As a POC child growing up in America, I straddled two universes.
On one hand, I was a part of the America where being on the cheerleading squad, listening to pop, rock, or rap, and watching the latest episode of 90210 were important. On the other, I was a part of an America where being invited to be a dama in a quinceañera, listening to Banda Machos, and watching Muchachitas were equally important.
I think this is often the case for people who immigrate to this country, though I do believe that it can be a part of the lives of people whose family stretches in America for generations. The home life links you to your family’s past and culture while the professional or school life tethers you to mainstream (Anglo) America. When I was younger, this felt like a lot of work, straddling two cultures.
As a POC adult, I find myself with both feet squarely planted in white America and further away from the Latino-landia that surrounded me when I was younger. I pondered for a long time why that was. Here’s what I realized. As a young person, I was inculcated in the Latino world of my parents. My parents attended and sponsored weddings, baby showers, and quinceañeras. I participated in these activities because my parents did not hire babysitters to care for my brothers and I at home while they went out. No. We attended all of those activities. Everyone in our community did the same, it was standard. Result, I was around Spanish, food, friends, and familia.
Now, I live in a largely caucasian world. In my hometown, Latinos make up less than 5% of the population. The majority of my friends are non-Latinos and I have no extended family to lean on for Mexican-style fun. Spanish is spoken for business purposes or to converse with my family members by phone or social media. And, the only other Latina I interact with on a regular (daily) basis is my legal assistant. This means that my mom is not around daily to share the stories of our family, no friend to turn up the music when a good Banda song comes on, and no older aunt to remind me to prepare a family altar for Dia del Muerto. And I can forget about having a posada, who would I even invite?
This question stayed with me for a long while…
How do we, the Americanized children of immigrants, continue to connect to our cultures when we no longer live within our immigrant communities?
I realized that the effort had to come from me. It was my responsibility to create opportunities for myself to connect to my culture. Here’s a list of the things that I started to do to help me reconnect:
Find organizations that can help you connect with your culture. Join a business or social organizations (check out MANA or your local Hispanic Chamber of Commerce) or participate in a faith-based communities (in my town, a local Catholic Church holds mass in Spanish every Sunday).
Get lost in the world of entertainment. Read books by POC authors. Find a movie or show on your favorite streaming services (bonus points if you watch it in your native language.) Play music from the artists your parents liked (this will give you a strong wave of nostalgia.)
Force yourself to cook recipes from your culture correctly. The yummy results will transport you to your past and give you a sense of appreciation for the love and work your parents put into meals.
Make it a point to visit your OG community for fun activities and events. When the covid-19 pandemic ends, my goal is to return to Garden City, KS for the 16th of September celebrations that occur annually.
Bring your culture into your own world. For example, if you are in a book club, select a book written by a POC author this way, you share your culture with your non-POC friends.
Finally, learn your native language or teach it to your children. According to a mentor I once had, older generations hesitated to teach their children the native languages because diversity was frowned upon before. My mentor recalled being punished in schools for speaking Spanish, even in a lunchroom setting. However, the tides have turned. Your kid will not be smacked with a ruler on the knuckles for speaking Spanish. Teaching yourself or your children the native language will provide a link to their past or enable them to communicate with family still in the old country. More importantly, in our increasingly multicultural country and ever-shrinking world, knowing more than one language is an asset.
What are the things you do to connect with your culture?