For years I have struggled with how to identify myself. Not because I had an issue with who I am but because I have been surrounded by many people who have a problem with me. Let me explain.
This whole thing started three years after I moved from Ecuador to the United States, I was 9 years old then. When I went back to my native city at the age of 12, I began to hear the words “estás americanizada”. I didn’t quite know how to take that at first.
Just because I had moved to another country (well my parents moved me), it didn’t mean that I had lost myself. To say “I had become Americanized” was a big insult. And years later in college, I would see the result of that frame of mind.
I grew up in the states and went from not knowing a single word of English to become my parents’ translators. I recently said in a video application that I learned English watching Sesame Street and retained my Spanish while watching telenovelas (I should have also added Noticias Univision).
While I studied and worked in English, at home we spoke Spanish. When I was 17 or 18 I felt the need to learn things in Spanish. I took a class about Spanish language literature and read Cervantes and Alfonsina Storni en español. I kept the dictionary right next to me. There were many words that I did not know and native Spanish language speakers made me feel like I was an idiot and although I said I was Ecuadorian I lacked knowledge about Ecuadorian history, politics, and social issues. It was then that I developed an identity crisis. In college, I met fellow Ecuadorians who told me I was not “Ecuadorian enough” because of these reasons. I felt pain and shame and not a single adult around could see how that comment caused so much sadness. It would take me years to recover.
While watching novelas, listening to the radio, talking to my mom in Spanish and reading Paulo Coelho books in Spanish, I retained my fifth grade Spanish. I found that it was not that I did not know collegiate words; it was just that I hardly used them and I had forgotten them. I like to say my fifth-grade Ecuadorian education was strong. That same fifth-grade education got me through high school Spanish, and also afforded me with a chance to work in broadcast and in print in Spanish-language news years later. That same Spanish also helped me do volunteer work in Guatemala. I can’t complain.
My former co-workers would tell me that I needed to work on my Spanish grammar and I improved a lot. I told them that I could communicate, talk to people and write. I also shared that the last time I was in a complete Spanish-language classroom it was in high school. They understood and for that I am grateful.
I feel less judged today than I previously did. In my heart, I will always be Ecuadorian and it will take me years to relearn Ecuadorian history. I am also now a U.S. citizen and I have adjusted well to my environment. I have been living in the states now for 33 years and do deal with discrimination from time to time. I say I get discriminated here and in Ecuador. There is no win.
But when Hispanic Heritage Month comes around, I say I am a proud Latina and Ecuadorian. Yes, I know I no longer have my accent and that is okay. I still enjoy my family’s food, talk U.S. and Ecuadorian politics in both English and in Spanish, and retain my Latina-ness (if there is such a word).
I also take the time to properly remind my fellow Americans that Latinos come in all shapes, colors, and backgrounds and to be mindful of that. I do that not only during Hispanic Heritage Month but all year long.