Students with multiple nationalities seek to find cultural connection

Aimee Liu | The Chronicle

Students with a background in multiple countries are grappling with their cultural identities.

A dual citizen is a person that is concurrently regarded as a citizen of two different countries and therefore shares rights and responsibilities to both. Dual citizens can live, work, vote and access public benefits in both of their countries while also abiding by both sets of laws.

For senior Adriana Enriquez, who was born in the United States and has dual citizenship in America and Mexico, the two countries have always been a part of her life.

Enriquez’s parents, who grew up as Mexican citizens, immigrated to the US for work and have since also acquired dual citizenship in both countries. Due to her birth in the US, Enriquez has always been an American citizen but also obtained her Mexican citizenship as a baby. Enriquez said that her journey in balancing her cultures has been an evolution.

“When I was younger, I was trying to be like everyone else,” Enriquez said. “A lot of the people at school weren’t in my situation. Moving to high school and talking to a lot of kids in ESL who were from different countries as well helped me to know that I wasn’t alone. It is hard to identify myself, but I’m trying to maintain both cultures as my own.”

Sophomore Daniel Fuentes also has dual citizenship in the United States and Mexico. Like Enriquez, he was born in the US and obtained his Mexican citizenship as a baby. He said that his parents wanted him to “have the option of being in the US or being in Mexico,” since his dad is Mexican.

Although Fuentes is not extremely connected to his Mexican culture, as he has lived in the United States his whole life, he said it is “cool to be able to have the option to go [to Mexico] whenever I want.” Despite his lack of direct connection with the country, Fuentes said that being Mexican in America has made him more aware of different perspectives.

“A lot of racism that goes on in America isn’t talked about much, like people being nonchalantly racist towards Mexican people,” Fuentes said. “A lot of people talk about Mexican people stealing jobs and bashing immigrants who have worked hard to be here and have a better life for their family.”

Being able to witness and absorb the cultures of both the United States and Mexico first-hand, Enriquez said she has learned many valuable lessons. She said that being a dual citizen, as well as being able to speak both English and Spanish, has given her certain practical opportunities but also ultimately, a more open mind.

“Being bilingual has definitely opened a lot of doors for me,” Enriquez said. “At my job, sometimes there are people speaking Spanish and I can help them. [Being a dual citizen] has also helped me [understand] other people’s situations. I know that a lot of people don’t have some of the privileges that I have.”

Despite the many legal and personal benefits that being a dual citizen has given Enriquez, not everything she experienced has been positive. Enriquez said that she has received and continues to hear many hurtful comments about her ethnicity and culture, often based heavily on stereotypes.

“I don’t look like the stereotypical Mexican because my skin color is a little lighter, so sometimes I would have to tell people that I was Mexican,” Enriquez said. “They’d be like, ‘Oh, you don’t look like that’ or would ask me ‘Did you come here legally?’ which I didn’t think was something I would have to explain.”

Knowing that many Mexicans do come to the United States as a result of struggles in their home country, Enriquez said that “it’s very difficult” for these immigrants to have to answer the question regarding the legality of their existence in this country.

Along with unsolicited, offensive questions and comments about her ethnicity, Enriquez has also experienced many assumptions about her character, simply due to the fact that she is Mexican. She said that during an interview for a job, her manager made stereotypical comments that negatively impacted her.

“The manager was asking me if I was Mexican, and said something like, ‘Well, I believe Mexicans are really hard workers because my landscapers are Mexican,’” Enriquez said. “I was like, ‘how does that relate?’ I don’t think that’s a comment that should’ve been made.”

Struggles with ethnicity and culture are not exclusive to those with dual citizenship. Some countries do not accept dual citizenship with the United States, so people must choose between their two countries. Sophomore Srinidhi Valathappan, who was born in India and moved to the US when she was a year old, has decided to keep her Indian citizenship. 

Beginning the process as a baby, Valathappan has since obtained a green card, which is a permit allowing someone to live and work in the United States permanently. However, those with green cards are not citizens and do not share all the same privileges, like the right to vote or run for public office. Although the time to decide whether or not to apply for US citizenship is approaching, Valathappan said that she is hesitant to give up her Indian citizenship.

“There are a lot of pros and cons to applying for [US] citizenship,” Valathappan said. “But I think the possibility of having a citizenship in another country allows for that scope of being able to connect to your ethnicity and background.”

According to Valathappan, the diverse culture of Mason has allowed her to “embrace both [cultures] without feeling an identity crisis” or the need to “completely ignore one side of [her].”

Although she used to have experiences with peers judging the smells and tastes of her Indian food, Valathappan said that with age, “people were more understanding” and seemed to accept the existence of different cultures. No matter the external forces, however, Valathappan said that there is a certain comfort people must find within themselves to ever fully embrace their cultural identities.

“There’s a bit of that divide, trying to pick between the two [countries],” Valathappan said. “It’s like there’s a part of me that isn’t fully accepted [in India] because even though I have citizenship there, it doesn’t count as much since I don’t live there. It does take some work to be able to accept that there’s both sides and that you connect to both sides without letting that impact who you are as a person.”

Learning this internal balance between your two cultures has also been integral for Enriquez. She said that although it has taken time, she feels that she has come to accept both sides of her identity and is better off for it.

“I think that people should embrace their cultures,” Enriquez said. “That does take some time, but it’s gonna make you feel like your own person. Even though through high school you’re just trying to fit in, you’re gonna fit in better if you embrace who you are.”

Graphic by Becca Hunter