different environments. But even with these adaptive qualities, sometimes it was hard not to ignore the racial or stereotypical connotations based on people’s perceptions of skin color. Ashley mentioned that in high school, after a party at her parents’ house, people began to suggest that she may be of Mexican decent. “Isn’t it obvious?” Wilson says. She didn’t understand how her peers hadn’t already inferred that and shared that the situation was one her first encounters with racial attitudes.
Wilson has gone on to do great things for herself. In her success, she has acknowledged that without her cross-cultural upbringing, she would lack a broader worldview, which would limit her ability to be empathic and understanding for those who struggle with their own personal identities and cross-cultural backgrounds. She believes that people should not be defined by their physical attributes, but rather, by their character and motivation to succeed.