My Struggle with What Being Hispanic Means to Me

My childhood was filled with Spanish chatter and the smell of amazing Ecuadorian dishes that my grandma would make for us. 

I learned Spanish before English and grew up fully immersed in Hispanic culture, but I never felt as if I completely belonged.

My dad is of Jewish descent and my mom is from Ecuador and my features resemble my dad’s more than my mom’s. My sisters, on the other hand, have features that resemble my mom more.

This means I grew up having to hear how my sisters looked Hispanic and I did not - I even got the nickname “Casper” from family members on my mom’s side.

What bothered me about these comments was that I felt like I was being told who I was, what I could feel connected to and what group I belonged to based off of my physical appearance.

One’s identity should not be tied to their physical appearance, because there is no one set way a Hispanic person should look. 

What Telling People Where They Belong Does 

When people told me, “you don’t look Hispanic,” it created doubt and insecurity in myself about who I was and what I could connect with. I wish things were different and that we didn’t let the way others see us affect, but it does.

I felt that because people told me I didn’t look Hispanic or fit into the stereotype of what Hispanic people looked like, that I was not allowed to fully claim and be proud of this part of myself.

I started to doubt my Spanish and my right to claim to be Hispanic. I slowly stopped talking to my mom in Spanish and would only use it when necessary, like when speaking with my grandma.

By the time I got to college my Spanish was rough and I didn’t feel connected to that part of myself anymore. I felt awkward, as if I wasn’t white and Jewish enough and as if I wasn’t Hispanic enough.

However, slowly college changed the way I viewed myself and what parts of myself I embraced and connected with. 

How College Allowed Me to Embrace My Hispanic Heritage 

Moving away from home for college was difficult for me because I’m close with my family, and Gainesville is different than my hometown in South Florida.

I no longer heard Spanish spoken around me or had the chance to eat my grandma’s amazing home-cooked dishes. Her dishes reminded me of times spent together with family.

I had to make an active choice to feel connected to my family and culture while all alone in Gainesville.

After taking a Spanish class for bilingual speakers at UF my sophomore year, I finally met a group of students that felt the same way I did.

Some felt that they weren’t Hispanic enough because they were too Americanized, others related to feeling unable to connect with their culture because they didn’t fit the stereotypical Hispanic look.

This class was filled with discussions about what it meant to be Hispanic and how this broad phrase meant something different to every person.

Discussing my feelings with people who could relate to me for one of the first times in my life reassured me that I belonged somewhere. 

College has taught me that nobody fits into a box perfectly.

We all have diverse backgrounds and parts of ourselves that we should embrace and be proud of, no matter what anybody else might say about us.

There is not a checklist that everybody has to tick off to able to say that yes, they are Hispanic enough.

The culture and traditions I was raised with are those that my Hispanic mother was raised with and then passed down and instilled in me.

I am Hispanic. I want to be able to pass down all the amazing things encompassed in that to my kids one day. I am who I am today because of my background and the way I was raised.

It hurt me to have people tell me what I was and that I wasn’t enough of something.

College has allowed me to be confident in myself and embrace all parts of myself.

I now have Spanish as one of my minors and I am trying to improve my grammar, reading and understanding of my culture every day. I have never felt more comfortable and confident in who I am - and that is a Hispanic woman.