Tales of a Latina in The Midst of an Identity Crisis

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On my road to fearless moments, the one thing I have learned is that if you don't admit something, you can't be accountable for it. Not being accountable is the same as not working on the problem. When you own something, you can then work on making it better. With that said, I have something to admit to the world.

I am not fluent in Spanish.

There, I said it. And I feel so much better having said it out loud.

I am Puerto-rican. And I have spent my whole life being told the following things:

- Since I was not born in Puerto Rico, I am not a "real" Puerto Rican. I was born in New York so I am what is referred to as a Nuyorican. And believe me, that title comes with the side-eye, lip smack, dirty look, and whatever else can show the distaste towards someone who was not born in their homeland.

- Since I was born with white skin and cannot tan for the life of me, I am not a "real" Puerto Rican. I look like a white girl and since I was a book nerd and a smart kid, I acted like a white girl, too (insert my own side-eye here). I was told that no one would be able to tell I was Latina because my skin was too white. Add to that, that I have freckles and was born with blonde hair (that got darker as I got older). I was known as the "blanquita" of the family. In other words, THE WHITE GIRL.

- Since I do not solely listen to salsa and merengue music nor do I like foods like pollo guisado / carne guisada (spanish style chicken or beef stew), bacalao (boiled codfish), pulpo (octopus) and wasn't a big rice and beans eater, I am not a "real" Puerto Rican. I was a picky eater when I was a kid and still am, somewhat. I have grown to embrace rice and beans but still, I can't eat it everyday.

- Since I am not fluent in Spanish or speak it regularly, I am not a "real" Puerto Rican. I can't roll my R's nor do I have that accent where I sound like I am speaking Spanish perfectly as if it were my native language. This is the one thing that bothers me the most because I get criticized the most when I attempt to learn and speak Spanish. This has made me loathe the very language that is my heritage. It has made me not want to speak it at all and become angry with those who live in this country and don't speak a word of English. I spent many years holding that anger within. It was me deflecting my own pain of being judged on my Spanish speaking ability.

For most of my life, I will admit that I have pretended to be fluent and gotten by. It's incredible. I know. I speak Spanglish, which is speaking a little Spanish infused with lots of English. So it appears as if you know what you're talking about when you honestly don't. I have mastered the art of nodding my head and acting like I know what someone is saying to me when they speak Spanish to me. Most of the time, I can figure it out if I know what the main words mean in English. Thank goodness I am smart enough to do that because it saved me on many occasions. I once took a customer service job that required me to speak Spanish. I don't know how I did it for two years but I did. I spoke the basics and had my cheat cards. 

It has taken me years to overcome this identity crisis I have. We are all classified by race and ethnicity. And when you don't look like what you are classified to be, it can really mess with your head. You begin to question where you fit in. And I think that attributed to me wanting to fit in somewhere, anywhere. 

In college, I became obsessed with Malcolm X, Public Enemy and protesting life's issues. The African group at school accepted me with open arms, white skin and all. I wore conch shells in my hair, big hoop earrings and lots of gold bangles on my arm with fists on them. I never felt so free in my life. But when I looked in the mirror, I saw my white skin and was reminded that no matter how hard I pretended, I didn't really feel like I belonged anywhere. 

White people knew I was not one of them. And Latinos didn't want me because I was too white. Blacks embraced me because while I had white skin, when I opened my mouth, they would say "I sounded like a black girl." Whatever that means. In other words, in their circles, I could pass. They would just overlook my skin because I had credibility in their eyes since I grew up in the projects aka THE HOOD. I was used to hearing that often from my black friends. I listened to rap and hip hop and didn't embrace my Latino culture as I was expected to, mainly out of rebellion. How dare you tell me how I should be in order to get my Latina card?

On my dad's side of my family, I have black relatives so even though, my blackness was a small percentage, I embraced that fiercely and still do. Because I have always felt at ease in those circles. I never felt judged at all. I was accepted and loved for who I was.

The problem was within me. I am not 100%. But I am getting there. My first trip out to Puerto Rico was back in 1998. And it was one of the best trips ever. As my parents and I were leaving the airport, I inhaled deeply and looked at the sky. This overwhelming feeling came over me. I felt like I was home. And no one can ever take that away from me. 

I spent many years giving others the power over me and letting them put me in a space where I created this identity crisis that I held onto for so long. It was all on me. Now I know, I have a choice. This is me. And if you can't accept me for who I am, white skin, freckles, English speaking and all, then I don't need you in my life. Everyone has their own opinions on who someone should be. But that is an opinion and not a fact. As I drove through the island so many years ago, I saw many shades of colors. Some even looked like me! When I started to read up on Puerto Rican history, I learned that Puerto Ricans are a mixture of Spaniard, Taino Indian and African. So we're mixed, too. I don't understand why some old-school Puerto Ricans refuse to acknowledge that there is no one cookie cutter look for a Puerto Rican because of who we are ethnically. 

The Spanish thing...I know now that it is all about fear. I am scared of sounding like a hot mess. Not pronouncing things right or conjugating my verbs wrong. But then I remember something that Anthony Bourdain once said about learning to speak different languages. He said something to the effect of, you have to not be afraid of sounding like an idiot and making a fool out of yourself because you will, when you start learning a new language. But in time, you will get it. On that note, let me put this Rosetta Stone CD in and get to work. 

Que tengas un gran dia! Did I get that right? lol

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