“I am from two parts,” a child tells me while pointing to Nicaragua and Costa Rica on a map in his classroom. A Montessori student from La Carpio, the “worst” neighborhood in San Jose, described his identity using four words. He’s from here and from there. From this country and that one. He said it with such confidence and simplicity that I sat in awe of him for a few seconds.
After years of being questioned about my own identity, I often feel confused about who I am and what it means. I am Latina, but I don’t speak Spanish fluently. I am Black, but I have light skin. Some people make “jokes” about my identity that are actually quite offensive. A new acquaintance once said, “Oh…you’re Puerto Rican. That means you’re spicy and have a nice butt!” Other people challenge me as if they know more about me than I do. They’ll exclaim, “But you don’t look Black!”. I have been told that I look Italian, Arabic, Filipina and Mâori.
It feels like I am from everywhere and nowhere at the same time, a feeling which many immigrants also experience. Our identities cross borders and identities which frustrates and confuses people. Having to constantly justify and explain our existence is exhausting and dehumanizing. Clearly I have the enormous privilege of being a citizen in the country in which I reside, a fact which separates me from many immigrants. Nonetheless a preschooler in La Carpio reminded me that our identities belong only to us. People will challenge us when we speak with simplicity and confidence, but we know the truth.
Somos de dos partes.