photo: iStock

I was born in San Jose, Costa Rica — land of beautiful beaches, delicious coffee and green mountains. You could say I've always kind of felt "Americanized" even though I was born in Central America. I learned English when I was two years old and went to an American high school in Costa Rica. My parents loved watching movies, and my dad always brought us the Disney movies (in English). I don't really count English as a second language, to me it's the same as Spanish. I remember in school my classmates would tease me, "Oh, you're such a gringa." I guess it's because the way I spoke, "Simplemente, that's the way I am" I'd reply. Spanglish was the language, kind of like Dora the Explorer.

Paola Ruiz
photo: Paola Ruiz

I came to the US when I was 18. It's hard to believe that was almost nine years ago! I moved straight out of high school to Savannah, Georgia for one year. Later, I transferred to New York City, where I spent almost three years studying fashion design. The truth is, Savannah was cute, but it just wasn't my cup of tea. I always wanted to live in a big city. In New York I had all kinds of friends, Americans from New Jersey and North Carolina, and Latinos from Colombia and El Salvador. I started learning about stereotypes. "You don't look Latina," people would say all the time. But how is a Latina supposed to look? I have dark blonde hair and very fair skin, so I guess I am not the "traditional" tan, brunette Latina they had in mind. "Why don't you have an accent?" they would ask. I can totally get my Sofia Vergara on and throw on a Latina accent, but I can also speak perfectly English because of my education and the fact that I learned the language such a young age.

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As I became friends with Latinos from other countries, I also came to the realization that Costa Rica is one of the few countries in Latin America where that the majority of people speak English. All my friends back home, and almost everyone in my family, speaks good English. And it's not only people that I know, a lot of people in the country, at least in the urbanized areas, speak English. Part of it is that Costa Rica is huge on tourism, but the truth is I find Costa Rica to be a very "Americanized" country. I did not really experience a huge culture shock when I came to the U.S. After New York, I moved to Miami, where I currently reside, which almost feels like being in Costa Rica. It's super close, so friends and family visit all the time, and I mean all the time — Miami has always been a popular shopping destination for us Ticos. But also, Miami is a totally Latin city, hello Little Havana! I speak mostly Spanish here.

Paola Ruiz and her husband
photo: Paola Ruiz
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I have always considered myself multi-cultural. My husband is Brazilian and I also speak Portuguese, but what's funny is that we mostly communicate in English, with the occasional Spanish and Portuguese ramblings or as we call it, "Portuñol". But now that I have been living in the US for nearly ten years, I feel stuck between two cultures. I go back home once or twice a year for the holidays, but it doesn't really feel like "home" anymore. Sometimes I feel like I am losing my identity. I've changed so much and my life is so different in the U.S. that sometimes it creates a divide, because I can’t identify with the people in Costa Rica.

How is my life different in the US? Well for instance, its just me and my husband, we don’t have any family here, we don’t have anyone to babysit the dog or the kids (when we have kids). We have to do most things on our own. My friends in Costa Rica get a lot of help; I would definitely say life is a lot easier there in many ways. But there are also a lot of things that I like better about living in the U.S., like the efficiency. Similar to most things in life, both cultures and both countries have their advantages and disadvantages. I am always going to feel a little between both worlds, but I am learning to embrace the duality. I love being Latina — I always will — we have that something extra, that motivation, una pasión por la vida. I was blessed with living a different experience and it is what I wanted for my life. I will always carry Costa Rica with me, I will always be that Spanglish-speaking “Americanized” Latina and I love that, no stereotypes here.