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.

Don’t judge the dress, I was 9 years old and this was my first Christmas in the states.

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 had to go get my Ecuadorian photo. I thank soccer for this creation.

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.

2012 - guatemala
While conducing medical volunteer work in Guatemala in 2012.

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.

2017 reporting
I celebrated a decade as a journalist in February 2017.

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.