I know what you're thinking, "Cindy, you're fabulous and more than enough!" While I completely agree with you, there have been instances in my life where I have felt like I lost all Latino credibility. Let me explain.
Being the child of Peruvian immigrants has come with a set of ingrained cultural customs that I'm super proud of, but because I was born and raised in New Jersey, I am very much "American" compared to the rest of my family. This leads to some slightly complicated identity issues. For example, Latinos who live in the U.S. and don't speak Spanish well (if at all) catch flack all the time from Latinos who do. I speak Spanish fluently and have gotten the nod of approval of native speakers, but God forbid I forget a word! That's just one example because the struggle within our community manifests itself in all different kinds of ways.
And considering most Latinos identify with their country of origin, you can imagine how awkward it's been for me when a Peruvian born in Peru asks me what part of Peru I'm from. My response, "Well, actually I was born in New Jersey, but my parents are from . . ." elicits the condescending assertion: "You aren't REALLY Peruvian" and an accompanying eye roll. Well, damn, if only they knew how confused and disappointed non-Latinos are when I tell them I'm from New Jersey when they ask me where I'm from.
It's a little something like this . . .
Unfortunately, I'm not alone.
Actress Gina Rodriguez got her fair share of backlash last year when she spoke out about not needing to be completely fluent in Spanish in order to be Latino. Some people took this to heart and lost their minds on social media. Now with elections underway, you know that Senator Ted Cruz and Senator Marco Rubio are going to be sized-up once again based on their Latino cred. It seems like the question of who is and who isn't Latino enough will never go away.
But because I can laugh at myself, I've decided to share some instances in my life where I've felt like I wasn't "Latino enough" and hung my head in shame.
When my non-Latino friend knew what word to use in Spanish . . .
But I didn't. I was SO disappointed in myself. This so-called friend of mine (okay, maybe I'm still upset about it) had about two years of high school Spanish under her belt and somehow she managed to out-word me. Terrible! You better believe I went home and read like 200 pages of my Larousse dictionary.
When my Peruvian aunt called me a gringa
"But I worked so hard on my Spanish and my Peruvian accent!" is what I wanted to say but totally didn't or else my mom would have shot me the death stare and I wouldn't be able to write this post for you all. Her gringa reference made me feel so out of place. It was honestly the first time I knew that I would always be neither here nor there when it came to my identity.
When I forget a word in Spanish
You know what I'm talking about . . . like the word is on the tip of your tongue but you just can't get it out. This is ESPECIALLY disheartening and embarrassing when it happens in front of non-Latinos. They look at you like, "Oh well, I guess you tried?"
When a non-Latino dances better than me
I'm smart enough to know that not knowing how to dance salsa doesn't make you any less Latina, but I would be lying if I said I didn't feel just a LITTLE bit less Latina when a non-Latino dances better than I do. Like, what were all those family parties for, then!?
When others know more about Peru than I do
It starts with "Oh, Peru. I've been to that city and that mountain and that historical landmark and here, and here, and there and there . . . Have you?" And then I'll reply with, "Well, no. I've been to two of the places you've been to, but I usually also see family so it's hard to do a lot . . . " Then they go on and on about how beautiful my country is. Well, thanks for sharing.
When I didn't know the Spanish part in "La Isla Bonita"
Yes, this really happened. A fellow Latina turned to me while the song was playing at a party and said, "Do you not know the song? Wait, you at least know the Spanish part, right?!" When I answered no, I swear her eyeballs almost popped out of her head. Whatever, I don't know the Spanish lyrics in "La Isla Bonita." Does that really mean anything?
When I admit I don't like spicy food
It burns my mouth! I do not see the allure to spicy food. At. All. I get made fun of all the time because my dad puts aside non-spicy ceviche for me when he makes it for my family.
When I talk to Latinos in Spanish, but they respond in English
Am I in an episode of The Twilight Zone, because the waitress at my local restaurant clearly understood me. And I know it isn't an effort for her to practice her English because she says it in a super smug way. But I keep talking Spanish and just ignore the haters because I know my Spanish is good and more than enough!