Sunday, February 8, 2009

So...what are you?

I have been asked this question numerous times growing up, and still receive it. No matter how delicately someone asks, the basic gist is, "What are you?". And even though I reply with, "I'm Latina" or "I'm half-Guatemalan" I still wonder sometimes what I really am.

Most Latinos will recognize a little of themselves in me. White people know I'm not completely white. A lot of the kids in New Orleans thought I was Native American. One man in Barnes and Noble was convinced I was Native American. My blood is half-Guatemalan, half-German. Though my father was from Guatemala, I was raised by my white mother. So much of my cultural identity has come from her. In college I took a Chicano literature class that really made me desire to find out more about my heritage. I desire to travel to Guatemala someday to see the city my father grew up in. I have memories from childhood when we lived in a Latino neighborhood in inner-city Chicago and really cherish those memories. They are mostly memories of food we ate, music we listened to...languages spoken.

To be completely honest, I have always felt growing up that something was missing. While I am so grateful to my mother for raising me in a loving home...I wish that she would not have let me lose the ability to speak Spanish. I wish that she would have kept some of the cultural traditions we had in Chicago. I understand why she didn't. When I went to Mexico for the first time to visit my then fiancee, many memories rushed back. I found that by the end of the week I was able to understand what people were saying...though I was nowhere near being able to respond in Spanish. That trip and our honeymoon in Mexico have given me the desire to live in a Spanish-speaking country someday. I have this hunch that if I was immersed in the language that I would be able to speak again. I have a feeling that this ability to speak Spanish would help relieve some of my "cultural homesickness". I know that I can do some things now to learn Spanish. I even took 4 years of Spanish in high school, but it didn't stick. It was extremely easy for me, though. I remember hardly ever having to study. So total immersion it is. I just hope we don't wait till we're 60 to move.


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