Latinas Abroad – Manteniendo la Cultura
Immigrating to a new country where you don’t speak the language and aren’t familiar with the culture can be hard. How much of your own culture are you willing to let go of in order to assimilate and how much of it are you willing to hold on to? Being a Latina abroad myself these are the questions I often ask myself. I sat down with three amazing Latinas to discuss how they maintain su cultura despite living abroad.
From Puerto Rico to Florida
Krizia Lopez is a Puertorriqueña who moved to the states in 2017. Having seen and experienced the destruction of hurricane Maria, Krizia packed her bags in search for a steadier quality of life. Hurricane Maria had crippled Puerto Rico’s power grid, caused over 3,000 deaths, and about $90 billion in damages; it was the third costliest hurricane in American history.
“After the hurricane, I had like zero, nothing. I stayed at a friend’s couch for two months and then I moved in with another friend who came from Hurricane Maria.”
On the island, Krizia worked as a radio producer for La Mega radio as well as for Fidelity radio. She left her successful radio career behind and started from scratch. Learning the language wasn’t easy for her.
“On the island, you don’t need to speak English to work or to be successful. When I moved, I was able to write and read but I couldn’t speak. I began working at a school with kids like me. They came from Hurricane Maria, from Mexico, from Ecuador and it was such a beautiful experience. I was there to translate for them but I learned from them and practiced my English.”
Living in Florida, where Hispanics account for over 26% of the state’s population, Krizia found it easy to surround herself with a community of Latinos. Having met many of her friends through her work with La Mesa Boricua, a network of Boricuas in Florida, she has built a community of small business owners, elected officials, and more.
Krizia might have left the island because of the hurricane but many of her peers left because of gentrification of the island. Puerto Rico is facing rising home prices and the islanders have recently been fighting beach privatization.
“A lot of my friends, a lot of them, have moved from the island and the ones that are still there are trying everyday to fight gentrification.”
Despite having lived in the United States for 5 years, Krizia feels 100% Puertorriqueña. Like many Latinos I’ve met, her deepest wish is to be back living on the island but the current living conditions is the reason why she stays in Florida.
“I wish I could live on the island but right now that’s not possible. Dealing with electricity and water is a nightmare. You go to bed and there’s no power. When I was growing up, that would happen but it was rare. Now, it happens so much that it is normalized.”
Krizia maintains her cultura mostly through her work. Besides cooking the occasional Puerto Rican dish or recreating the parrandas she was used to back home, she dedicates her time to working with organizations that uplift Latinx communities in the United States.
“I live everyday with Puerto Rico in my heart and the work that I do here is for my people, for Puerto Rico and for Latinos.”
From Colombia to Paris
Tatiana is a Colombiana who moved to Paris, France for her studies. Initially, she only planned to stay in France for a year but that all changed when she met her husband. Before pursuing an MBA at one of the most prestigious universities in France, La Sorbonne, she had studied industrial engineering in Colombia and marketing in the United States.
Tatiana is raising her 5 year old son in a multicultural environment. Her son speaks French at school and she speaks to him in Spanish at home. To also help with his English, they hired an Australian nanny.
The majority of her family lives in Colombia except for her mother who lives in Spain. Her family takes yearly trips back to Colombia and they have weekly FaceTime calls. She has a large group of Colombian friends in and around Paris that she has met throughout her years here.
“I have a group of Colombian friends that I invite over once a month and we cook traditional Colombian food, play Colombian music, and just enjoy. We eat arepas, and jugos. In France, fruit is considered a dessert and jugos are not something you see often so when I first moved here I found a blender and began making jugos.”
Tatiana maintains her cultura in a multitude of ways. Because she is a mother, she feels a sense of duty to educate her son about Colombian culture and does so by reading books about Colombian culture to him, they watch the movie Encanto multiple times a week, and she teaches him her mother tongue, Spanish. She also takes her French husband to see Colombian artists perform and maintains the Catholic religion alive in her household.
From Peru to Paris
Carolina is a Peruvian Photographer now based in Paris, France. She is a wife and a mother to a 4 year old girl. Because her daughter was growing older, she and her husband were toying with the idea of moving to France. Like many, her initial plans to make the move abroad got delayed due to Covid. Her husband, being French, has family in France and they thought it would be beneficial for their daughter to move abroad so that she could learn the language and culture of her paternal family.
Her daughter grew up in Peru speaking predominantly Spanish but Carolina and her husband always tried to instill some French into her routine. Despite Spanish being the family’s main language of communication, her daughter was able to understand French even before moving abroad.
“We both speak to her in Spanish, it is our common language. In Peru, we used to make her listen to French music and watch French television. When we moved, it was hard at first. She understood French but didn’t speak it. Luckly, in a few months she learned the language.”
Carolina has found a community through her work as a photographer. Outside of work, she rarely finds the time to devote to looking for other Latinas in Paris and because her husband works during the week, the weekend is the only time they have to spend as a family. Before moving to France, she had amigas de la infancia that already lived here and it is through these friends that she has connected with other Latina mothers.
“Here in France, I still don’t have a community. I know a few Latinas. I have friends from Chile, Peru, Mexico and Venezuela. We get together once in a while but not often since we all have young kids so we just see each other when we can.”
Once in a while, Carolina will cook Peruvian dishes but this is not an everyday occurrence. Being a mother on the go has made her very practical cook in the kitchen. Her biggest wish is for her daughter to grow up loving both of her cultures. Her family has a trip back to Peru planned for later this year and she plans on going back every so often so that her daughter can experience Peru while growing up.
“My daughter is extremely happy to be Franco-Peruvian. I try not to let her forget that she is Peruvian.”
From experience, the hardest part of moving abroad is assimilating to a new culture while trying to maintain your own. Manteniendo la cultura looks different for everyone and can be easier for some depending on where they live. There is no right way of maintaining your culture alive, the most important thing is being proud of your heritage.