Identity Struggles During Hispanic Heritage Month
An awkward relationship with labels is all I ever "celebrate" during Hispanic Heritage Month.
It's Hispanic Heritage Month, and as a Hispanic woman, it feels like my duty to celebrate and embrace my culture, but every year, that feels more complicated.
Today's blog post was meant to be a poem. Inspired by Yesika Salgado's poetry collection, Hermosa, I wanted to write a poem about code-switching, delivering lines that delicately move back and forth from English to Spanish. I wanted to explore the idea of ethnic labels, focusing on my own experiences as a Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian, and American woman. Dividing it by country and the food, music, and nuanced cultural upbringing of each, then somehow still falling under the umbrella of Hispanic but not feeling completely connected to the meaning behind any of the labels.
I was going to officially announce myself as a "No Sabo" kid, then contradict it with the surprising amount of Spanish I know. Reveal my complicated relationship with language as someone who has devoted their life to using the English language to tell beautiful and tragic stories but also has a cultural background that requires not just learning the Spanish language but the slang as well.
Similar to my previous investigation about the duplicity of language between a single family, I wanted to explain how sometimes thinking in one language but speaking in another makes words escape me. My brain lags as it fumbles trying to translate words fast enough to keep a conversation going with native speakers who argue with me about my speaking abilities when I'm the bilingual one, and they're not. I wanted to denounce being bilingual because no matter how hard I try, my Spanish will never be up to par.
I wanted to denounce all my labels because none quite define me.
I'm not Puerto Rican enough.
I'm not Ecuadorian enough.
I'm not American enough.
I'm not Hispanic enough.
I was going to proudly and metaphorically denounce these labels because they don't describe me. Because I'm exhausted. I'm tired of trying to code-switch well enough to shapeshift and fit into the mold of the label that best fits my surroundings. Every single time I try, I fail. The more it happens, the more I feel like a fraud. Someone pretending to be the authentic Puerto Rican raised on the island eating pernil, tostones, and mofongo, dancing to salsa, with an accent that sounds like a song waving my flag with pride. Someone pretending to be an authentic Ecuadorian eating qui and mote, dancing to folk music, casually using Quechua in conversation, waving my flag with pride. Someone pretending to be an authentic American eating burgers and fries with a cacophonous Jersey accent, dawning the stars and stripes with pride. None of it feels natural. I am all of it and none of it.
I had big aspirations for this poem, wanting to show off my ability to write melodiously in Spanish. However, none of it came to fruition.
The more I tried to write the poem, the more frustrated I grew. If I was going to make such a powerful statement, the words had to be perfect. Continuously thinking about how I belong to so many cultural communities but silently and subtly unwelcome made me sad and upset. The words had to flow melodiously but couldn't reveal my anger or sorrow. Yet again, I put myself in a position to prove I am enough and failed. The intention was never to prove anything but to share my story and experiences. So I refocused, removing the need to prove anything, and that's where this composition came from. I am proud to be who I am and to wear the labels however loosely, but it's not that simple. I'm sure others feel the same.