Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Time's influential Hispanics

TIME.com: The 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America -- Page 1

The latest edition of Time Magazine unveils its’ list of the 25 Most Influential Hispanics. Sprinkling every arena of American life – from politics, arts, education – its showcases the Hispanic community is much a part of America as apple pie or Dulce de Leche ice cream.

I applaud TIME.Magainze’s work in recognizing Hispanics and their countless contribution to all sectors of American society.

We need more positive reinforcement and change the minds of people that all Hispanics/Latinos are not the cleaning ladies, landscapers and the day laborers they are use to seeing perpetuated in the media and in the daily lives.

Hispanics, just like all Americans come from all socio-economic backgrounds with all different levels of education, skill and achievement. A proud people with a rich culture, who are as different from the countries they come from.

I moved to D.C. two years ago from the pseudo Latin-American country known as Miami, Florida. It took me months to get over the culture shock – the people, the attitudes and their perceptions of me. I still get called “the foreign girl” by some of my rich ignorant neighbors who only hear my accent. (For goodness sakes I was born in the freaking U.S. and my family has been in the US since the 50s!!)

Growing up in Miami, you practically grow up in a bubble. You are raised in a city where the majority of the people are like you – Hispanic and fluent Spanish speakers. It can be seen as a double edged sword sometimes. I had positive role models everywhere: politicians, entrepreneurs, athletes, models, intellectuals, everything! (ok with a sprinkle of corruption, craziness and spy scares here and there… still positive) There was never a question if I was going to college, just which one. Both my parents went to college and stressed the importance of education and my self empowerment. My family did well before coming to the United States and I was often told stories of their successes. My parents always told me I could achieve anything I wanted to accomplish. ( I love my family!)

I really didn’t even understand the term “Hispanic/Latino” until I started traveling around the U.S. with high school programs.Suddenly I was getting comments of my accent, my culture, no one spoke Spanish, I couldn’t find a cortadito if my life depended on it, and people kept refereeing to me and “my people.” I had no freaking idea what was going on!!! Quickly I realized the meaning of “Hispanic/Latino” and what it meant in the rest of the U.S.A. I felt like I had to constantly prove to them how smart, educated, eloquent and fine mannered I was. It felt like reality came plummeting down on me like a huge ACME anvil in a Warner Brothers cartoon. I was the coyote, waiting for the inevitable. BOOM!!! The reality changed my life for the better.

Many years later when I moved to the nation’s capitol, I thought I would be ready for anything. Yet, still finding a good cortadito is hard (I just have a machine at home and work now) and the comments still tweak me the wrong way.

My first month in D.C. I was telling one of my co-worker that I was worried I would lose my Spanish speaking skills, as I didn’t use them as much anymore. He tied to reassure me that the area was full of Spanish speakers, “Don’t worry, there are so many people here you can speak Spanish to. Just talk to the cleaning staff. They are all Hispanic.” I tried to smile politely but it was a very real reality - that is what people think of Hispanics.

I guess I always understood what it was to be “Hispanic/Latino” but never considered it a sub-culture. To me I was just another American kid whose parents come from another country. Just like my friends with Italian parents or French parents or Chinese parents. I didn’t understand the big deal. I guess in a world where we constantly try to organize and classify things to understand them, it was a bid deal. People want to be able to box you and qualify you to make themselves feel better on how to deal with you.

Once in a while people would tell me they didn’t understand me because of my accent. I was in shock – first I didn’t even know I had an accent and second, if you think I am bad, you got to speak to my Tio Pepe!!! Por Dios, sometimes I don’t even understand him! Other moments it got so frustrating I started making elaborate stories of my origin, pretended not to speak English or just spoke Portuguese, a language I learned in college – anything to keep positive. At one point some lady refused to call me by my name and just called me Maria, as clearly, all Latina women have the same name. Yes sometimes it got really bad. But things eventually got better – in life they always do.

These days I feel I am no longer in shock and understand what is going on in American. Just like the Irish and Italian were bashed by American English society until they integrated into the culture, so is the path of our Latin American brethren. Time Magazine’s article only shows that our Spanish Speaking brother and sisters are becoming an integral part of all society and there is no way to turn back now.

Among my friend I still stand out. I’m the spicy Latin girl with the Miami style, surrounded by Northeasterners, bright hued popped collard polos and flip flops. My circle is laced with other DC Hispanics, mostly Cubans from Miami. We love the fact we can dance, cook and debate better then most of our “Anglo” friends. Many times we don’t even notice the difference – well except on a dance floor. I know part of the shock was just being away from Mami, Papi and Abuela, and part was just plain growing up. Now that I am comfortable again, I am almost “culture blind.”

Thank you TIME for pushing forward the positive influences of Hispanics in the U.S. I still laugh at Desi in “I Love Lucy” and love seeing the stars in an Oscar De La Renta or Carolina Herrera. I eat Kellogg’s in the morning because I know our current Secretary of State – Carlos Gutierrez - use to run the company. So many little things can be attributed to Hispanics in the country. Long live diversity and long live our complicated and cosmopolitan culture…

2 comments:

Robert said...

Your experience mirrors mine in a lot of ways, the only exception being that I blended in fairly well outside of Miami due to my non-stereotypical Hispanic appearance and my relatively flat accent. Still, once people got to know me and my background, the differences stood out.

We are in a bubble in Miami, but I'd go as far as saying that most Americans outside of Miami are in a bubble of their own. Miami is one of the few places in this country where you can choose from a variety of different cultures while staying close to your own. The same can't be said about middle America.

Juan Paxety said...

The accent of Miami was ruined long before Cubans arrived by all the folks from New York and all the folks who spoke Yiddish.

No one from Miami has ever been understandable to anyone in any other part of the U.S.

Now talk about accents, my grandmother grew up in St. Augustine while some people still spoke that bastardized version of Catalan, Castilian, Greek, Italian and English that passed for a language there. I'm not sure she could understand herself sometimes.