As a first generation Latina, I am part of a legacy known as the American dream.
I am the daughter of a Peruvian goddess and a comedic Louisianan. Both of my parents are great cooks, so I was a very happy, chubby child. My mom immigrated from Lima, Peru, to Indiana in the late '80s. She was an exchange student and came here knowing very little English. She traveled alone and stayed with a family who didn't speak any Spanish. My parents met in college and the rest is history.
I was raised to the smell of lomo saltado and the sounds of huayno on Saturday mornings. I was brought up speaking Spanish. Marinera, cumbia, bachata, and salsa run in my blood. At 6, moving my hips to "Bidi Bidi Bom Bom" and festejos como "El Alcatraz" was as easy as walking.
My education was very Spanglish, meaning I had a library full of books in Spanish and English. When I started school, my teachers immediately called my mom in for a meeting, trying to figure out why I wasn't engaging in the classroom. They attributed it to Spanish being my first language and wanted to hold me back a grade. English grammar was definitely a major challenge. Teachers and classmates thought it was a little weird considering I was born in Ohio, but, hey, that's just the way I was raised.
In school, kids openly expressed their opinions about me and made fun of the "weird" way I spoke. I don't think they meant it to bother me, but hearing me translate Spanish into English and jumbling phrases into things like "house brown" or "car big" would usually provoke much laughter. I was so worried about fitting in that I focused on mastering English and slowly lost my ability to speak Spanish fluently. I wish I hadn't denied who I was. I assimilated to American culture while neglecting my Peruvian heritage.
I began embracing my culture when I realized it was what made me unique. Embracing who we are is what leads us home. When I get the opportunity to visit Peru, I am greeted with nothing but smiles and open arms from my abuelos, tios, y tias. I feel at home. I feel inspired to keep going and striving for more.
As I get closer to discovering who I am in this world, I look at my mother and all the hard-working immigrants as the fuel to my success. The immigrant story inspires me. I work as hard as I do to make my family proud and I will never stop.
I surpassed all stereotypes I faced in school by skipping two grades and passing all my classes with As. I can proudly say I put my education first and started chasing my psychology degree before I could legally put my hands on the wheel of a car. That was a proud moment.
I am proud of all the firsts: the moment I was cast as the first Peruvian girl to star in a Broadway show, Evita, and became the first Latina to ever hold a leading role in a Transformers film. I am working hands-on with UNICEF Peru and US. I am so proud of the work my Peruvian peers are doing, and I hope to keep using my voice to support those social causes. I strive to continue making my community proud.
To all my Latino friends and family, thank you for welcoming me even though I wasn't born on Latin-American soil. What is my proudest moment as a Latina? Every moment, every day.