“I am a child of the Americas,
a light-skinned mestiza of the Caribbean,
a child of many diaspora, born into this continent at a crossroads.
I am a U.S. Puerto Rican Jew,
a product of the ghettos of a New York I have never known.
An immigrant and the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants.
I speak English with passion: it’s the tongue of my consciousness,
a flashing knife blade of crystal, my tool, my craft.
I am Caribeña, island grown. Spanish is in my flesh,
Ripples from my tongue, lodge in my hips:
the language of garlic and mangoes,
the singing of poetry, the flying gestures of my hands.
I am of Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent:
I speak from that body.
I am not African.
Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not Taína.
Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European.
Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.
I am new. History made me. My first language was spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads
and I am whole.”
So this is a poem written by Aurora Levins Morales about 30 years ago and it’s so cool. One of my favorite parts of my education here at Drake has been learning so much about Latin American culture, especially within the United States. This was a subject I was always interested, but didn’t even know it would be possible to pursue here at Drake.
Right now, in my Intercultural Communications class, we are being required to write a final paper, on the topic of our choice. I chose the mestizo identity crisis, which has been so interesting to me ever since I heard about it my Freshman year in Eduardo’s honor class (the most random and neat class that I have taken here). While researching the subject, I came across this poem and it just kind of spoke to me.
I cannot even imagine having so many competing cultural identities inside me that I can’t even chose who to be. Morales clearly has more of a grip on this than others, as I found in my readings that this is seriously a crisis for some people, especially after immigrating to the United States. Morales acknowledges that she was born at a strange time, that there is something new occurring with los mestizos, but she found a way to still be “whole,” even within her layered multi-identity.
I almost wish I was Puerto Rican. Or German. Or Japanese. Or just something. Because then I feel like I would have a more specific culture to identify with. In the United States, our ancestors were oftentimes so concerned about assimilation that they completely let go of their identities from their previous countries. I don’t have interesting ancestry to get in touch with- just my U.S. American parents and grandparents. I don’t take that for granted though. The stories I’ve read of women who can’t identify with their Latino heritage, or their indigenous heritage, or their African heritage, are heartbreaking. They’re lost on the road to finding themselves because they can’t figure out what category they belong to. This I feel is something caused by society, because I don’t feel anyone should have to classify themselves and close off their identity into a tiny box. They should be able to explore every aspect of their history.
I’m grateful for a blank slate, although sometimes I may wish for more traditions and history. With nothing to go off of, I can explore other cultures and see which one I fit best with. Traveling abroad in Chile last spring, I saw that they were definitely a culture that I could connect with and relate to. Just getting a small taste of that culture made me want for more- more Chile, more South America, more world. I can’t wait to continue my explorations and my search for self.
In the end, we’re all just searching for our true identities- through our ethnicities, our upbringings, our passions, our languages. It’s like a really important treasure hunt, but no one actually gave you a map. Morales decided she needed no map, and that she was whole as a Puerto Rican American Jew. & I will continue to search until I find out what best defines my identity. We live in a really special time.