There were two very real moments in my young life that 1) forced me to really look at myself and who I was, and 2) will forever be burned in my memory. In the first I was in gym class in my junior high school in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. Another girl and I were standing in the field waiting for instructions from our teacher. She turned to me and asked me, “What are you?” Confused I asked her what she meant. She said, “What are you? Where are you from? Your skin is dark.” The question surprised me. In my Latino worlds in Puerto Rico and Chicago I’d been the blanquita. I had very fair skin and light eyes, and even in the sea of blond-haired, blue-eyed kids that was my Utah community, I didn’t feel that I looked that different. I’d also worked so hard to learn the English language I’d struggled with in Chicago years earlier.
The next incident happened just a few years later when my family moved back to Chicago. I returned to the church I’d attended when I was a child and one of the kids who had come along while my family was away asked me, “Why do you talk so white?” I had so perfected my English skills that I’d lost my accent. I couldn’t win. Around my non-Latino friends I was the Latina and amongst my Latino friends, I wasn’t Latina enough. My question to the universe was always, “Can’t I just be me?”
Now years and many identity crises later, I’ve come to realize that none of it matters. What matters is how I see myself, a very proud Latina and so much more. I wear my Latinaness just as proudly as I wear my femininity. I’m Latina who is also a daughter, a sister, an aunt, a friend and I celebrate it all.
This Hispanic Heritage month I also celebrate all the amazing LatinaSmart women who’ve struggled with living in between two worlds. The ones who manage personal and professional success while displaying their heritage proudly. Let’s show the world what we’re made of.