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Thursday, May 23, 2024

It’s really weird to be confused about your cultural identity. I will always say I am Puerto Rican before I am Mexican and before I am American. My family is huge and loud and very Hispanic. We’re great fun at parties. At the same time, however, I’ve often felt like I’m “too white” to be Hispanic and “too Hispanic” to be American, and it’s frustrating to explain to my friends and family when I feel like I can’t fully fit in with them.

I feel like I’m closer to the Puerto Rican side of my family, mostly because they’re who I grew up with. Their pride for the island and its culture is incredibly powerful and contagious, and that’s what I’ve been exposed to for most of my life. My white friends knew how loud and fun my family’s parties were and typically made comments like, “I love your crazy Puerto Rican family.” The problem with this is that I don’t really fit in with the wild or crazy aspects of my family. I don’t dance, I’m not loud and I’ve never been one to shout “Wepa!” when I get excited.

Socially, I could fit in with the Mexican side of my family more than my Puerto Rican side because I have a similar personality and temperament to my cousins from that side of my family. It was mostly the language barrier that made it hard for me to feel like I belonged. I felt dumb and childlike whenever I had to ask my family to slow down or repeat something multiple times, even though I know it’s irrational for me to feel that way. Other than that, only little things set me apart from them. I cannot, for the life of me, handle spicy food, and I don’t really care for salsa or guacamole, although my roommate and friends are helping me work on that.

As for the 100-percent Americans in my life, trying to fit in with them has always been a bit weird. My friends were allowed to stay out as late as they wanted after they turned 18 years old because they were legally considered adults by the law and their parents, but convincing my parents to let me stay out past midnight was like pulling teeth. Even before I could leave the house, I’d have to provide an in-depth account of where I was going and whom I was going with. In regard to my curfew, my friends would say things along the lines of, “Tell your mom no.” My response to this was dying inside and trying to laugh it off because I knew if I ever told my mom no, my soul would leave my body.

What has consistently made me feel like an outsider to both my family and friends, though, was that my American friends had so many ideas of what a Mexican or Puerto Rican person should be like, and I hardly fit any of their expectations. I felt like I had to be fluent in Spanish and able to cook traditional dishes perfectly. To them, I had to eat Mexican food for every meal and have a million relatives at my house at all times. It was frustrating to me, mostly because some people automatically expected me to be so much more “ethnic” than I was so that I could fit archetypes, like the “fiery Latina,” for their entertainment — although I do admit I fit that role pretty well when I get upset about something. What I’m getting at is you can save yourself some confusion by knowing you don’t have to fit every stereotype to belong to a culture. So raise a glass to the Hispanics who don’t speak Spanish, the Americans who don’t like football and every other person who doesn’t fit their ethnicity’s stereotypical mold.

Alexa DeLoera is a UF political science senior. Her column appears on Fridays.

 

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