Updated: Feb 6, 2022
I live in the United States of America, and here, I am a Latina; I am no longer only Nicaraguan. Just like the Costa Ricans, Salvadorans, Colombians, Argentineans, and all the people from Latin America, I belong to the Latin American community. We are all the cultures of every Latin country combined into one.
This year marked my 10th year in San Francisco, CA. Throughout the years of filing paperwork for universities, visas, and hospital visits, I’ve always had to check a box that classifies my Ethnicity. The answer most fitting to me is Hispanic/Latino. I proudly check off that box. Still, when I do, I can’t help but wonder about which kind of stereotype will I be placed under. What does Hispanic/Latino mean for the people analyzing my Ethnicity? And, what if is not the same as it means for me?
For me, being Latina means that passion is in your genes, and it guides you. It guides you when your country feels too small for you to grow in. Your passion guides you when your intuition whispers …the world is your home, your country is just a starting point, go on, explore your world. It means you know there is a world that exists outside of your family portrait, and you want to conquer it. Being Latina means you are determined; you are eager to discover what is out there waiting for you. It means that you will pack your bags and fly into the unknown. Most likely, you will crash-land on an unfamiliar place, with no cushioned bed for your back to softly rest, but you will get somewhere. You will dream and work for the opportunities of the new country. You will get up every day and fight for what you know you want.
To be Latina means that your family will fly more than 3,000 miles to see you graduate and commemorate your accomplishment together. It means that they will celebrate your first job on the other side of the phone line. They will scream, laugh, and cheer, and you will feel them right next to you, and their excitement will keep you warm. You will attend your siblings’ weddings and your nephew’s birth via Facetime. You will be part of the family gathering during your Abuela’s funeral, watching on your phone screen how everyone hugs and celebrates her life.
There will be times when life gets complicated, and you will figure it might be time to go back. But wait, now you have a home and a family and good friends. So, as a good Latina, you will stay in your new city because that is what you do, you don’t give up easily. You will have feelings of gratitude, anxiety, and hope all mixed up into one powerful energy. It will carry you for years, even if you fail the visa lottery twice. When your work permit expires like mine did, you will learn to navigate the immigration system. You will be patient and wait until the day you open your mailbox and discover your Green Card has finally arrived.
To be Latina means that you are continually thinking about your family back where they are. You will make yourself available to help them whenever they ask. It means that you will teach your mom to video chat over Whatsapp so you can be closer to each other. You will spend your work commute speaking with her discussing why you don’t want to go back, and live a comfortable life with them. You will explain to her once again that comfort and convenience, even though you’d kill for a week off house chores and childcare, is not what you seek. For you now know that the extra hard work is worth it if it will help you maintain the independence you’ve acquired.
To be Latina means that you and your friends will share stories about your home country over a warm Phở, or while celebrating Thanksgiving eating Pumpkin Pie. You will take your Brazilian friends to eat Nicaraguan food, and you will be invited by your Salvadoran friends to eat the best Pupusas in town. It means that at friends’ parties, you will hear a melody in Spanish and English, sprinkled with some Portuguese, Russian, and French; the voices of people from around the world who are united, for now, in this place, they chose to call home.
Being Latina means that you have an 85-year old aunt who tells you all the stories of your hometown. She lives in the Mission District, where everybody knows her even though she doesn’t speak English. She spends most of her days watching a mix of Mexican Novelas and Wild West movies, Don Francisco and Noticiero Univision. She is the Giants’ biggest fan, she watches every game, and even if they keep losing, she cheers them on with passion… because Baseball is her sport, the one that ties her to her Latin American roots back home. This aunt provides a safe space for the ones who’ve left their warm homes searching for a different life. She cooks the best gallopinto and a delicious Sopa de Res that will make you nap on her couch for five hours straight. She will keep the roots of your culture alive. Once a year, for her birthday, she will reunite all sorts of people for a party that starts at 4 pm with no ending time. Where her sobrinos will make new primos, and good friends will turn into first-degree family members. You will go to her birthday party and drink tequila and beer. The sobrinos will be playing the piano, maracas, and guitar. They will be singing La vida es un carnaval while she dances in the middle of what yesterday was her living room, but for tonight is her dance floor. She would likely be dressed in red, smiling, singing, living, being happy, surrounded by the people who love her. To be a Latina means that you will find family wherever you land.
As Latina, you get to carry your culture around the world and are allowed to choose which parts of that culture makes sense for you. You can modify it for yourself, adjust it for your lifestyle. You no longer have to adapt your personality to only one culture and beliefs. You can mix up your culture with the culture of a new country that is also yours; that’s part of your life as much as your original country was. It means that you are from more than one place, you have history here and there.
Being a Latina means that you will use your voice, art, or skills to join your people in protest against yet another dictatorship that wants to ring lawless over them. You will write poems in the form of protest, and sing songs that stir controversy. You will paint your flag one brushstroke at a time to show the world the amount of people that have died standing their ground, protecting their land. You will hurt from afar, see the blood staining your beautiful paradise, and you will care. You will care for the people who’ve lost their jobs because of the political crisis, and those wrongly jailed for practicing their right to protest. You will collect funds for them, bake cookies, buy bracelets, host dinner parties, buy raffle tickets, you will do whatever you can. You will go out to the streets of your new city and protest for your country’s freedom.
Unfortunately, being Latina also means that you are a number. Part of a statistic. When I had my first child, the doctors would ask me what kind of contraceptive I was going to take to not get pregnant again anytime soon. — You know Latin American women have too many kids in their households. The numbers show that they have one kid after the other, and that’s not great, honey! — Thank God it was until I was 30 years old that I felt the burden of being part of the wrong statistic instead of a unique human being. But because I am Latina, I dared to twist around the negativity that was imposed on me by the health care system. In time, I learned to use the numbers in my favor. Today, I am proud to say that I am a Latina who holds two Master’s Degrees. And that I feel comfortable working in the white male-dominated tech industry in San Francisco. As a Latina, that is a number I am proud of. It serves as exposure of what we are capable of doing with the support of family, friends, and the secure web that Latinos have thread for one another as a unified community.
One of the best parts of being Latina is the accent. We talk so beautifully different, we always did, and we will ever do. Our accent is an asset. We speak kind of singing, and we immediately know to differentiate a person from Chile to one from Panama just by hearing their accents. As Latinos, we are free to approach a person we hear speaking Spanish, and engage in a conversation that sounds something like this: You gotta be from Nicaragua, am I right? — Yes, I am from Nicaragua. — I knew it, me too! Nice to meet you. — Nice to meet you too! And then you go on with your life reminiscing about your country, your food, your family and your friends.