Ever since I could remember, whenever anyone asked me where I was from I would say "I'm Dominican." It's where my parents are from and the nationality that I grew up knowing my entire life, but all of that was put into question during the Summer of 2011.
I felt so confused. I had identified my entire life as being Dominican and to hear my own family say I wasn't threw me for a loop.
I was in Dominican Republic visiting my mom's family when we started having a conversation about what we identify as. Everyone said they identified as Dominican and when I said I did too, the crowd went silent for a moment and then started laughing. "What's so funny?" I said, and they told me it was the fact that I said I was Dominican when I'm not. "What do you mean?" I asked. Their answer: I was born in the United States, so that makes me American, not Dominican. I was confused, but no more than when I told my parents what happened, and they agreed with my aunts and cousins. They also thought I should tell people I'm American, not Dominican if questioned about my identity. I felt so confused. I had identified my entire life as being Dominican, and to hear my own family say I wasn't threw me for a loop.
In my experience, in the US, when you look a certain way and people ask where you're from, they're not looking for you to simply say "I'm American." It always felt weird answering that way, because that would without a doubt bring up the follow-up question, "But, where is your family from?" If I'm going to have to explain that my family is Dominican and I was born and raised in New York City, why go through so much trouble to end back at the same thing. "I'm Dominican" — it's just simpler.
Yes, I am an American because I am a citizen of the United States, but my heart is where my parents and extended family are from. My heart is Dominican. My family's background played a role in the way I was raised and the person I am today.
It's already hard enough when we have society and its president labeling people based on what they look like. Why should I have to label myself too because of where I was born? Why can't it be OK to just be me and continue to identify however I want to, the way I feel most comfortable identifying myself? I don't care what anyone thinks: I feel a connection with my heritage that goes beyond my place of birth. I'm Dominican through and through.