INTERVIEW WITH GRACEN RAE GAMBOA
HANNAH: Tell me a little bit about your cultural background.
GRACEN: I am Mexican American with my mom’s ancestors being from Mexico and my dad’s from Portugal. My grandparents on my mom’s side were born in Texas, while my grandparents on my dad’s side were born in Mexico, so my dad speaks fluent Spanish because of that.
HANNAH: That’s so unique. How has this influenced your identity?
GRACEN: I feel like it really influences how I think. Because of my heritage, I’m more open to new cultures and have an empathetic mindset. The cultural aspects of my life have taught me a lot about love and care. Even with my immediate family, we uphold the importance of unity and kindness, so I have a lot of values surrounding that. Also, I’m more eager to learn about my heritage. Since I wasn’t born in Mexico and my parents aren’t directly from there, it’s difficult for me to learn about my culture, but our family still has many aspects of a Hispanic heritage. I’ve learned to appreciate that more as I grow older.
HANNAH: How did you feel about your heritage when you were younger vs. now?
GRACEN: I appreciated it very much when I was younger, but now that I’m older, I realize that not everyone has the same mannerisms, religion, and even food as me and my family. I think this lets me appreciate my own culture even more.
HANNAH: Who are some people who ground you in your cultural roots?
GRACEN: My grandma played a very special role in my childhood. When I was younger, she was always there to take care of me since we live in the same neighborhood, and when I was sick, she’d put her hand on my forehead and say a prayer in Spanish, and it actually made me feel better. She also always cooked traditional meals for us... bean and cheese tacos and papitas y salchicha, and chorizo in particular, which is a dish with potatoes and sausage. My grandpa is also a major role model in my life. He was the first generation of his family to attend college and has worked very hard all his life and was even an engineer. My grandparents on my mom’s side are truly very special to me when it comes to looking at my family ancestry as a whole.
HANNAH: Tell me how experiencing your culture in Texas vs. Mexico might be different.
GRACEN: I’ve lived in Texas my whole life, but if I lived in Mexico, I would be fluent in Spanish for sure. I think I’d also be more in tune with my traditions, like having quinceañeras, traditional weddings, even Dios de Los Muertos.. Actually when I turned 15, I didn’t have a quinceañera because I wanted to go to Disney World instead. Just living in Texas, though, I feel like we all have very similar values with the family in Mexico, like prioritizing unity and our bond.
HANNAH: How important is learning Spanish to you?
GRACEN: It’s very important because of how useful it is in day-to-day life. I continue to use Spanish phrases and sentences when I am at home. It also opens doors to so many new opportunities. I had an experience related to this not long ago during my service outing with NHS. A lady there during our food drive only spoke Spanish, and I was the only one in the group who spoke decent Spanish. I was really proud of myself because I actually knew what she was saying and could speak back. In professional careers, it’s very helpful to have that skill, which is why I want to practice and learn as much as I can around the house and with others.
HANNAH: What a great opportunity! Tell me about some differences and similarities between Mexican and American culture.
GRACEN: I think mannerisms and how we talk to each other are different. In Seguin where most of my relatives live, the family there is always very touchy and gives me a kiss on the cheek when they see me, and I really appreciate that because it draws me back to my Mexican culture. The whole setting is filled with Spanish speakers; the food, the conversation, and even the celebration of life in general. When I go to my cousins’ celebrations, there are huge spectacles full of cumbia dancing and mariachis in a dance hall. I don't think these are necessarily different or similar things to American culture per se, but it’s just the culture that unites my family.
HANNAH: Do you ever feel conflicted about your identity, especially as someone who is more detached from their heritage than a first-generation immigrant?
GRACEN: No, I’ve never felt conflicted, because I know as a person I am a full blooded Hispanic. In my middle school, there was a larger population of Hispanics, and SMCA was definitely a change from that. Since SMCA’s environment and community is less Hispanic-oriented, I feel that I get to really appreciate my culture and actually get noticed for it more because everyone was like me at my old school. There’ve also been a lot of great role models here like alumni and teachers that I can connect to, since we can relate to a lot of issues we Hispanics have.
HANNAH: What are your favorite traditions/food in your culture?
GRACEN: This is more of a family tradition, but every October, we go to San Juan. There’s this place called the San Juan Basilica, and we have a three-day weekend there to just go around the town and explore. It’s a great time to draw me back to my Mexican roots, religion ties, and give thanks for the blessings we’ve had as a family, as well. For food, there’s this soup called menudo that my dad makes with tripe, hominy, lime, and onion.
HANNAH: That sounds so good!
GRACEN: A lot of people don’t like it, actually, but I love waking up at 4 or 5 a.m. and smelling it in the kitchen. Whenever we make it, it’s like a small, happy family affair that we’re all excited for. We also have barbacoa tacos and fajitas. It’s some of my favorite traditional food. And on special occasions like birthdays and weddings we always make sure we have tamales.
HANNAH: To what degree would you say your connection to your faith is tied to your culture?
GRACEN: I don’t think culture has much to do with it, it’s more about my upbringing. My family and I pray together every day and go to church every Sunday, so I have strong ties to Catholicism. Though, I guess if we weren’t Mexican, we wouldn’t be going to the San Juan Basilica, so there might be a bit of a connection.
HANNAH: Very insightful. Last question: what do you see yourself doing in 10 years?
GRACEN: This is a little far-fetched, but my dream job would be to become a lawyer in the record label industry because I really love music. Or maybe even sign with some film industry, because I also like movies. I want to travel to Europe, specifically to Switzerland. I know it sounds so random, but it’s so scenic and beautiful. I would also love to see Spain, Italy, Ireland and Germany, since my mom was born there due to my grandpa being stationed there while in the army.
About Hannah Haas:
Hannah, herself, has a bi-cultural background. Her parents are Korean and American, and she lived in Seoul, South Korea from ages 3-8. She is an honor student and is enrolled in several AP courses. Hannah serves as secretary of the Cultural Diversity Club at St. Michael's, is a vocalist in the St. Michael’s music program, and a member of the Young Voices of Austin choir.