Finding Cultural Identity

By Lucia Wetherill, Staff Writer


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Courtesy of janjansen.guru

If you were to bump into me, not knowing who I was, you’d think I was white. Light brown hair frames my pale skin and blue eyes – typically Caucasian features. That’s why it’s a shock to most people when they realize that my mother is a Salvadoran immigrant. She emigrated to America with her parents to escape the brutality of El Salvador’s civil war; although she later went back to visit family who stayed, she was raised in the United States. My mother was part of American and Salvadoran culture, raising me in both.

It’s always been hard to figure out where I belong culturally. I was raised with Salvadoran traditions, foods, and pieces of the language, but I don’t look the part. People have pegged me as a “fake Latina” or even “not Latina enough.” I distinctly remember my mother and grandma constantly being stopped on the street and asked if they were my nanny when they took me out. Don’t get me wrong – my appearance has definitely allowed me to escape many hardships that Latinos face. I will never be subject to discrimination that many go through today. But it’s still hard, though, to figure out where I truly fit in. In a society that measures worth by identity, how could I know my value without knowing who I truly was?

I don’t look remotely Latina, but I certainly feel like I am. Looking back on my childhood, it was always a mix of two cultures. I had quesadillas, pupusas, and semita alongside apple pies and deep-dish pizzas. Spanish vocabulary and even Salvadoran slang were a natural part of my language. While I lived in the U.S., I traveled to El Salvador to visit my cousins every so often. I have dual citizenship in El Salvador and the United States. Still, I wondered for so long – was I Latina enough?

I felt like I couldn’t belong in Latin culture especially because I can’t speak fluent Spanish. I’m nearly fluent, and I take it in school, but how could I call myself Latina if I didn’t even fully speak the language? If I did claim that part of myself, would people criticize me or tell me I wasn’t enough? It is something, however, that I cannot fully change. I will never be a native speaker, and it will likely remain insecurity throughout my life.

What I can do, though, is embrace the language without abandon, ignoring others’ attempts to confine me within definitions and classifications. Despite being inherent insecurity, my heritage and culture is something I take immense pride in, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I’ve learned to feel comfortable in my own skin, even helping to create a multicultural club at my school to help others find a place to belong. To anyone who feels like I do, in any culture: do not let anything or anyone diminish your cultural identity. You – your upbringing, your family, your traditions – are more than enough.