Being Mexican American is muy complicated
It's not smart to pick a fight with the heavyweight champion of the world. But I'll take my chances.
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Because 29-year-old Andy Ruiz Jr. is a young Mexican American who needs a reality check -- and a map.
Being Mexican American is muy complicated. At times, I feel like simply an American of Mexican descent. Other times, I feel like a Mexican living in America.
When that happens, my wife corrects me. Born in Guadalajara, she came here legally as a child and became a naturalized U.S. citizen. She is the real Mexican living in America.
I grew up in a small, overwhelmingly Mexican American town in Central California where -- as recently as the 1980s -- all the top jobs were held by white people. I referred to myself -- however imprecisely -- as "Mexican," because that's how others referred to me and people like me. There was the "Mexican" part of town, etc. We were "Mexican" in the same shorthand that makes my Boston friends "Irish." No one assumes they were born in Dublin.
Like the rest of the estimated 30 million Mexican Americans in the U.S., I'm too Mexican to be American and too American to be Mexican.
In the second camp, you'll find those Mexicans south of the border who disparage their distant compadres as "pochos" -- i.e., white-washed Mexicans.
In the first, you'll find the reader who recently wrote: "[Given] your very obvious love of Mexicans and ur defense of their actions, PLEASE PLEASE leave the USA you dislike and go live in Mexico. You will be happy and so will we!!!"
Columnists aren't paid to be happy. I can't figure out whom I despise more -- the arrogant white racists in the United States who look down on people like me, or the arrogant rich and elitist Mexicans south of the border who look down on people like me.
A lifetime of therapy comes rushing back to me now, thanks to Ruiz. The son of Mexican immigrants made history on June 1 when he knocked out Anthony Joshua of Great Britain at Madison Square Garden to become the first Mexican American heavyweight boxing champion of the world.
As a fellow Mexican American, Ruiz makes me proud. Just like African Americans were proud of Joe Louis, or Italian Americans idolized Rocky Marciano.
Yet, since winning the title, Ruiz has mangled the cultural divide between Mexicans and Mexican Americans. He insists that he is "Mexican" even though he was born and raised in Imperial, California -- on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Geography says he's wrong. I admit, Ruiz has a claim to the motherland. As a teenager, when he ran with the wrong crowd and got in trouble, his father sent him to live with relatives in Mexico.
I guess Andy Ruiz Sr. thought there were too many "bad hombres" in the United States who were not the "best" influence on his son -- although some were probably "good people."
Later, Andy Jr. represented Mexico in qualifying tournaments for both Junior Olympics and the Olympics.
Ruiz obviously connects with Mexico in a way that I don't. But this doesn't make him "Mexican." The map doesn't lie.
Still, when I and others referred to him as "Mexican American" and not "Mexican," the champ jabbed back.
"Everyone who thinks I'm not Mexican simply because I was born in the United States is wrong," he told ESPN. "I'm always fighting for the Imperial Valley and Mexicali, Baja California, Mexico. ... My mom and dad are from Mexicali, and I feel more Mexican than others who were born in Mexico. Because I fought for my race and for Mexico."
Slow your roll, ese . If Mexico had fought to provide opportunities to your parents, they might have stayed there.
Mexican Americans are always getting robbed. What the Americans don't take, the Mexicans will.
Sure enough, Ruiz recently went to Mexico and gave President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador his golden gloves and a replica of his championship belt. He even hopes to represent Mexico in the 2020 Olympics.
Speaking of therapy, this guy thinks he's more "Mexican" than people born in Mexico? Wait until my wife hears that one.
Ruiz can call himself whatever he wants. But that doesn't change who he is. He owes America -- and his fellow Mexican Americans -- more respect.
I'm still proud of Ruiz, but I'm also worried. Throughout his life, he seems to have gone to Mexico to find himself. Yet, somewhere along the way, he got lost.