This Is What It Was Like to Grow Up as a Half-Latina
I was born in Houston to a Peruvian-born mom and a white American dad. My twin sister and I only spoke Spanish until we were 4 and picked up English quickly once we were put in school. Even though we grew up in a very diverse city with a huge Hispanic population, I never really felt defined by my half-Latina status, until after my mom passed away when I was 11, and my dad moved us to small-town Newport, OR. I guess while you're surrounded by people who look just like you, you just are.
In Oregon, everyone from teachers to friends seemed determined to mark us as "different" or "other" (the last thing any school-aged kid wants to be) and check off the stereotypes they already had in their minds about us little Latina-looking girls before getting to know us.
There I was just Latina, not half-Latina. Even my own white dad saw us that way. He let our surroundings sway him and laughed in my face, when, upon being asked about my goals, I told a relative I wanted to go to college in New York and be a magazine writer. Because Latina girls didn't go out to be magazine editors, right? That was "just not something we did." (To his credit, he came around and has always been one of my biggest supporters.)
It wasn't until I got to college in New York that I started to see my perceived full Latina status as a perk, not a hindering part of my self. There I was able to embrace my Latina status instead of seeing it as a box I fit into according to others.
In high school, I often felt like I had to work twice as hard to make my teachers believe that I cared about doing well, getting good grades, and going to a good college — it was that stereotype again, that I couldn't be Latina and also be on the road to success. More than once, I felt like I was met with skepticism when handed back a paper with an A and very few grammar corrections, like my teachers almost couldn't believe one of the "others" could actually be a decent writer — it didn't matter that I was technically "half other." In college, that changed. I felt encouraged to embrace my status and, in some cases, felt doubly welcomed because of my half and half status, my "otherness." In a place like New York, I was hardly the most "different" person my classmates and coworkers had ever encountered.
As an American-born half-Latina, one of my biggest pet peeves is having people ask me: "Where are you from? No, where are you really from? Where are you from from?" That's a hardly disguised attempt to ask "What are you?" It's a pet peeve, because I'm not just one thing. Yes, I'm half-Peruvian, but I feel it's incorrect to say I'm from Peru, as I wasn't born there and have never spent more than two weeks at a time there, much less lived there. But I am Latina, so what if it's only half?
At 30, I try to embrace my Peruvian-ness in whatever ways I can, from cooking Peruvian specialties for my Mexican fiancé to exploring all the Houston-area Peruvian restaurants with my eager and enthusiastic American friends to using my English-writing skills to help other native Spanish speakers when needed. I try to return to Peru every chance I get to learn more about my roots and family, that side that has always defined me so much simply because of the way I look.
As a child, my parents took my sister and I to Machu Picchu twice, where we made the trip to the ruins by bus. It was really special for me to return 20 years later and make the entire hike on foot with my now-fiancé during his first trip to South America. That connection and pride is what I looked for, and now I have it. I'm proud of the diversity I bring to a job and my community. I'm proud to be Latina, even if it's just half.