Latinx Heritage Month Series: What Latinidad Means to You
In collaboration with Latinx Heritage Month (LHM) Committee, Voices asked Swarthmore students: what does Latinidad mean to you? Read students responses and reflections on navigating and celebrating Latinx identity, culture, and experiences at Swarthmore and beyond.
The way I connect mostly to my heritage is through the music that I listen to. I love walking to classes, wearing my earphones, just feeling the music. One day it’s going to be cumbia, one day salsa, one day bachata, reggaeton, everything. It’s a mix, but I love that. I also try to cook whenever I can. Being myself, too. My heritage is part of who I am so being myself is celebrating that.
For the first year that I was here I didn’t connect to my heritage. I didn’t think about. Being from my hometown, which is predominately Hispanic, I never thought about being Mexican, I just was. I came here and that realization hit me and I just didn’t deal with it. I had a bit of an identity crisis and then I was working over the summer and I discovered this band called Making Movies and they put the immigrant struggle in their music. They talk a lot about migration and all of the struggles that come with being an immigrant in America and I think that became the way that I connected with my immigrant identity. I’m not super comfortable saying I’m just Mexican or just American, but I definitely am a Mexican-American.
As a freshman, I haven’t really been able to experience my heritage at Swarthmore. The only way I’ve been able to do that is through ENLACE, which I do appreciate because I get to meet other Latinx people and enjoy our collective heritages. But I’m Dominican, and I haven’t really met any other Dominican people at Swarthmore, and when I finally did I was so happy. It’s through making connections with people, that’s the best way that I’m gonna connect to my heritage at Swarthmore.
Latinidad means a lot of things to me. The words that come to mind when I think about it most saliently are: family, community, legacies of resistance, legacies of revolution, lineages of strong women, and good food.
The term “Latinx” is so loaded. Being indigenous, I’ve often felt it’s really hard for me to identify fully with the term “Latinx” because it’s a colonial term. All of us together – there’s nothing really similar about all of these different places, they’re so diverse, except for our colonial history, and even our colonizers were a little different. Even knowing that, I still find a lot of community within other Latinos.
I tend to give people the benefit of the doubt a lot of the time so I’ve never experienced anything negative to do with my ethnic identity, but I definitely feel out of where I’m from. I feel like I’m on the outside of what I can call home. I was born in El Salvador, I’ve lived in El Salvador for half my life. The second half of my life I lived in Houston, Texas, where there’s also a really big Hispanic population and a lot of Latinx culture can be found there, so I’ve never been outside of my comfort zone like this. I feel like – where’s my culture? The people around me don’t experience the same values that I do and that’s definitely different. I don’t feel undermined, I don’t feel threatened, I just feel like I’m in a new, different place.
When I think about being Latinx the first thing that comes to mind is being the child of immigrants. I’m also the oldest child so it’s always been difficult to get information other people automatically have and to do things on my own that other people don’t have to. People who grow up with parents who speak English, who went to school in the US, who know the process. My parents didn’t do that. I’m like a third parent for my siblings. Here at Swat, I’m able to ask for help because of the fact that my parents were immigrants and I’m used to not having that support so I know how to look for it. Being Latinx means resistance, it means never giving up on anything. Shit gets hard and we get through.
Being Latinx at Swarthmore is weird. It’s difficult because you don’t want to express too much of your identity because I feel like sometimes people can alienate some of their own people if I use my identity as my whole personality. I feel pressured to be as Latinx as some other people even if that’s not how I live my everyday life.
Also, the whole speaking Spanish thing – people acting like I can’t be Latinx if I don’t speak Spanish. I went to a friend’s family party and someone yelled at me “if you can’t speak Spanish then you’re just white to me.” I was like – do you see my skin?
People automatically assume that I’m black all the time, that I don’t have any other parts of me. They assume who are more Latinx looking that they’re only Latinx and don’t have any other parts to them. That happens a lot here. People assume more than they think they do – they claim to be super open-minded and accepting and are supposed to ask before assuming but in my experience people make assumptions more often than they don’t. I feel like I have to perform my identity sometimes in order to be recognized as Latinx. It just feels fake, and I wish I didn’t have to worry about other people accepting me as Latinx.
I’m Mexican and where I come from in South Texas we are ten minutes away from where my family grew up in Mexico. I really want to study some kind of social science and literature, which is very weird in Spanish communities because English has always been about dead white men. But I’m excited about literature – not just English but Spanish, Cuban, even other languages like Russian and Arabic. I speak Spanish which means I can read Spanish literature.
A conflicting identity I have is that I’m bisexual, which back home is considered to be sinful and distrustful. I’ve always just been like okay, I’m Latinx and I’m bisexual, that’s just who I am. But I learned that those two identities don’t work, I have to hide it. Swarthmore is very accepting but in a lot of places there’s a lot of fetishizing. That doesn’t fly, este no pasa para mi. I just want to be who I am.
I celebrate my heritage with body, soul, passion, being connected with nature. It’s not necessarily what I do to celebrate – physically manifesting my pride and connection to my culture – but the fundamental values that guide my heritage, which is soul, love, community, trust, having fé / faith, it’s about being alive / viviendo, celebración / celebration. So I feel like if I embody authenticity and myself then I’m always celebrating my heritage.
When I was in early grade school I first went to Puerto Rico and I started to learn about all of my heritage, like where my family is from which is a small town called Angeles – all these little facts that I’d never come across before. Because I’m biracial, my mom always raised me to think that I’m not half something and half another thing. I’m Latino and I’m black. I never grasped the whole Latino thing until I visited my family and started to realize that this is a big part of my life. This is something that I should be proud of. A lot of the time when I embrace my culture it’s through food. Whenever my mom cooks a meal she adds a Latinx twist. Even if she makes mac n cheese she’ll add some Goya Sazón so it tastes great. It’s the little things that matter that help me stay connected and there are lots of ways I can stay connected – food, music, stories… all of those things combined help me really understand what it means to be Latinx.
Latinx means a celebration of countries that are just below the United States that are usually meshed up together into one big idea. But in reality, even within the countries themselves we have different cultures, foods, languages… we are not just “Spanish,” we are not just “Mexicans,” we are not just “man and woman.” Especially the LatinX part because it acknowledges our trans Latinx people who do not identify as male or female which is pretty common. I do not consider myself male or female and I use any pronouns and to have a word that is not gendered that still celebrates my culture, which is usually binary, is just amazing.
My mother is from Ecuador and my father is an Ashkenazi Jew. As someone who is mixed, I’ve felt inauthentically Latina and inauthentically Jewish most of my life. I’ve felt like I’m not Latina (or Jewish) enough to claim the label or inhabit Latinx (or Jewish) spaces. I also feel like there’s a tough balance to strike: I do want there to be space within Latinx communities for people who are mixed, but I also don’t want to take up too much space as someone who is incredibly white passing. I’m trying to be conscious of stepping back at the right times and stepping up at the right times.
One of the things that I’m most proud of is that I’ve introduced Valentina hot sauce to some of my white friends. I carry it around in a little bottle everywhere and sometimes they’ll ask me for some in Sharples. One of my friends even bought it over the summer on her own and I was like yes! Sharing that with other people is so special. That’s one of my favorite ways to celebrate my culture.
My Latinx identity compliments a lot about where I come from – the way I dress myself, the way I carry myself, the music that I listens to. It allows me to talk about my experiences. Being Latinx just gives me a little more “flavor” and I really like that about my identity. Being Latinx is dear to my heart.
I celebrate my heritage through Latinx Heritage Month!
I had never thought about what it means to be Latinx until I got here and people asked me what it means to be a member of this community. I grew up in a majority Latino and I had friends from all over the place but when I got here I realized I was a minority. I became aware of how much my identity separates me from other people just based on how I look. I’m really about embracing my Latinx identity and talking to people about that but it’s interesting to realize that people see you as different from the norm. People also ask me “are you Afro-Latina” because of my hair and facial features. That’s something i’ve never thought about before. It’s a question about where I fit in in this place. So for me being Latinx at Swarthmore means embracing it – really, really full on embracing the way we look at life and living that truth.
I have to be really conscious of who I am. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that people see you differently because you’re a person of color – specifically a woman of color. So sometimes I just have to be really conscious of certain spaces that I’m in. Sometimes I have to be careful about how I speak just so that people don’t take things the wrong way because it can be really confusing to people to see someone like me speak out. That’s something that isn’t shown. I’m not represented in the way that I would like to be. I’ve had to kind of find role models for myself. It’s really hard to go on tv and see lots of misrepresentation of Latina women. They’re either seen as sexual objects or maids or anything that’s derogatory. There’s nothing wrong with being a maid or being sexual but it’s evident that it’s not done in a way that’s supposed to be empowering.