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My identity as a Latina only became clear and solid in my last year of high school, when I had to describe to colleges and universities who I was.
Growing up in Sanford, I lived in a predominantly white neighborhood, went to a predominantly white school and Spanish wasn’t really used in our house.
There will always be pressure to conform to one identity, and as a young Peruvian-Puerto Rican-American woman and a third-generation immigrant, I felt this pressure constantly. Some of my peers would tell me that I wasn’t the same as the other Hispanics since I didn’t fit their idea of what a Hispanic should be. Yes, I like to read classic literature; yes, I like ’80s music; and yes, I like to watch Star Wars with my dad. Pero, me encanta bailar, mi plato favorito es el lomo saltado y me gusta el reggaetón (a music style that has roots in Puerto Rico) también.
During those times, I joined NC SLI (Scholars’ Latino Initiative), which is now LatinxEd. LatinxEd is an educational initiative in N.C. providing targeted, multi-year support to Latinx students and immigrant families striving for higher education and greater opportunity in a state. From the workshops and help with college prep, I learned that even though I might feel disconnected from my Hispanic roots, my experience wasn’t different from others. The experiences that I’ve lived don’t make me any less Latina.
Also, I have been fortunate to live with my grandmother, Maru. She has played a role in helping me form a strong sense of identity with my Hispanic roots. She has taught me a big part of my Peruvian culture and heritage. Because we had her in our household, my sister and I experienced Peruvian Spanish (the best dialect according to her), tried arroz chaufa and listened to her stories from Peru about our family. Now, my comfort level using Spanish has increased a lot since I’ve been practicing with her. I understand conversations in Spanish, I just answer back in English — something that I’m working on.
I know now that because I get caught between two worlds, I have a solid sense of individualism and can reside in the cultural shades of gray. I realize what a blessing it is to experience three cultures in one lifetime.
As my grandmother would tell me, “Never forget who you are. Make sure you have character and do the right thing.”
News + Record intern Olivia Rojas is a part of the newspaper’s La Voz de Chatham reporting team. She’s a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill and lives in Sanford.