If it’s not my music taste or the clothes I wear it’s my ‘American’ accent that betrays my tan skin and long dark hair. No matter what, I have never been “Latina enough,” at least not in the way we typically perceive Latinas.
Being the daughter of immigrants I am straddling two identities, never being fully Latina but never fully American either.
I was born and raised in Miami, Florida; the city with the third largest Latinx population in the country. I grew up seeing the perfect embodiment of Latinas and hearing Spanish from fluent tongues. On the outside, I might have appeared like the perfect Latina. I had tan skin, brown almost black hair, a curvy body- but on the inside, I felt out of place.
My family would always ridicule me because I had no rhythm; I couldn’t follow the steps to the rumba and more importantly, I didn’t want to. My grandmother warned me I would lose my sabor (flavor) if I didn’t involve myself with the music and dance of my culture. I would be just another gringa, an insult to my culture. I love and appreciate Cuban music and dance but it does not speak to me the way it does to my family and why would I pretend otherwise?
When we think of Latinx we imagine extroverted, outgoing, vibrant people but I have always been introverted. My family has never understood my need for online time. Our culture sees time together as precious and important while I tend to disagree. Open affection with distant relatives I see every blue moon is expected although I cringe with every kiss on the cheek.
To make matters worse I’m sure my family thought I was turning American as my Spanish became less fluid.
Our native language became more of a mangled ‘Spanglish’ on my tongue, so my parents forced me to take advanced Spanish in school to avoid being a gringa. I am now fluent in Spanish once again, but I can never shake the feeling that my Spanish is fake, my pronunciation never quite correct, never as authentic.
Once I became interested in social justice, I realized there was such toxic masculinity, sexism, and racism within not only my community but my own family. My parents would take on gender roles and all the men in the family practiced machismo, our damaging form of masculinity. Men in my family always held the power, they needed to be the breadwinners, the women needed to cook and clean for them, and they needed to be respected.
I have gotten into many arguments with my family against this mentality and weathered the wrath of my parents for dressing or acting ‘masculine’. I was angry that my family members were happy that my father’s black blood didn’t manifest itself on my skin, that I had mejorado la raza, advanced our race. I was upset that I was deemed more beautiful and worthy than my grandmother for being white-passing. For a while, I was ashamed of being Latina because of how problematic many of our views and customers were. Being an activist further ostracized me from the Latinx community because movements like feminism were not widely accepted.
Being a vegetarian certainly didn’t help my case either. If you’re not Cuban, let me tell you that meat is not only a central part of our diet, meat is our diet. My life was filled with pan con lechon, arroz con pollo, croquetas de jamon and all other delicious but unfortunately meat-based delight. All my meals clearly weren’t valid forms of nutrition, as my grandfather would say ‘eso no es comida!” My new diet was a betrayal of my culture, being a vegetarian was a white people thing.
I love my culture but sometimes it feels like my culture doesn’t love me back. However, I am now beginning to realize that my culture is not rigid but fluid. I can shape what it means to be Latina and my definition is valid.
I don’t have to fit the mold of what the stereotype is or what my family believes being a Latina is because then I will never be ‘Latina enough’. To all young Latin-Americans who have felt not enough of their culture, know that we are the next generation, we are the ones who will define our culture, where we will always be enough.