Don’t worry this is not a ramble about identity it’s just the story of how I realized I was Latina by moving to the United States. You could say that being born in a Latin American country makes me a Latina from birth, but I don’t completely agree.
I was born Guatemalan, that’s what it says on my birth certificate and on my passport. It’s funny how human nature works; you don’t realize what you’ve got until it’s gone. I took my country, my culture and my traditions for granted. My parents made great sacrifices to put me in an American school where I learned English from an early age. In high school I listened to music in English, watched cable, rented French movies and read J.R.R. Tolkien. Slowly the camping trips to Coban and Tikal became just childhood memories and as soon as I got my first job I saved all my money so I could travel to New Orleans, Washington or New York. My family wasn’t much into cooking so I didn’t discover my love for the kitchen until I had my first apartment where I would spend countless nights, my nose burried in a cookbook, experimenting with exotic concoctions from Morocco or Thailand. Now looking back on that time how I wish I had learned to make tamales and buñuelos.
Fate would have it that I would marry a Guatemalan American who after living in the United States for too long found it hard to deal with all the insecurity, corruption and caos that still has a stong hold on many of our countries. Reluctantly I uprooted myself and followed him to the United States. I though I would fit right in, after all I didn’t care about novelas, had watched every episode of Friends and had gone to Broadway plays and Bon Jovi concerts in Madison Square Garden. But nothing prepared me for the change .
Soon after arriving in the United States I started filling out residency forms and census forms and even my kid’s school forms and suddenly everyone referred to me as Hispanic. For a while I felt like I was in limbo, I wasn’t American and the place I now called home viewed me as a foreigner while my own country considered me in exile. Leaving my family and friends behind was heartbreaking but I was actually surprised about how much I missed my culture. Whenever I got in the car I would search for radio stations that played salsa, drive miles to shop at Latino markets, longed for tamales and started eating at mexican and peruvian restaurants (there are no guatemalan restaurants in our little town).
After months of feeling isolated I joined a mom’s club and a recipe club, I whent to story time at the library and became a regular at the park with the kids. During this time I made some great friends, most of them American and althought I considered myself to be quite in the know when it came to American culture I still felt like an outsider.
Then it happened …. I started meeting Latinas, they came from different backgrounds and different countries, some had been born here others had just moved and spoke only Spanish. Some I met in person, some of them I never met but followed their blogs, friended them on Facebook and attended Twitter parties with them. With this group of women who all felt as passionately as I did about their culture, about their music and about their traditions I suddenly felt I belonged. Latinas understood my love of bright colors and salsa, my craving for food that has spice and sabor and my pride for my roots and traditions.
Seeing myself as Latina was a choice or maybe it was more of a discovery. I joined this group of amazing and passionate women who live life a little louder and love a little stronger. Among Latinas I feel at home away from home. We are all so different but we all speak the same language, a language that goes well beyond speaking Español.