First generation Latino-Americanos have one of the most unique experiences as no one person in this subgroup of Latinos has the same story, but we typically face the same pressure of upholding nuestra cultura. A few of our very own Wafi-fam have come from the shadows to share some of their journey in accepting their Latino Roots…
When I tell people that I grew up at the dump, people look at me in bewilderment. It’s true though. At the end of our driveway was the entrance to the National Serve-All landfill. My sister and I used to pick off and eat wild berries from the trees that were the natural fence which separated our drive from the landfill’s man-made entryway to the dumping area where the trucks would gather to take their collections of trash each week. This was home for several years before we moved away to a new space.
Can you believe I honestly thought that everyone ate tortillas and menudo until I learned that not everyone did? My parents used to be Mexican-American migrant workers who sought the American dream just like anyone else longing to have a chance at fulfilling dreams that didn’t even seem possible.
So much so, that it was up to me to decide that I would learn how to speak, read, and write Spanish and learn about traditions that I did not grow up with. Through my parents’ own life experiences, and justifiably so, they would teach their five children only English after recounting their stories of the struggles of being Mexican-American only knowing how to speak Spanish in a Conservative state that controlled where they would sit on a bus and which water fountain they would be allowed to drink from.
Identity is and has always been so important to me. When my mother told us to not identify as the Mexicans that we are, naturally it made me question everything. My mother used to call herself “the help” because she was a darker shade of brown compared to me and all of her children. I later understood the decisions my parents made throughout my younger years were a direct result of their personal experiences and perceptions of what was “right” in order to make our life experiences easier than theirs.
Taking their stories with me would fuel various hard-knock choices I made throughout the years. Nonetheless, these hard-knock choices would lead to creating the foundation of learning what I needed in order to embrace who I am as a Latina woman.
It was in high school where I began questioning everything and became a “rebel” so-to-speak. I wanted to learn about my identity, my history, my culture, the very soul of who I was, and I would “defy” my parents by learning my language in college, celebrating things that I chose to identify with, and never looking back to question who I was.
Growing up in a Puerto Rican household, I was blessed to be surrounded by the culture from the music, the traditions,and most importantly the food. From a young age I’ve always felt proud of my nationality. However, living in a small town where there wasn’t a lot of diversity, It made me feel disconnected from my Latin roots outside of my family. What hurt the most were the remarks people would say like, “You don’t look Puerto Rican” or “You’re Puerto Rican and you don’t speak spanish?” Back then people had an outdated understanding of Latin culture since there wasn’t a lot of representation in school, in the films, tv series, or books. At the age of 10, I learned to accept my Latin roots. I still remember coming home from school and telling my parents the remarks the other kids made about me, they told me to never let others define who I am and to always celebrate my culture. As a grown woman I make it known to everyone I meet that I am Puerto Rican.
When I was younger, I honestly had a lot of resistance to being Latina. In being surrounded by primarily white folks at school, my neighborhood, and general hometown, I don’t even believe I fully understood or wanted to accept that I had connections to such an incredible and vibrant culture. I believe I really wanted to explore this portion of my identity in senior year of high school, where I realized I didn’t have many Hispanic/Latino/a/x/e friends. So I founded the Hispanic Latino Student Union at my high school to find more of my people. After that experience and in working at Wafi, I know that I have grown so much in accepting my Latinidad. I couldn’t be more proud to be Latina and Indigenous. I have come to be more comfortable with the language, music, traditions and as you will see in one of my later writings, my fashion style that I do my best to incorporate my culture into.
Growing up I have always known that I was from a diverse community, and that I was not the same as the kids in the states. I knew where my parents were from and the struggles they had to overcome to come to America and work to make a living for my siblings and me. I never truly understood what it meant for me as I grew up with a pale complexion compared to my siblings. I was never one to claim my Latino roots as I was ashamed of it because everyone in my community was Latino so I was used to it. It was a normal thing for me. I didn’t want to seem different from others so I hid it and pushed it away. It was not until I entered my last year in high school and my first year in college that I realized. Being Latina is special and something I should not be ashamed of. It is who I am and no matter what I do I can’t change that fact. No matter how hard I try to push it away, it is my identity and my roots. It has made me who I am now. I have learned to appreciate my roots, culture, and language. As you grow up you learn your value and what you have is enough.