Personal Identity Project: Where You From?

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Where you are from has an impact on who you become. I believe that wholeheartedly. The place you are born and raised impacts the way you see and relate to the rest of the world. It effects how the rest of the world sees and relates to you as well, thus altering your personal identity {the way you see and relate to yourself}. The incredibly delicate balance of defining one’s self, while combating what the world asses your identity to be, can be a tight rope to walk, with its tender beginnings tethered to the answer of, “where you from?”

Let me give you an example: I’m of Cuban ethnicity, born in the United States. Sometimes I wonder how my life would be had I been born in Cuba to my Cuban parents. This would have completely altered my personal identity. But I don’t have to depart from my origins to such extreme to drastically change the outcome of who I am.

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Once in the United States, both of my parents spent time in Miami, Florida, which is the main thoroughfare by which many Cuban immigrants are introduced to the States. Because they had extended family already living in Southern California, with their parents, my mother and father eventually settled in a sleepy, very Caucasian, beach town of the Los Angeles suburbs.

So my real question is: How would my personal identity be different had I been born and raised in Miami versus Los Angeles?

Not to be confused with a discussion on how one’s skin color, race or ethnicity effects their personal identity, I really do believe that if I {a brown skinned Latina/Cubana} were from Miami, I would be a different person. I am 100% certain I would {1.} speak Spanish fluently and {2.} feel more confident in my Cubana-ness, or Latina-hood {I totally just made those words up}, had I been saturated in my culture to the extent that Miami offers. For those who have never been to Miami, let’s just say that you might meet a Cuban or two on your visit there.

Although people are more aware of racial sensitivities than in years past, when I was a kid, if you were brown and living in LA, you were Mexican. Even more so in the White towns that I grew up in because there just weren’t that many of us around to bother with the differentiation. “What’s a Cuban?” was the typical response to my ethnic assertions. Given the proximity of the Mexican border, it was conceivable that the Latino population was prodominetly Mexican. Similar to the Cuban population in Miami and the proximity of their borders.

But I wasn’t Mexican; nor are the two cultures that similar. Cubans and Puerto Ricans, sure. Dominicans, yup. But Mexicans? No, not really. The Mexican culture has an abundance of beauty, that is a fact, but ones very different from those of the Cuban culture. My family didn’t eat Mexican food, listen to Mexican music, even our Spanish sounded nothing like the Spanish that Mexicans speak. But being a person of brown skin, my society labeled me as Mexican even if I had no idea what it meant to be so. And I gotta say, that was really confusing as a young kid.

The end result was dismissing my Latino identity in its entirety.

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I am many things because of where I am from. Growing up in the beautiful beach towns of California has defined my cores in ways that will likely never change. I am drawn to the ocean shores like a magnet; the rhythmic sound of waves can ease my soul like nothing else can. I yearn for the ocean every day of my life here in the desert. I was also an athlete, competitive in fact, and part of an amazing group of friends. I had an outstanding education, was in honor classes, read too many books and even kind of nerdy. I viewed myself as an American kid, and not having white skin was an after thought. 

The one definition I did not use to define my personal identity was Latino. And that kind of sucks. Because I am.

Since becoming a parent, embarking on this quest of personal identity and seeking the core of my womanhood, I want my Latino back. But on my terms, because I’m not prepared to let go of everything else I am to reclaim what was always mine to own. Thankfully, there are many other Latino-ish people out there that I can lean on. I’ll figure it out. 

Erica Adams Photography

In the meantime, there is this little half Cuban/half African American baby to raise, and I want desperately for her to feel empowered in her personal identity no matter the demographics of where she finds herself. Forget the fact that she is of mixed race and the potentials of identity confusion that go along with it, Alina’s story starts in a city I never planned to have children in. Las Vegas isn’t exactly known for wholesome, family-rearing values, if you know what I mean. And we rank crappiest in every National ranking known to man, from health care to education, so you can see my concerns.

But the one thing Las Vegas is for sure is open-minded. Whereas we didn’t know many back home, my Husband and I are far from the only mixed couple of our peers nowadays. And I really like that. I have challenged myself to find the virtue in our city, which is now the home base of my child. We may not always be here, but its home for now.

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Big city, small town. Country side, urban high rise. West Coast, East Coast. State side, or living abroad. Same house for generations, or moving every 6 months. Everyone’s story begins somewhere.

Where you are raised doesn’t ultimately and permanently define you; life experiences and traveling and living in other places make a big impact on your personal identity too. But, for many people, home base is either a place they dream of returning to, or is the launching pad they use to measure how far they’ve gone. Either way, the impact of where you are from on who you’ve become should be considered in examining personal identity. I believe that wholeheartedly.

 

 

 

Comments

  1. Vanessa, I love this post! Thanks for sharing it with our group. I can relate to a lot of what you say her, because my husband has been through very similar experiences. Luckily, he always lived in places where Mexicans were the majority of the Latino population, but he’s talked to me a lot about his friends who may be Puerto Rican, Cuban, etc. and have felt very left out of the local Latino community and misunderstood by non-Latinos. He always made the extra effort to share his heritage and be open to theirs, but not everyone is as willing to learn something new, or think of Latinos as a diverse group, rather than a solitary culture. I’m so glad that you’re bringing up this topic, because I’m sure that many people have dealt with it. Also, I love the conversation here about how where you grow up effects your perspective and lifestyle. Very “Latina Smart” convo! ;) Loving your identity project!

  2. Vanessa, hello from a Cubanita who was born and raised in Miami and Jersey — because, well, that’s where we are all from, right?

    Loved reading your essay. And, indeed, we gather up cultural baggage from where we’re from and take it with us wherever we go.

    Life certainly would have been different, your identity different, had you been raised a Miami cubanita. (I’ve been gone for 25+ years and I have picked up new stuff from where I live now…)

    Reclaim what is yours. Take the good stuff from both your cultures, your upbringing, your husband’s upbringing and meld it all into what works for you.

    That is the beauty of America…you get to pick what you love, let go of what you don’t, and make new choices in raising your beautiful daughter.

    I live far from Miami now in Tennessee, and often get asked all sorts of questions about Mexicans, or other Latinos, and I have to remind folks that while I know stuff, I am not from “fill-in-the-blank.”

    The best was when co-workers would insist on me explaining the menu to them at Mexican restaurants. I had no clue what was in a chalupa or enchilada either! LOL

    I hope you’ve met Marta from My Big Fat Cuban Family. She is So. Cal cubana too.

    I think our kids won’t suffer as much from identity confusion because America is changing. It isn’t what we grew up with.

    Our children are the story of America…in all its colors and sounds.

    Suerte.

  3. Vanessa,

    This is such a great project, and so timely, too! It is so so hard to define what it means to be Latina, don’t you think? In the end, I think it all depends on how each and every one of us view it because we obviously all come from different walks of life, have different stories to tell.

    I can totally see what you’re writing about because I often wonder about all this when it comes to my children. I came to this country when I was a teenage and so my cultural identity had already been formed. I had no questions about it. Plus, I grew up in Miami which, as you know, doesn’t have any issues understanding that being Latino can mean a whole lot of different nationalities. For my kids, however, the story is totally different, especially because they were born and are being raised — at least for the time being — in the very white suburbs of southern Denver.

    I understand and I agree with what Carrie says above, but I do wonder how they’ll identify their own selves when they grow up. I wonder if what happened to you will happen to them…

  4. Great post and great comments.

    I’m Anglo and struggled with my identity growing up in a 95% Anglo town — so that goes to show that identity is a problem anyone can have ;)

    Now I have kids who are half Salvadoran but are constantly being called Mexican. (My youngest son even went around saying he was Mexican for awhile because he was so confused.)

    I don’t have all the answers but I connected with your post and thank you for sharing it.

  5. Actually I have always wondered when the first use of Latino in the Americas was used. I know that their was a Europa Latina and the America Latina was the new world. Europa Latina included the first Latins or original Latins that started in Italy and included Spain,Portugal,France, & Romania.

    Actually the term Latinos was first used – The term “Latin America” was used for the first time in the nineteenth century when the French occupied Mexico (1862–1867), leading to the Second Mexican Empire, and wanted to be included in what was considered Spanish America. source wikipedia

    Mexicans were the first people to be called or referred to as Latinos in the Americas.

    Since Mexico also included California, Texas, Arizona,New Mexico,Nevada, and Colorado the majority of cities founded in the southwest were either founded by Spanish or Mexicans people. Infact Los Angeles was founded by Mexicans. This is why people mostly confuse other Latinos as Mexicans.

    If other Latinos move to the Southwest they will most likely be confused for Mexicans. If Latinos move to the Southeast they will be confused for as Cubans and if they move to the northeast it is either Puertoricans or Dominicans.

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