18 December 2011

Breaking the Curse

Breaking the Curse
Daniela Rodriguez

As I came out from beneath the protective shadows that shielded me for so long, I stood alone in the light, naked as I did from my mother’s womb. At that moment came my departure from the childhood I merely remembered, the mystery behind whom I was and the emergence on whom I was to become. It was then that I understood where I was going and where I truly identified myself. I was a young Latin American woman going after an education. However, it wasn’t my ethnicity that was important but the person I created from every circumstance and label. It was something I didn’t stress and what it meant to me, I would soon uncover.

As a Latina in my hometown, people always put me in the category of the stereotypical Hispanic household: plays soccer and handball, there are 20 people living in the house, every day they eat eggs, beans, rice and tortillas, they’re loud and short tempered and, lastly, they have a stay-at-home mom who does everything for them. Of all those stereotypes we only lived up to three. My mom was a house mom, we did eat tortillas often, well at least my father did, and my father loved soccer. However, these weren’t determining factors to who we wanted to be and where we wanted to go. My parents worked hard for my sister and I to get us out of that category, still maintaining the culture. In a way, we began to Americanize ourselves, adjusting to the lifestyle we wanted, all at the same time creating our own dream and identity. But I always knew the importance of my background and how I would keep it alive without allowing it to consume my identity, while having the confidence that it would never fade through my actions.

To me, being an American meant that you had privileges amongst the nation, simply by being physically born in the United States of America. Some people had to earn that right of being called a citizen with a test that was far from easy. It didn't seem fair to just be deemed a citizen without proving it. This influenced me to look deeper into what it meant to be identified as an American. The interest and importance was there, but it wasn’t something that I was going to praise. Often times when I fill out applications, if not all, they ask if you are Hispanic. It's separated from all the other categories as if it's in its own section. Why? Because of the one epidemic most Hispanics suffer with: immigration. It was an epidemic from which the majority of my entire family came from, which brought me to the land of opportunity.

Being a Latin American to me means more than just speaking Spanish and having ancestors of Hispanic descent. It is a culture that I will always appreciate and it’s a part of me that I can never and don't ever want to change. It is where my outlook in life came from, the roots that grew deeper and deeper into my being. But I didn’t allow that to stop me from becoming versatile and diverse, because I knew I would have to do so eventually in order to get where I wanted. Plus, I liked it better that way. Life felt and looked so much better in that perspective. I always disliked the idea of labeling things and categorizing people into a “race” or “stereotype,” even though it’s inevitable and often true. But my “race” didn’t determine who I was, rather where I came from and only that. I wanted to break the curse that being a Latina brought upon me. That is the question this brings: what was this terrible curse that I couldn’t live with? It was being forced to live in the never-ending cycle of an isolated culture. It was living up to the expectation of getting pregnant at a young age and becoming a housewife. It was allowing my cultural background and ethnicity to grow so strong and scream so loud into my mind, forcing me to believe there was no other way but that way. It was allowing me to be so cultured that I wouldn’t want to accept anything else. Nonetheless I was the complete opposite who was determined to break that curse and rebel into my own beliefs.

My parents came to this country looking for something better, and luckily they found it. With more than two decades here now, they have been successful in fulfilling what is the “American Dream” as far as they can. Seeing where they came from, poverty and empty dreams, it feels good to know that from nothing came something great. It is what continues to add to the identity I have decided to create for myself. It is not just as an American but a Latin American that I will always name myself. However, I do not define myself solely by that.

The personal experiences that I have encountered are plenty; however there are two that stand out like sore thumbs: traveling to Italy and Prague for a week 's period of time. When I traveled to Italy for a choral competition I experienced living in a completely different environment which had a range of diversity and a predominant liberal spirit amongst the whole country. The televisions did not censor nudity nor did they take shame in it. Prague on the other hand, was more hostile. It felt like the environment wasn't at all accepting of Americans and their identity. Just by walking the streets and being tourists, citizens acted as if we were some sort of commodity they had never seen before. There was even a bit of racism when we became customers. At a grocery store the cashiers didn't bag our groceries and left them there as if we were animals. That just showed the big contrast between America and other countries. The American identity is so strong that a lot of other countries, cultures and individuals do not appreciate nor respect it one bit. Either they pursue it or they hate it. Even though these nations are more mature or open about certain things, they still have a closed mentality and attitude towards America. America can be immature in some aspects of explicitly open things or nudity, but there is openness to ethnicity and race, which is where we get the whole “Melting Pot” concept. There is an opportunity to open up the mind to the broad choices that can be endless in this nation.

But of course in this kind of environment there is no such thing as perfection. Even with the freedom that is given in America, especially when compared to other nations, it isn’t always freedom. There can be controversies and other matters within the government that make it just that much easier to dislike, especially in other countries and regions. The United States of America is known stereotypically for interfering in problems that pertain in no way to them, which causes the conflict of interest to grow deeper. For example, cases such as the wars we have had to deal with often times have nothing to do with us; simply our interest to help is what brought it upon us. It is a great trait to want to help; however, it can also lead to tragedy and baggage often times difficult to handle. A perfect example of that is the war in Afghanistan that led to the tragedy America has experience to change us forever: September 11th, 2001.

In the times of tragedy for America, it was that one day that changed the way things would function, both positively and negatively. Homeland security became the main priority in what Americans wanted to strengthen. A young, naïve and open nation was transformed into an informed and cautious nation all at the crashing of a plane, destroying the lives of many innocents. Negatively, America took no mercy upon any citizens who had a threat of terrorism in any way about them, which sort of brought into question the Constitution and Bill of Rights and how they were being violated. At the same time, since it was a matter of national security, it would be deemed acceptable. But if everything we stand for is suddenly contradicted, where does America stand liable?

Those questions rarely have an answer; however, one thing that can be said is the idea of America being one of the greatest places to be is one that is hard to deny. Regardless of the issues we have faced, the positives that America can offer outweigh all the other circumstances. It is no wonder so many people want to come here and find a life and a way better than what they originally had. It is a place of opportunity, and thankfully through the negativity, there is still the acceptance of those coming to join the citizenship so many of us Americans benefit from greatly.

But how can I apply this to myself? Am I still just a Latin American finding a way? Or have I found it yet? I can say that I have found a way here and I can be proud to say I am an American. Not only am I a Latina, but I am an American because I have found myself and allowed all of the cultures encountered to become my own person. I cannot say I live up to the stereotype of either an American or a Latin American as people expect; rather, I make my own type of person. The person I am proud to be, who doesn’t identify themselves through race, nor color, nor language, region or advancement. I identify myself through my experiences and what I have learned from them. That is where I can say that I truly know who I am. The only way to describe myself in race is Latin America, but the way I identify myself is through my experiences. I have broken the curse of generational curses both Latin American and American.

Identity is so important to people simply because it is the only way to truly say one is an individual. These experiences have taught me to understand the difference between culture and choice. America gives us the choice to be who we want:  no matter what race or background, we can become who we want. It is in our right to do so, our birth-given rights. Being forced into a category of some kind just sounds so ridiculous and even outrageous. Although in the end it is up to the individual to allow that to happen or to change it.

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