It’s a weird feeling when you have lived in a country for 16 years but you are seen as an outsider. I moved here, to the U.S, when I was 9. The first 9 years of my life were spent in Venezuela; My home country and the place I will always love. The rest of my life has been spent in Miami and as of the last 2 years, in Houston.
In the U.S, I went from learning English in elementary school to earning my Bachelor’s degree. I went from trying to make friends to making friends who have become family. I met and married my husband here. Had my first job, first place of my own, first car, first kiss, first heartbreak, first date, first puppy: all here. How would I not call this country my home too? I have planted so many seeds here, that living in Venezuela would make me feel and look like a foreigner of my own country.
But…living here, makes me a foreigner of this country too.
A few days ago, I was in the break room at my job. There was a conversation on tamales. I was spaced out thinking about work and waiting on my salmon and rice to heat up in the microwave, when one of my colleagues looks towards me and says “You must be remembering how you make tamales with your family all the time”. I was left a bit out of place. I wanted to ask him why he asked me that, or where does he think I was from. I have only really seen him about 3 times in my 2 years working on this job. So, he is not someone I interact with or know well. Maybe he was just trying to make small talk? My response was: “Nope, unfortunately I don’t know how to make tamales”. The microwave finished and I grabbed my lunch without even checking if some parts of my salmon and rice were still cold (which they were). Ugh.
To give a better response to you: Venezuelans don’t make Tamales, we make Hallacas (which I don’t know how to make either). But I was not going to get into the details of it with him when he clearly labels all Hispanics under one mold. Some Hispanics don’t even make anything even similar to tamales in their country.
Two things bothered me from that comment in the break room. For one, the fact that he assumed and labeled me. What if I was blonde and had blue eyes? Which yes, there are blonde and blue eyed Hispanics. There are red headed Hispanics, black Hispanics and even Asian Hispanics (my husband for example). Would he had asked them the same question? I sort of got over it as for those who have not gotten outside of their own town, they only know what they see. His ignorance isn’t something that affects me.
What affected me that day was that I felt like an outsider at that point. He didn’t know where I was from or who I am, but he labeled me. He labeled me as someone from somewhere else. As someone who isn’t the same as him. As someone who didn’t grow up in the same country as him. And it reminded me that I am a foreigner here. Even if the better half of my life has been here. Even if I have attended school here. Even if I have worked and paid taxes here. Even if I respect the laws. Even if I volunteer my time here. Even if I donate to causes here. Even if I watch Gilmore Girls or American Idol. Even then, I’m still a foreigner to this country.
It feels as if I am not from neither of the two countries. “No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá” (I’m not from here and I’m not from there). And maybe that’s it. Maybe I’m not a true Venezuelan for having left my country so many years ago, and not fully understanding their current state of poverty because my parents ran away from it before it became what it is today. Maybe I’m not American just because I was not even born here and still carry my Venezuelan culture in me.
Maybe as a Hispanic American, I’m from my own place. A place where we communicate in Spanglish. A place where we somehow love burgers as much as arepas. A place where we connect because we understand two cultures and appreciate both.
I like my diversity. I like my Venezuelan culture: the food, the jokes, the good people, and the music. I love all of that. And I also love the country that gave me the freedom and security that Venezuela couldn’t give me. The country that saw me grow into a woman and where I will raise my kids too. I am forever grateful to this country for that.
Maybe only a bi-cultural person understands what it is to love two places at once, to identify with both, to be part of both, and yet none.