Even though I was born and raised in the United States, I can’t say that I ever felt very American when I lived there. Occasionally, I would feel a surge of American pride – like during the Olympics or on the anniversary of September 11th – but otherwise I strongly identified with being Latina. Spanish was the only language spoken in my home growing up. I wore a Menudo shirt for my first grade class picture. My favorite dish growing up was the Peruvian classic lomo saltado. When I met someone new in America, and they inevitably asked “What are you?” after making a joke that I was indeed human, I would respond – half Peruvian and half Salvadorean. I said this even though I have never been to Peru, and I went to El Salvador only once when I was eight. When I moved to Europe, this all changed. “What are you?” was replaced with “Where are you from?” At first it felt odd to be classified as American, but it took moving across the Atlantic to discover my inherent American-ness.
The first people to identify me as American were my co-workers. During our coffee breaks and lunches I would get asked questions like – “Were you scared of drive by shootings? Do you really pledge allegiance to the flag? Is it true that people have lunch sitting in front of the computer? Is it true that women wear sneakers to commute to work?” When I lived in New York, these things were just a part of my every day life and I never stopped to think that they were “American.” While pick pocketing and theft are rampant in Barcelona, I rarely hear stories of gun violence. Thinking about it now, it is kinda weird that I stood up with my hand over my heart and pledged allegiance to the flag of the United States of America every day of my elementary school life. I often ate lunch at my desk to save time and I’d save my feet the torture of commuting in three inch heels by changing into a pair of comfortable Tory Burch flats. Wasn’t this just logical? Or did this make me American?
My expat friends also classified me as distinctly American based on the way I spoke English. I lived in an apartment not in a flat. I went on vacation not on holiday. I reserved the word film for something Oscar worthy not to refer to X-Men:First Class. When I said, “I should have worn pants today,” it was not a pick up line inferring I was not wearing undies. At work I was once told my writing was too American and to please refrain from spelling things with the letter zed. I didn’t realiZe that one letter of the alphabet was the scarlet letter of an American.
I think I it really hit home when I got pangs of homesickness and craved all things American. I longed for bagels, barbecued chicken, greasy fatty cheeseburgers, and light and fluffy pancakes. I longed for the days of working for an American company were I had the flexibility to work from home and was free to take vacation whenever I wanted and not just in the month of August. After working nearly 10 hours a day – I missed all the conveniences of America – the kitchen shortcuts, the readily available and delicious take out, and stores open late 7 days a week. I was sad when I had to work on Thanksgiving and the 4th of July.
Yes – it took leaving the US for me to understand that I am not only Latina but also American- that I embody the new American reality. The 2010 census revealed that there are now 50 Million Hispanics living in America. Univision created this video about being Latino in America today, and I really identified with it. Because I am a proud Latina but also a proud American (well most of the time)…