An “Americanized” Hispanic Reconnects to Her Roots

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By MONICA TYSON
Contributing Writer
Published: September 21, 2011

September is the end of summer, the beginning of fall, the start of a new school year and… National Hispanic Heritage Month? Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know that last one, because neither did I, and I’m Mexican. Many people have limited knowledge about Hispanics, other than the stereoptype that we have lots of cousins and eat rice and beans, or “arroz con frijoles.”

Being of Mexican ethnicity myself, I’m surprisingly out of touch with my heritage. I’ve found myself dating a Colombian who is immersed in his culture daily. My boyfriend, Braulio, was born and raised in Jackson Heights, Queens, which is not only the most diverse community in the United States, but also home to one of the largest Hispanic communities. Braulio and I found our Hispanic upbringings exceedingly different.

I was raised in Virginia Beach, Va. My heritage was not enforced and practiced as much as I would have liked. I’m a first-generation American, but prior to dating Braulio, I had no identification with the Hispanic community. My mother kept her Hispanic heritage from my brother and I as children because she wanted nothing to do with it. In her eyes she left Mexico and everything in it; why have a constant reminder of what she left? As a result, Taco Bell was the closest thing to Hispanic heritage I experienced as a Mexican living in Virginia.

On the other hand, Braulio and his family brought their Colombian traditions to the United States by speaking Spanish in their home, cooking traditional Colombian dishes, housing his grandmother (as many Hispanic families do) and using more than one last name!

Being “Americanized,” I feel as if I’ve missed out on my Hispanic heritage. The only time I was taught Spanish was in school, the only traditional Mexican food I had was from El Tapatio, my mother’s favorite, and until recently I could not communicate with my grandparents because of the language barrier. Although my mother’s Mexican culture was absent from my life, I am happy I’ve been able to connect with it now, especially here in New York City. With strength in numbers, the Hispanic community in New York holds to its traditions and is welcoming in sharing them. I’ve been able to connect with not only Mexican and Colombian Hispanics but also with Puerto Ricans, Ecuadorians, Dominicans and Peruvians to name a few.

Going to college is a big deal for my family and Braulio’s, as we will be the first to graduate. Having the opportunity to succeed and obtain a college degree as a Hispanic demonstrates the successes of the Hispanic community as a whole. It is important to let others know that Hispanics are more than their stereotypes of rice and bean eaters, construction men, house cleaners, busboys, nannies and mean salsa, meringue and bachata dancers! The Hispanic community is making strides because of people like Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Ulissis Peinado, responsible for some of the most innovative architecture in Miami, George and Jennifer Lopez, icons for the Hispanic community—the list goes on.

Being Hispanic means I get to take pride in the successes of those in the Hispanic community. I’ve become part of a world that cherishes its own dances, cuisines, holidays and traditions. Although I was not raised celebrating these aspects of my culture, I’m more than ecstatic to absorb and pass these things on to my future children. Hispanic Americans find themselves, as many immigrants do, trying to balance two worlds: being American and maintaining their Hispanic roots. The process is not always easy, but should be considered necessary as a bridge to and from our American and Hispanic heritages…it must be built.