Bilingual is Better
Oct
04
2011

What Being Latina Means to Me

Posted by:  |  Category: Bicultural Vida, Daily Blog

1
What Being Latina Means to Me

cliff1066™

Trying to define what it means to me to be Hispanic or Latina is a question I have asked myself all my life and in a few paragraphs I will try to come to a satisfying answer.

It’s important to understand that, although I was born in the United States, the fact that I was raised in Mexico makes me a Mexican. However, the fact that I went to college in the U.S., that I have voted in the last five elections, and that now I have lived away from Mexico for over ten years, and that my daughter was born in Ohio, makes me an American. So I guess, I’m Mexican-American. Which means that I have a little bit of both Mexico and the U.S. in me. However, whenever I visit Spain, I feel at home and I know quite a lot about its people and its culture. I wonder therefore, if Hispanic or Latina would be betters term for who I am, since I do not believe that an identity is defined in national/political terms, but in cultural practices that are circumscribed to language uses, food and traditions.

American-Spanish-Mexican?

First of all, my first language is Spanish, but I do not speak the language the way I used to. People are always telling me that I do not speak like other Mexicans they know. Even my own family says to me that, sometimes, I speak either like an American speaking Spanish or like a Spaniard since I use many expressions and sayings from Spain (more than from Mexico). For the past ten years, English has become the language I use on a daily basis, I speak to many of my friends in English and I find myself forgetting words in Spanish when I speak to my family. However, I am not completely an American.

Although I do not have a Spanish-native speaker accent when I speak English I still make mistakes sometimes when using American expressions or when I pronounce certain words. For instance, I have been made fun of for saying “nose trails” instead of “nostrils,” I love watching TV with captions and I never enjoy karaoke because I do not know many of the songs. But I am not a Spaniard either since I do not pronounce my c or z with a sound similar to the “th” in English, but some people in the Canary Islands and Andalucía do not do that either, and I grew up listening to many Spanish singers and groups. So, sometimes I wonder if I’m actually an American-Spanish-Mexican.

Mexican-Spanish-American?

Second, I’m a truly puritan when it comes to Mexican food. Please don’t tell me that chimichangas and fajitas are “Authentic Mexican Food” because they are not. They are Tex-Mex or even from New Mexico, and they are fine but they are not Mexican. My favorite Mexican dishes are “Mole Poblano” and “Chiles en nogada,” however, these are not popular dishes from the part of Mexico my family is from (Chihuahua). I once called my mother and asked her for the recipe of the “nogada” (a cheese and walnut sauce) and she didn’t know how to make it. I then asked her “¿Qué tipo de mexicana eres? (What kind of Mexican are you?),” and she said “¡Soy norteña! (I’m from the north!).”

I realized then that the five years I spent in Georgia made me a very different kind of Mexican. I crave foods I didn’t use to eat when I was growing up and I wonder if it has to do with the fact that I feel displaced from Mexico. The distance has also Americanized me. I have stopped eating hot/spicy foods, I don’t eat tortillas with every meal, and margaritas have become one of my favorite drinks. I also eat more pizza, meatloaf and hamburgers than I ever did. The fact that I do not eat Mexican food all the time has made me a different kind of Mexican. I’ll try all kinds of food, just make sure that there is no cilantro or cumin since I cannot stand these spices (which makes a lot of people wonder if I’m truly Mexican) and many do not understand that not ALL Mexican food is made with them.

Being a Spanish Peninsularist has also made me aware of Spanish food. I make a wonderful “Spanish tortilla”, killing “patatas bravas”, and delicious “empanada galega,” to name a few. I do crave “pimientos de piquillo” and “pimientos de Padrón,” along with “trufas” and “crema catalá”. So I guess my tastes have changed with time and I wonder if I should be called then Mexican-Spanish-American.

Spanish-American-Mexican?

Third, traditions are a big part of all cultures. I have broken with many Mexican traditions.

I no longer live at home and do not plan on going back, but I didn’t leave my parents home until I was 29 years old (even when I went to college I did it by crossing the Mexico-U.S. border every day). I’m the only woman in my family (immediate and extended) that has pursued a PhD. For a long time, I was not interested in getting married or having kids but then, one day, after my mother passed away I found myself married to a former boyfriend (from Mexico) and pregnant with my daughter. When I got married, I was happy my husband was from Mexico, but it was (and still is) important for me that he understand that I’m both Mexican and American (and a little bit Spanish), that I speak English and Spanish (and Galego), that I love Mexican food but that’s not all I like to eat.

In the past, I always thought that if I had children I would like them to keep my last name and be named Ian or Brianna. When I did have my daughter I told my husband I wanted our daughter to have my first name first (not typical), so she has a combined last name and mine is first. I did change my mind about her name. I wanted a Spanish name, but one that was easy to be pronounced for English speakers, and one that would let me connect my daughter to Spain. So we chose Isabel, but we call her Isa.

I have also incorporated new traditions into my life. My new favorite celebrations are Halloween (I love pumpkin-carving) and Thanksgiving (I make a wonderful turkey), and what I love the most about them is that I have a new family (my friends) to celebrate them with. I also enjoy the Spanish celebrations for the “Día de San Juan”, I enjoy drinking a “clara” on a hot summer day and eating good “tapas” with a nice glass of wine, and I hope to one day own a house in Spain, which, I guess, will then make me Spanish-American-Mexican.

There is not a simple answer to: What does being Hispanic/Latin@ mean to you? To me, it means being plurilingual and pluricultural. It means to understand three (or more) groups of people and to be a part of them. To me, being who I am means to be the embodiedment of the Mexico-United States border with some splashes of Spain. People can call me Hispanic or Latina, I do not really have a preference, I just like to call myself: Mexican-American-Spanish (in any order).

Eugenia Romero is a Spanish Literatures and Cultures professor at The Ohio State University. She is also the mother of a vivacious, beautiful four-year-old girl named Isabel (Isa). A native from El Paso, Texas-Ciudad Juárez border, she often struggled with issues on national identity. The birth of her daughter put many things into perspective, and nothing sounds better than listening to Isa singing and speaking in Spanish.

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