Who Am I
Who am I is considered to be such a cliche question but it is a question that I have asked myself throughout my life many times. I was born in Puerto Rico and came to the United States when I was six years old. A thing to know about me is I don’t look like a stereotypical Latina, I have 3b curly hair that is big and I have a pale complexion, a combination you do not see often. Throughout my life, my ethnicity has always been a question or an assumption that people will tell me. When I was growing up, this question didn’t bother me, and I didn’t think about it a lot because people never really asked. I had a naive mind that didn’t think about who I was. All I knew was that I had moved to the United States and that my first language was Spanish, and that was enough for myself and the people around me.
As I started to go to school in the United States, my naive mind would start to open up. People rarely asked me what my ethnicity was because since I didn’t know how to write or read in English, there wasn’t much debate about whether or not I was in fact, Latina. At the same time, that language barrier would cause that I would get isolated from the other kids. Since I didn’t know how to speak, read, or write in English, this meant that most of the time I would be taken out of the classroom and given a toy to preoccupy my mind.
These toys could be different things but one experience has always stuck with me: I was given a toy computer. As I sat in the hallway, it was eerily quiet and nobody was around. It was the first time that I felt that who I was was a problem. I knew very well why I was not in the
class it was because I couldn’t speak English that well. When I opened my mouth, I would have to pause at times because in my brain I knew what word I wanted to say but my brain apparently couldn’t get the single word out of my mouth and it wouldn’t come out of me. It is interesting how I thought learning English would fix all my problems but, ironically, it would only bring new problems that would quite never go away.
Eventually, I learned how to speak English with barely an accent. Of course, I didn’t do so on purpose but when people found out English was my second language. They would
compliment my accent, and growing up it made me feel included because I felt that American society was accepting me. As I got older my view changed on it, when one day I thought about what that compliment implied. I realized it implied this idea that since I barely had an accent, others perceived me as educated, and I didn’t sound like people such as my mother who had broken English and a thick accent. Essentially saying I was better or more educated than the
woman who had raised me and had made many sacrifices for me. My mother's beautiful accent and broken English physically represents the sacrifices she has made for me. My mother was
willing to come to the United States so that I could have a better future, and more opportunities. However, it meant my mother could never get a proper education and would need to work, which meant she would have the accent forever. She had to accept that she would be looked down upon by the people around her because of the way she spoke. That meant many people’s attitudes toward her would change, and all of sudden in their eyes she wasn’t smart or educated because of her accent. But if you ask me about it being able to speak a language even without proper
education on its own is a very smart thing. I guess you could say this is a perfect example of somebody trying to give a compliment but it does more harm than good.
As I got older slowly the question of what are you would pop up but it wasn’t till eighth grade that it reared its ugly head. I was going to a new school, and I remember being so excited
and happy that I would meet so many new people. However, as each day passed slowly that spirit that I felt was crushed. At first, I would be asked what my ethnicity was but then slowly every day it seem I would be given a new ethnicity by people. They would come up to me and tell me what they thought I was. Of course, it wasn’t bad the first few times but this was a thing that
went on all year long, and as I was using the bathroom one day I clearly remember a girl telling her group of friends that I must be lying about being Latina. I didn’t notice but slowly this would build a great amount of anxiety around my identity. It would create this ugly monster of feeling I needed to prove I was Latina.
Also, to make things worse, my own ethnicity couldn’t recognize me or accept me as their own because I didn’t look like the stereotype. I would start to slowly as the days went by start to ask myself if I was really Latina. It may sound silly to some because your ethnicity
doesn’t change just because people told you they thought you were something else. However, to be asked every day or be told caused great anxiety that I couldn’t think clearly, and deep down I doubted if I was Latina enough because it seemed I was in the middle my own people didn’t recognize and accept me as their own and the other people around me couldn’t because I wasn’t part of their group. Slowly I would start to ask God why did you have to make me look the way I do?
This anxiety and feeling of not being enough would cause me to start to mention to new people I knew at random moments that I was Latina. As I think now about it, I cringe but I feel
so bad for my past self because I clearly still remember that feeling of panic of what if the person told me what ethnicity they thought I was. I believed if they said a different ethnicity it meant it must be true that I am not Latina enough. I would become very defensive anytime someone tried to mention to me they didn’t think I was Latina at first and felt I needed to defend myself. People would tell me a number of things about what ethnicity they thought I was. Some people said they knew I wasn’t American but couldn’t tell me where they thought I came from, some told me they thought I was mixed, and others would say different ethnicity like me being Scottish.
Again, proving this monster right that I wasn’t enough Latina this made it grow and the feeling of panic too. As I continued High School, the anxiety I felt would start to slowly go down because I would tell myself I was Latina. I would also learn how to properly take care of my
curly hair and start learning more about my culture because I felt that if I knew more about where I came from. I could help the little girl in me feel enough.
It wasn’t until Junior year that hit me that I was starting to feel enough. I remember we were having a discussion about privilege and how it works for different people. I had thought about this question for myself before, and I had reached a conclusion that I would share with
some of my classmates. I was in the middle and what I mean by that is because of my lighter complexion I would be let in through the door but society wouldn’t fully treat me as an equal because I was Latina.
I had come to the conclusion because ironically my mother and I would walk in through the store and at first the people would be kind to us. Until the moment they heard us speak Spanish or my mother speaks with her strong accent their kindness would immediately go away and their thank you and have a nice day would get stuck in their throats. As my mother would
say thank you or be polite to them. It has happened a couple of times that I was able to piece this revelation.
For myself, the accent that I didn’t have growing up would start to slowly come back, and I knew this because when I spoke a person who was not part of the conversion looked at me
strangely because they had heard my accent. I remember I was once in a cafeteria trying to get lunch, and I was calling my mom to tell her I was okay because she had asked me through text.
As a group of people passed, I remember the disgust they had on their faces as they looked at me and how one guy even put his hands like he was trying to protect himself in case I did something to him. Jokes on him I am only 5’5 ft but I knew it was directed towards me because he was looking straight at me. This makes it where yes I have the privilege because of my lighter skin
complexion that I would be let through the door but society won’t treat me as its full equal.
Life has an interesting way of challenging you if you have real change. I remember this person knew I was Latina but he tested me and he told me he couldn’t believe I was Latina. In the past, I wouldn’t say anything but something in me couldn’t stay quiet or let this go. I remember telling him in my most serious tone I was born in Puerto Rico and both of my parents are Puerto Ricans, and I have a Spanish last name. After I said that I said nothing else because that is all I needed to say. All of sudden he now wanted to say he was just joking but there was nothing funny he had said. At the end of the day I was still Latina, he didn’t even have the
slightest clue how hard it was growing up and learning English, or how I was the translator for my mother, and how I felt a big responsibility because I had to fill out documents that were in English.
As I continue my journey with my identity, I stopped asking God why did you make me this way. I came up with theories like if you look at nature its beauty comes from how nothing looks the same no two flowers of different species look the same. Also, realizing how he made me was the best fit because my appearance matched my personality I liked different things that most people wouldn’t put together. Anytime I feel that identity monster come I look inside myself and ask the little girl in me Who Am I without a word I feel a feeling of enough because I am her and she is me.
Alaisha Velazquez is a Junior at Diaz DePaul Cristo Rey High School.