Saturday, January 27, 2018

What It Means to Me to Be Hispanic in America

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By: Sabrina Y.

My name is Sabrina. 
    My father and his family immigrated to the US from Tijuana, Mexico, when he was 13. My mother’s family came to New Jersey from Puerto Rico a few years before my mother was born. I was born in Atlanta, Georgia.  
    I am 100% Hispanic.  
   The problem is I don’t “look” Hispanic enough. I don’t speak fluent Spanish. I don’t eat traditional Mexican or Puerto Rican meals every night. I don’t watch Telenovelas. My playlist isn’t filled with Latin music.  
   Now I mentioned earlier that these were all “problems” since they seemed to contradict my Hispanicness. For a long time, I had convinced myself that I wasn’t a “true Hispanic” because everyone around me, including other Hispanics, had influenced me that there was only one image of “Hispanic; and I did not match this picture.  
   So then, am I an imposter? Am I just another person trying to decide between my American identity and my Hispanic identity? What does it really mean to be Hispanic anyways?  



    “ARE YOU JEWISH?” 
     It was sixth grade and a boy who Ive never talked to walked up and said with complete sincerity and seriousness “Why are you not at home?”  

“What do you mean?” I asked.  
Isn’t it some Jewish holiday today or something?”  
I’m not Jewish, but he wasn’t the first to make that assumption and he definitely wasn’t the last. The issue is that people are making assumptions based off of assumed stereotypes of another ethnicity. I’ve also had multiple Hispanic people tell me that I didn’t look Hispanic - at all. Based off of their tone, I was just another “Gringa” to them -  A victim of missing identity, of American assimilation. 
    I shouldn’t have to defend my being Hispanic to anyone. But when my appearance is connected with my culture in a way that is questionedjudged, critiqued - I have to sayWhat you see and assume is wrong. Look into the mirror with me. I see my father’s face and my mother’s light skin and a little glimmer of something else in my eyes. Are you willing to see the same? 
    “SABRINA, HOW DO YOU SAY THIS IN SPANISH? 
     When I was born, my parents made the conscious decision not to speak Spanish in the house. I used to be upset with them because I felt like language was an immense piece of culture. I also had no choice over this decision which greatly affected me. I was powerless in this piece of my culture. But it was wrong to blame my parents. With every decision there is always a reason, and I was so focused on myself that I had never even considered understanding this reasoning. But here is why I don’t speak Spanish 
     When my mother was growing up in New Jersey, they had spoken Spanish in the house until one day her mother came home, frustrated and flustered. She made the proclamation that from that point on, there would be no more Spanish in the house, since she had just encountered another aggravating experience at the grocery store because of the language barrier. To my grandmother, English became a way, not just to communicate, but to be understood in this country. Assimilation, some would call it. But she called it survival. 

     My father didn’t have to worry as much about a language barrier, since he grew up in predominantly Hispanic-populated communities once he moved to the United States. But once he joined the Marines after high school, he obtained the need to perfect this language, and get rid of his accent so that he, like my grandmother, could be clearly understood.  
In Georgia, very few people speak Spanish in my community. Also, my parents had been speaking English to each other for years and years. This was no longer a matter of survival. My parents wanted my sister and I to thrive.  

     In a way, I am bereft of another world of which my parents are still a part. I feel the invisible barrier whenever I hear my parents talking to grandparents on the phone, and I embarrassed and ashamedattempt to hold a conversation with them in “Spanglish. The discomfort and nakedness I felt was especially present during large family gatherings where I was surrounded by all the cousins and aunts and uncles I never knew I had since they lived in the land of my past.  Still, I’ve come to understand, accept, and even become content with my parents' decision. The more I reflect, the more I recognize how over the years, they have fostered and supported my passion for the English language, creating an unbreakable relationship between me and words. It is why I am a writer.  


“DID YOU DO YOUR HOMEWORK?” 
     From a young age I was taught the importance of an education. My father joined the Marines because it was the only way to afford a college education. He wanted my sister and I to have more opportunities to continue our higher educationMy mother and father got married when they were 18, and after one year of college. With my father in the Marines, my mother realized that she needed to find a job so that they could live on their ownShe is a smart and hard-working woman, and although she never finished her higher education, she wanted my sister and I to do well in school so that we could challenge ourselves intellectually for future success. As parents, they didn’t want us to worry about our future, and education became the key. It was always the key, even when they were brought up. 
     My grandmothers on both sides had to stop going to school in eighth grade because their fathers had died. MY grandmother on my father’s side had three brothers and one sister to care for, and my grandmother on my mom’s side had five brothers and three sisters to care for. They both needed to find jobs in order to support the family.  
     Because of the stress on education, I’ve become a curious, ambitious individual. In seventh grade I received a life-changing scholarship which helped me find a college-prep boarding school to attend for my High School years. I understand my past, and I do not take these awards, these privileges that I earn, lightly. I’ve heard before the phrase “it is not a race, but a marathon” and as I reflect on my family history, I can feel the tight grasp of the relay baton in my hand.


“YOU DO YOU” 
     It is not enough for me to say that because I am genetically Hispanic, I am “Hispanic.” It is up to me to learn about my culture and to embrace it during the occasions when it is prevalent. I enjoy asking my parents questions about their childhoods. I still sing to myself my grandmother’s lullaby “Los Pollitos dicen pillo pillo pillocuando tienen hambrecuando tienen frio.” My dad puts on an NPR Alt Latino podcast during my drive to school so that I can be exposed to different genres of Latin music. I took Spanish classes for six years and decided for my Senior year to go more in depth by creating an independent study in Mexican and Puerto Rican literature.  
     The year before, I created an independent study in Playwriting where my final product was a script adaptation of the novela the House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. It was in this that I began to find commonalities between the main character, Esperanza, and myself. She was a Mexican-American growing up in America, and since this piece was performed at school and I got to play the role of Esperanza, I felt especially connected to this work.  It also effected the school itself in that it attracted people of diverse backgrounds to be a part of theatre. I was surrounded by people who were alike and different in many ways, and their personal stories and identity shone through on stage. Being Hispanic and watching this direct effect happen, I realized more and more how necessary and vital it is to have representation of diversity in the work force, on stage, in movies, in schools, etc. If I can help make that happen in high school, why can’t I do that anywhere else? My culture brings me power.
“MY NAME IS SABRINA” 
     Being Hispanic is a never-ending journey of identity for me. What it means today, it may not mean the same tomorrow. But for right now it is my family’s history. It is their struggles and triumphs told in oral stories. It is my passion for writing. It is my hunger for knowledge. It is my fire within me, whispering of strength to fuel my determination. It is my awareness and push for inclusion. It is the sound of my grandmother’s voice singing to me. It is my father and I listening in silence to the radio. It is my light skin and dark hair. It is my curiosity. It is my cultural introspection. 
     “Hispanic” is not a singular image. For that image simply cannot exist. The image you thought was there was just an illusion corrupting your view of the beautiful mosaic. Glistening in all its glory, light reflecting off of the different colors and shapes, the mosaic is a singular, beautiful masterpiece. You don’t just see the beauty of this mosaic. No, you feel the beauty; understand it in a way a singular image could never convey.  
     My name is Sabrina, and I am 100% Hispanic. 

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