Finding Your Identity

Chicas share how they found their identity through their culture. 

“There was a time in my life where I was confused and hurt, to the point of being embarrassed, of being Latina. I felt this all the way up to high school. I didn’t get the racist remarks that were being thrown around, especially hurtful comments coming from other Latinos.

I don’t think anybody wants to be targeted just because of hate full stereotypes. So growing up and listening to people blaming things like the economy on immigrants or “go back to your country,” was pretty hard to swallow.

The way that I began to accept and see my heritage in a positive light was to respect and admire my parents. They are the epitome of hard workers in a country where their heritage is ridiculed. Once I realized the amazing sacrifice they made for my family, it was the moment when I stopped being ashamed. This of course applies to all parents from Latin American countries, where some of us wouldn’t even be here.

The next step was something that I already followed. This was appreciating the beauty of my culture. I mean in the telenovelas are the bomb, well some of them, especially comedic ones like La Fea Más Bella. I’ve always loved Mexico’s beautiful scenery and its various cities.

Another thing that helped me was to know that one’s culture is so much more than what the haters have to say, who really are just full of ignorance. When you are really full of positivity there is not much to pull you out of there.” –Sarai Melchor, 21

 

 

 

“My parents and I have always identified as Hispanic. Despite my grandparents being from Mexico (except for my Chinese maternal grandfather), my parents grew accustom to the culture where they were born and raised in: Belize. For those of you who do not know, Belize is the only country in Central America that doesn’t have Spanish as the official language; however, more than 50% of Belizeans’ first language is Spanish and identifies as Hispanic/Latino. Much like the United States, Belize is a multicultural nation, and the term Hispanic is prominently used to describe someone from a Spanish-speaking family.

The first time I self-identified as Latina instead of Hispanic was in the fourth grade. It started when a bleach blonde-haired boy asked me the common question: “What are you?”

I could’ve answered human and pranced away like a clever goddess, but 10-year old me wasn’t quite yet fluent in quick sarcasm.

“I’m Asian — and Latina,” I answered cautiously.

My schoolchildren peers’ eyes widened in shock. Their reactions were similar to if I had blurted one of the seven words you should never say on television (by the way, don’t look that up, kiddos!). However, their expressions went from shock to slight disgust quickly.

“Isn’t that, like.. I thought that…that’s a bad word,” stumbled the bleach blonde-haired boy.

A bad word? I thought. I stood there quietly (I was an extremely timid child).

The now-blushing, naive bleach blonde-haired boy continued, “Well, you know, that is used for dirty girls.. BIG girls.. like, women.. who are, you know.. they’re in those music videos and other dirty videos.. and they’re oily and they try to be s-e-x-y.”

If someone was to say that to the present-day me, I would’ve sit them down and school them with my Big Book of Radical Intersectional Feminism: The Woke Latina Edition (coming to a hippie book fair near you!). But 10-year old me just walked away.

I think the media’s portrayal of Latinas is partially to blame for the contribution of the bleach-blonde haired boy’s offensive perception of Latinas. We are often stereotyped as sultry mistresses, and if we’re not the sultry mistress, we are the “no-speak-English” maids. For example, the talented Columbian actress Sofia Vergara, mostly known for her character, Gloria, in the tv series Modern Family, can be incredibly funny. But I’ve noticed her skits on award shows or other tv specials misuses her sexuality as the main focus.

And I’m not suggesting that celebrating your body is dehumanizing. Some women are empowered by showing more skin and embracing their sexuality, and that’s absolutely okay! But it shouldn’t define Latinas as a whole. We are more than sexiness. I naturally break Latina stereotypes by being extremely quiet and dressing conservatively, but I don’t think young Latinas should focus on breaking stereotypes because it pressures young girls to assimilate with American culture for acceptance. I want to be remembered as a kind person who loved literature, social justice, and animals. And the way I dress, whether it’s conservative or exposing, and the way I talk, chatty or soft, shouldn’t contribute to who I am. (Take notes, little bleach blonde-haired boy!)

As for labeling myself Latina or Hispanic, I embrace both terms. I am Latina because my grandparents are from Latin America, and I am Hispanic because I grew up in a Spanish-speaking family. But in my heart and my blood, I am of East Asian (Chinese) and Indigenous (Mayan) descent, and I proudly identify as that.” – Kayla Alamilla, 17

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