When Kat Fajardo needs to vent or to self-reflect, the 25-year-old usually takes to her sketchbook to get her thoughts down. It’s been this way for a long time. One day Fajardo, an artist and illustrator, decided to share those intimate thoughts with the world. She could have never guessed what would happen next.
Fajardo illustrated a 17-page mini comic titled, Gringa!, in which she highlights the personal struggles of growing up as a first-generation Latina in the U.S. and how the cultures often clash with one another. She also delves into the complexities of racism, politics, immigration, and Latino stereotypes.
“I was terrified (of sharing the comic). I don’t really see comics discussing Latina issues when it comes to identity,” said the New York City native. “It’s been completely rewarding. I’ve had people contact me and say, ‘Oh yeah, I totally identified with this comic.’”
The comic is autobiographical and heavily incorporates Fajardo’s own struggle with assimilation; her mother is from Honduras and her father is from Colombia. But in sharing her story, Fajardo is also telling the story of thousands of Latinas who never quite felt like they fit in here nor there. A popular Spanish phrase perhaps explains it best: “Ni de aquí, ni de allá."
The cover of the comic in itself sends a powerful message, a young woman is split in half, figuratively speaking. On one side, she wears a frilly dress that’s traditional in many Latin American countries. Her long, dark hair is braided. On the other side, the young woman wears denim shorts and a T-shirt imprinted with the U.S. flag. Her hair is short and much lighter in color. She holds a larger sign with the comic’s title: "Gringa."
“It’s a term I really hate, when people use it to describe me, basically,” Fajardo said. “When I visit the homeland, they use that term to describe me.”
Fajardo is brutally honest, confident and sincere in her comic, mixing rounded, bubbly cartoon images with strong political and personal statements.
“As a 2nd generation kid why did I have
to feel shame over my own family’s background? Or the fact that they risked
their lives and used their life savings to travel up north due to poverty and
vicious gang activities. If anything, I should have proudly worn my heritage like
a medallion on my chest,” she writes.
Identity is a particularly tough concept for Latinos to grapple with, particularly for first-generation Latinos who often find themselves split between two mind-sets. A survey of more than 1,000 Latinos by the Pew Research Center sheds some light on how divided Latinos are when it comes to defining a common identity with fellow Americans: About 47 percent of those surveyed said they consider themselves to be "very different" from the typical American, according to Pew, and just one in five said they use the term American most often to describe their identity.
Janel Martinez, a second-generation Afro-Latina who created the online destination, “Ain’t I Latina?” said Latinas often experience a duality within their identities, in which language, values and dress come into play, among other things.
“Yes, you may love native dishes like machuca or mondongo, dance to merengue or salsa, but you may also really enjoy a hamburger or blast pop or hip-hop,” she tells Vivala.
“I think this ‘split identity’ is really shown among intergenerational relations. Parental criticism is very real. Our parents are used to doing things one way, we’re used to operating and doing things in our ‘new’ home and that causes some friction. My parents didn’t understand certain things I did/wanted to do, and some friends and classmates didn’t understand why I did certain things,” Martinez continues.
For Fajardo, sharing her journey publicly has been liberating. “It was definitely worth it. In a way it’s been rewarding,” she said. “(Before) I was too afraid to talk about racial issues in America.”
Her message to fellow inter-generational Latinas struggling to define themselves?
“Just ignore what everyone has to say. It was something I really wish I’d done in my adolescent years,” she said. “Just embrace yourself. Your raza.”