Elizabeth Didato

EDUC 5010
23 September 2015
Auto-Ethnography

How do I separate the influences of my ethnicity from those of my socio-economic
status and personal politics? They are all interconnected; I experience them as a blend
of spices that flavor a dish. “Politics” is the language of family. My primary cultural
identification is with my maternal family, our Mexican-American history. I also have a
strong association with the politics of feminism, Chicano culture, and a post-Hippy era
socialist outlook. My sexual orientation is bisexual. I support the LGBT community--I
have close friends who are transgendered. As an adult, I have carried the label of
“mental health disability” as I learned to manage major depressive episodes. My most
intimately guarded “others of self” can be found in support groups, psychiatric offices
and mental health clinics. So many different selves…
I grew up listening to stories about my family’s origins. My grandmother was a baby
when her mother and grandmother fled Mexico in the 1920’s during the “Cristero War,”
when the Mexican government persecuted clergy and anyone who protected them.
Their family in Mexico was well-educated, financially comfortable and loyal to the
Catholic Church. Upon entry into U.S. society, my grandmother, great-grandmother and
great-great-grandmother entered into a lower socio-economic class than the one they
left behind. Both my grandmother and grandfather (who grew up amid racial intolerance
as a Mexican-American in Texas) lived through the Great Depression. Even after WWII,

when the U.S. was enjoying economic prosperity, most Mexican-Americans held
working class jobs, performing manual labor. Both of my grandparents finished high
school, worked, and planned for their children’s futures. These and other stories shaped
my worldview: we should work hard, study, respect our elders, and conduct ourselves
with dignity at all times.
I grew up with a single mother, older brothers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins,
and so many friends who are “family.” My family has always been culturally conservative
(adhering to strong ethnic norms of behavior) yet politically liberal. My grandfather
walked with Cesar Chavez and worked on various political campaigns. My mother was
(and still is) involved in community organizing and advocacy. Community service is
highly valued. My grandparents and my mother emphasized the importance of
education, and that they expected great things from us.
My brothers and I attended Catholic school. While you may think, “that must have been
extremely boring,” I would say that I was challenged and gained a more worldly
understanding than many children of my generation. At 13, my after-school activities
included going to the library and small bookstores, reading Karl Marx and Vladimir
Lenin. I decided that when I grew up, I would live in a socialist commune. The Jesuit
high school I attended was an academically prestigious school. The Jesuits are a highly
intellectual, politically liberal order. I was on the Honors track—in addition to advanced
math, English, and science, I studied world religions, cultures, histories. By 18, I
identified as a Christian/ Buddhist/ Communist vegetarian.
During my second year of college, I decided to change my focus from literature and
liberal arts to environmental science. I moved to California, became immersed in

second-generation hippy communities, discovered a passion for nature and wanted to
learn everything about wildlife and conservation. I needed to work and attended school
part-time. I found a job working with animals; within a few years I quit school and
became a zookeeper. I reasoned that I could learn about wildlife and ecology in a job
that I enjoyed.
I had moved to Florida for another job caring for animals. Florida is where I experienced
my first major battle with depression and anxiety. Even now, I feel a distinct discomfort
in admitting my “weakness.” Yet I have known and loved so many wonderful people who
have struggled longer and harder than I with mental illness. To honor my own journey
honors theirs as well. The first time I was placed on “mental health disability,” I thought
surely my world had come to an end. I could not imagine the wonderful community I
would find as I learned to manage my life. So far I have not required hospitalization, but
I also know that worse things could happen to me. This aspect of my life makes me feel
the most vulnerable, but I also identify with it more strongly than other aspects of my
cultural identity. Perhaps because the values I learned as a child came to me from my
family (taught, from the outside) whereas mental illness is something that originates
within. Or maybe because this is an “invisible” identity—who would ever guess that I
wake every morning deliberately planning how to take care of my well-being?
The concept I try to live by: “Moderation in everything.”