“Where are you from?” she asked with a confidence that rapidly dwindled into embarrassment when I responded, “I was born here.” The awkward pause that causes eyes to wander, skin to prickle, and blood to rush is quickly relieved by the “but my parents are Colombian.” She seems to breathe again and feel the comfort she was familiar with six seconds before she had asked me the line-drawing question. My parents were born and raised in Colombia, but I was born and raised in Weston, a Fort Lauderdale suburb. Answering the following questions almost makes me feel like an actor rehearsing my lines for the millionth time. Yes, I am bilingual; yes, I have traveled to Colombia; in fact, I visit every summer and my profound attachment to the country has made the declaring of myself “American” unfit, yet, classification of myself “Colombian” slightly uncomfortable.
I knew I couldn’t be the only one with this dilemma, and it became an even more prevalent confusion in my junior year of high school when I chose “White” on my answer sheet through the process of elimination. I am not Indian, Asian, African or biracial, and choosing “other” at the time seemed more like giving up in how to identify myself rather than making a statement; leaving “white” as my last option. But I asked myself, “Do they mean ‘skin-color-white’? Or ‘I-was-born- in-America- white’?” I justified my answer by reminding myself that my father has white skin and green eyes, so, I chose “white” when, in reality, I have dark olive/tan skin. While I could have easily bubbled-in “Other,” at that moment, I chose to identify with my American self. But this was not always the case.
I have spent years trying to decipher this mystery. Am I both? Am I neither? What am I and where am I really from? For years I have felt absolutely uneasy with the idea of trying to label myself one or the other. However, being raised in South Florida has made it much easier to answer the black-or-white-question, “where are you from,” in a grey form. If the U.S. is a melting pot, South Florida is a recycled city bench. The amount of South American, Central American, European, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern communities in that region is astounding. More specifically, in my particular city, Venezuelans and Colombians are even more heavily concentrated. Most of my friends and people of association were either fully American or first or second generation immigrants from Colombia or Venezuela.
In light of this, to those who were first generation immigrants, I was an “American” and those who were second generation immigrants like me thought of me as “Colombian.” Likewise, I am considered Hispanic in this country but considered Gringa, or American, in Colombia – or any other country for that matter. This points directly to how easily others can perceive you, and many times, it may not be in correlation with how you see yourself. It all depends on adaptation and just how much those who have foreign-born parents or immigrants themselves have accustomed to the very-American, semi-American, or in my case, almost Hispanic-colonial-based culture. It has to do with what exactly the person has chosen to integrate into their lives, and what they reject as something they don’t want in their lives. In other words, it is very possible to create one’s own culture, per say, and develop one’s own identification.
Having parents from a different country than the one I was born and raised in means I have Carlos Vives and Frank Sinatra downloaded onto my iPod. It means I am the vegetarian that gets confused looks when I order only a side of red beans with rice and a pandebono at Colombian restaurants. It means that I speak the truly convenient and creative Spanglish language with my friends and US-born-family members, yet, jot down any unfamiliar English word in my agenda to look up and learn later. It means that when I am in the U.S., I will miss Juan Valdez Coffee and when in Colombia, I will think of how many free Starbucks drinks I am missing out on every 12 days. It means I chose to stuff my luggage with a stash of home-made frozen arepas to cook for breakfast instead of swiping my ID card at the college dining hall every morning. It means I criticize both American and Colombian governments and societies. It means I felt the knife in my heart that Saturday afternoon when I abandoned my unfinished homework to protest for a better Venezuelan government in snowy Boston. It means I had to unwillingly part from my cousin at the airport only to wait two hours for her because owning a blue passport unshackles me from having to bear the immigration process. It means that I am a daughter of the breath-taking mountainous rock that veins Colombia and a daughter of the Miami concrete jungle that is arranged as an unending labyrinth. It means many, many things, but it most importantly means that I am a little bit of both cultures and I find my balance in what I create it to be.
Figuring out just where to draw the line in your opinions, practices, and beliefs is where that balance is created. The next time somebody asks you where you are from, strapping yourself to one label is unnecessary; even when you find yourself surrounded by people who are of a certain nation or have decided their ethos, you can craft your own identification through a medium of what you have been exposed to.