I grew up in a multicultural household. My mom is from Venezuela and my grandma from Puerto Rico, while my dad is from Oregon. My first language was Spanish. I grew up listening to Serenata Guayanesa, eating sorullitos and hearing my mom yell ‘En Español!’ from the other room when I spoke English. I identify as Latina. But whenever I say this, I always get the same reaction: ‘What? You don’t look Latina.’
Being a blond, white girl with blue eyes, this makes sense. I don’t have the typical “look” that many people in the U.S. think Latinos are supposed to have. Oftentimes there is a lack of diversity in the portrayal of Latinos in media and film, which leads to stereotypes.
But there are 33 countries in Latin America. They produce a kaleidoscope of traditions, customs, languages and ethnicities. Latinos come in every color; with so many different countries, we can’t all look the same. And we also can’t all have the same story.
So, to celebrate the end of Latin American Heritage month, I decided to shed light on this diversity and speak to UP students from different Latino backgrounds — some born in Latin America, others first or second-generation Latinos in the U.S. These students don’t have one homogenous look, culture or experience. But they do share one thing in common — pride in their heritage and identity.
Esteban Calvo is a junior from San José, Costa Rica. At 16 years old, he moved to Florida to play soccer and attend high school in the U.S. After two years at Florida International University, he transferred to UP. This resulted in two culture changes in about four years.
“I don’t feel that different,” said Calvo of his experience at UP. “I try to know more people. I try to get friends from different cultures. That’s how it’s supposed to be.”
Although the friends he’s made have helped him adapt, he still misses his home in Costa Rica, especially his grandparents who he lived with, the sunny weather, and the rice and beans his grandmother would cook for him. But what he misses most is the country and people he knows and loves.
“The culture itself is super happy, all the people are cool,” Calvo said. “You can go anywhere and they’re going to treat you like ... if they were your family. Actually, my country won one of the happiest countries in the world, and they’re still ranked ... I love that.”
Alondra Quiroga Bernal
Although she was born in Cochabamba, Bolivia, sophomore Alondra Quiroga Bernal was raised in the U.S. – first in New Jersey, later in Roseburg, Oregon. Moving from a diverse part of the country on the East Coast to a predominantly white town in Oregon has impacted her experience as a Latina in the United States.
“Being a Latina here (in Oregon) is different from being a Latina there,” Quiroga Bernal said.
In New Jersey, she encountered many cultures and backgrounds, and an overall acceptance of who she is and where she comes from. In Oregon, and more specifically in Roseburg, her experience has been mostly positive but with some obstacles.
“Sometimes it’s really weird because some people are really racist ... (they’re) just being mean,” Quiroga Bernal said. “Most of the time I’ve been accepted and stuff, so that’s nice. But there’s also a couple instances were it’s like no, you’re not (nice).”
At home, her mom keeps Bolivian culture alive through food, mixing Bolivian style into her cooking, and language, speaking Spanish to the family and slipping into Quechua when scolding the kids.
But Quiroga Bernal does miss Bolivia, which she last visited when she was in sixth grade. She especially misses the excitement around the country’s celebrations and dishes like pique a lo macho.
Although most people don’t guess it on the first try and assume that she’s French or Eastern European, sophomore Lourdes Ramalle is from Buenos Aires, Argentina.
She came to Portland last year as a freshman to play tennis for UP, leaving her parents and five-year-old sister back home. After her first semester, she went back to Buenos Aires to spend break with her family. The first person to embrace her was her sister.
“She was waiting for me in the airport,” Ramalle said. “She looked at me and she was like ‘Luli!’ And then she ran ... That was so cute.”
What she misses most are the asados her family would have on Sundays and her grandmother’s house where she spent a lot of her childhood. But she also misses spending time under the sun with her friends and just being with the people from back home, who she says are “passionate.”
“We always try to keep going,” Ramalle said. “Here everything is easier, you know? But there you really need to try to succeed. ‘Perseverancia,’ I would say.”
Johanns “Jojo” Miranda Walker
Born and raised in Carolina, Puerto Rico, sophomore Jojo Walker came to the U.S. at 15-years-old without his family to play basketball in Santa Maria, California. Most of the Latin American community in Santa Maria is Mexican, so not only did Walker have to adjust to the U.S., but he also had to adjust to a different way of speaking Spanish with new slang and food he was not accustomed to.
“A lot of people think we eat like tacos and stuff like that, but we don’t, we really don’t,” Walker said. “The family I was staying with ... they would make me tacos and stuff like that, and spicy food, I’m like ‘I don’t eat that.’ But now, I kind of like it now. So, I had to get used to that.”
But Walker adapted quickly, because he believed that playing in the U.S. would be the best move for what he wanted to achieve in his basketball career. Right now, he’s playing point guard for the UP men’s basketball team.
“In Puerto Rico, kids got dreams,” Walker said of his decision to leave the island.
When he first came to California, he didn’t know any English. But about a month into school, he was able to carry out full conversations without caring about his accent or about making a mistake.
“That’s the thing about Puerto Ricans,” Walker said. “We’re not afraid.”
After growing up in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, sophomore Caua Soares moved to Orlando, Florida in 2014 and attended high school there before coming to UP his freshman year.
Living in the U.S., Soares misses certain traditions from home like Carnaval, and other things like the beach, the food and his friends and family. Coming from a diverse area in Florida, Soares had to readjust to life in Portland, where he is the only Brazilian on campus.
Because of this, Soares finds himself clarifying misconceptions about his home country to other UP students, like the fact that he speaks Portuguese, not Spanish. He’s also had to clear up negative assumptions made about Brazil, like the idea that it’s all crime and poverty. He said that, instead, it’s made up of very warm and welcoming people.
“Whenever I go home, I just feel a different energy in the country,” Soares said. “It’s such a happy place to be in, and I’m so proud I’m from Brazil. I couldn’t choose any other country than Brazil.”
Amanda Hernandez Michalski
Junior Amanda Hernandez Michalski is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants on both her mom and dad’s side. As a second-generation Mexican, she often encounters people who say her lineage distances her from the culture she loves and claims as her own.
“It’s very important to me,” Hernandez Michalski said. “I didn’t realize how important it was until I was removed from home and put into this new situation without diversity.”
Hernandez Michalski lives in Salinas, California, where a large population of Mexican immigrants lives and practices Mexican customs. Her experiences there and in Portland have been different, but both have challenged her identity as a Latina.
“People try to make Portland very diverse, but I would say it’s more inclusive than diverse,” Hernandez Michalski said. “When I first moved here, I got asked if I spoke English even though it was my first language. And back home, people don’t believe me when I say that I speak Spanish. And so I guess that kind of goes into the thing where I look too white to be Mexican, but I’m also too Mexican to be white. And that just goes with having generations of being here.”
But Hernandez Michalski’s heritage plays an important role in her life. She meets up with her extended family during the holidays to eat tamales and celebrate together.
Junior Angie Bustos is from American Canyon, California. But since her mother and grandmother are from Bogotá, Colombia, the Colombian culture has been present throughout her entire life.
However, American Canyon is a predominantly Mexican-American area. Now that Bustos goes to UP, in a city where there aren’t many Colombians, she feels even less in touch with the culture in Portland.
“There’s a saying, ‘Ni de aquí, ni de allá.’ So, it’s like I’m not from here, but I’m also not from there,’” Bustos said.
But her family has kept Colombia alive in her house. Every year, they drive two hours to Novenas, a Colombian Catholic tradition, to be with other Colombians in San Jose, California. They also visit extended family in Colombia every few years, and listen to vallenatos and salsa at home.
“All Colombians are so proud about being Colombian,” Bustos said. “I don’t think you could ever meet a Colombian that (is) ashamed of who they are. I think we’re all just so proud of our story.”
Most people here assume she speaks Spanish, but almost all are surprised when she tells them she’s Colombian and not Mexican.
“It makes me realize how different each country is,” Bustos said of this confusion. “Yes, we’re all within the same vicinity and we share some of the same foods...but it’s not the same. We all have different traditions and a different way of doing things.”
Miguel De León
As the grandson of immigrants from Jalisco, Mexico, junior Miguel De León is another second-generation Mexican-American. His grandparents first came to El Paso, Texas, then to Oakland, California and finally settled in Sacramento, where De León’s father was born and raised.
De León grew up with his grandparents as his next-door neighbors. His dad’s side of the family is Mexican, and while his mom is from Tokyo, Japan, he primarily identifies as Chicano.
“I think from an early age I was always just proud of who I was,” De León said. “I love the music. The food is the best, all the dress, the dance, the language. Everything about it is just something to be proud of. It’s something unique that I think of, and something that makes me unique.”
De León says that Portland lacks the Mexican culture that thrives in his hometown. While at UP, he misses festivals, like the posadas, and food, like menudo, which his family cooks for his birthday every year. He also misses the community he has back home and feeling like he fits in.
“Those are my people,” De León said. “Up here it’s kind of like, I know I’m not from here. It doesn’t feel like home to me. I’ve never felt like Portland was my home because I don’t see people that look like me, and I don’t feel like people come from the same experiences that I’ve come from.”
Freshman Alejandro Pereira was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico and raised in Oviedo, Florida. But his family’s culture has continued to be present in his life, and he proudly considers himself a part of the community back in Puerto Rico.
“We always stick together no matter what, especially with disasters such as Hurricane Maria,” Pereira said. “We all come together and we fight through something like that together as a family, as an island.”
Pereira visits Puerto Rico during holidays to celebrate and spend time with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents who still live on the island. He and his immediate family share Puerto Rican traditions with their friends in Florida, but coming to UP has meant adjusting to a new community.
“There’s not that many people here, especially in Portland, that are Latinos,” Pereira said. “So, you do get looked at a little bit differently, but also it makes you a little bit more proud about who you are and where you’re from.”
Alexis Molina is a junior who descends from two Latin American countries. Her dad is from La Paz, El Salvador while her mom is from Guadalajara, Mexico. Both parents moved to the U.S. at young ages and lived in California.
Molina and her family now live in Mililani, Hawaii. In Hawaii, Molina says there is no harm in asking what someone’s ethnicity is, and she gladly shares that she is Latina when asked. There is harm, however, in assuming ethnicities.
“It’s disturbing to see the erasure of the different countries (of Latin America),” Molina said. “It’s not only erasing our individuality, but it’s also masking any notion that we have some.”
Her mom’s Mexican culture has more influence in the household, but Molina internalizes the experiences of both her parents. When her parents came to the U.S., they both had to adapt to a new country, and her mom had to learn English in her teen years.
“There’s pride in that because my parents did it,” Molina said. “My parents achieved the dream.”
Paula Ortiz Cazaubon
Junior Paula Ortiz Cazaubon, from Monterrey, Mexico, is one of very few Mexican students attending UP through the International Student program, which helps students from other countries get oriented on campus and learn about American culture. She’s had to adjust to differences between Portland and Mexico — one of them being tradition.
“A lot of countries — as they modernize and grow and strive for economic prosperity — some of their old-school traditions are left behind, and we’ve somehow managed to keep most of them,” Ortiz Cazaubon said.
Some of the traditions Ortiz Cazaubon misses from Mexico are el Día de reyes and watching los voladores de papantla. But what she misses most about her country while she’s in Portland, other than her family, is the Mexican sense of humor.
“We can’t take anything seriously, which is a double-edge sword, but I love it,” Ortiz Cazaubon said. “It makes us able to talk about things that might be a little more complicated to talk about because jokes kind of ease the tension of a situation. So, it’s our way of coping.”
Ortiz Cazaubon is also of Syrian descent, so when she says she’s Latin American, she gets some shocked reactions. But as someone born and raised in Mexico, she identifies first and foremost as Mexican.
“We shouldn’t limit our perspective of trying to understand others, or try to categorize people into a slot just because we think they fit in there,” Ortiz Cazaubon said.
Mary Clyde, a UP freshman and my sister, also identifies as both Venezuelan and Puerto Rican. Our mom is from Maracaibo, Venezuela, while our maternal grandmother is from Ceiba, Puerto Rico.
With dual Latin American identity, she enjoys food from both cultures — arepas from Venezuela and mofongo from Puerto Rico. She also enjoys music from both cultures — gaitas from Venezuela and salsa from Puerto Rico — and differences in the Spanish language from both places.
But because her heritage comes from her mother’s side and not her father’s, people question her Latin American identity.
“I don’t think it matters if ... your whole family is Hispanic and (your parents) are both from Hispanic places, as opposed to just one of your parents or maybe just a grandparent is,” Clyde said. “I don’t think it makes a difference. Either way, you’re Hispanic. It’s your culture and you can be proud of it.”
As for me, my experience as a Latina in the U.S. has been overall a positive one. I don’t have to go through the challenges that some Latinos of color have to go through, and I know it’s important to acknowledge the privilege in that.
But when people set me apart from my family because my siblings “look more Latino” than me, when they set me apart from the community I love, when I’m told I don’t “count” as a Latina and when my mom’s culture doesn’t get the representation it deserves, it can be frustrating.
Like all of these Latino students, I’m proud of my heritage. I’m proud to call myself daughter of a Venezuelan and granddaughter of a Puerto Rican.
Ana Clyde is a Senior Sports Reporter and Copy Editor at The Beacon. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.