My Hispanic identity is complicated

By Gabriella Pinos/Assistant Entertainment Director

When I ask Hispanics born in the United States where they’re from, some respond the same way as me: “I don’t know.” My friends and I debate over what label to wear or what passport we should base our nationality off of. It’s a hard question to answer, especially in a city where our background is crucial to our identity.

During annual trips to Ecuador, the country my family originates from, I feel like an outsider. My Spanish isn’t as refined compared to my cousins, and I shy away from talking too much in fear of my gringa accent coming out.

But back home, I even struggle to relate to those around me. After all, there aren’t as many Ecuadorians in Miami compared to other nationalities.

While I can read and write in my native tongue can I even call Spanish my native tongue? carrying a conversation with fast-speaking Cubans is intimidating. I feel bad for asking them to repeat what they said or explain something about their country since it’s common knowledge for the majority of the people in my city.

Because of that, I’ve always felt divided from the rest of my Hispanic peers, even though I’m not sure where that stigma comes from. It’s always been festering inside me, whether it’s a product of my own lack of self-confidence or a disconnect between my two worlds.

In times like these, I look back to my parents’ story to predict how mine will end. Like me, my mother spent the first 20 years of her life in her hometown, which at the time was nothing more than a tiny dot on a map. But unlike me, she was the last of nine siblings living in a four-bedroom house, and she eventually moved to the capital of Quito where she met my father.

Though she continues to celebrate her heritage in the States through the food she cooks, the terrible jokes she tells and the WhatsApp chat she shares with her siblings, she tries to adapt to American culture. She speaks English in public, listens to American preachers and watches local news in English. “We live in America, so we have to adapt to American customs,” she tells me, but ironically in Spanish.

My father, on the other hand, was used to the States from the start. He was born in Chicago to Ecuadorian parents, who then returned to Quito and raised him and his brother there. I don’t consider myself to be half-American, but my dad has always been more Americanized than some of the other Hispanic men his age, even down to his taste in music.

It’s clear that I’ve assimilated to American culture in the time I’ve lived here, even though I’m surrounded by people with the same ethnicity as me. But when my parents tell tales of their childhood in the Andes, and I recall its beautiful sights from car rides to the coast, I can’t help but fall in love with a country I’ve never lived in. Sure, my family belongs there, so does that mean I do too? Miami is what I truly know, but its flat, porous earth isn’t nearly as exciting as what I sometimes call my “home country.”

I might be overthinking my identity as I tend to do, but this experience has been at the center of my life as a young adult. If anything, it’s shown me that identity is more intricate than I thought. Being Latin American has less to do with your birthplace and more do to with a community.

So who are the people in my community? They’re like me: first- or second-generation Hispanics who don’t understand the lengths our parents went through to arrive in this country. We take this city we live in for granted and romanticize the scenery from our family’s homeland. We don’t assimilate to the all-American dream, but we’re still living it.

We’re all stuck in the middle, wondering where we came from and where we’ll go next. Knowing that I’m not alone, that I belong somewhere, makes me proud of my heritage.

Photo by Yamil Salinas Martinez on Flickr.

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