“Cultural Identity Puzzle”
College Writing 1, Dr. Ana Roncero-Bellido
I chose to write about my journey establishing my cultural identity because it is an experience that has impacted me and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I wanted to write about something I was truly passionate about. I wrote this paper in chronological order of events in my life. It took a lot of reflecting about how certain events happened and remembering the impact they had on me. From this piece I learned how to incorporate dialogue and anecdotes into my writing.
Excerpt from “Cultural Identity Puzzle”
“Although elementary school was so much fun, it was also a time of struggle and growth for me. Since my parents never really finished school, knew minimal English, worked so much, and were unfamiliar with the way of teaching in America, if I didn’t know something, they didn’t know how to do it either. Due to the circumstances at home, I had to learn how to be responsible from a young age. I always made sure to know what was due the next day and what we were learning in class. I would get frustrated if my classmates were moved to advanced reading or math because I always felt that I could do it too, and this motivation played a huge role in my future. I also had to worry about not stressing my parents out too much because they were already mentally and physically exhausted from work. From a young age I took my school work seriously because I wanted to make my parents' sacrifices worth it. I always acknowledged their hard work because we could’ve easily continued to live in the apartment we were living in, but they wanted to give my sister and I the best life possible, and for them that meant working even harder to buy a house. I noticed working hard was one of the many qualities that was instilled in my parents early on because of their own parents and the struggles they had to overcome. It is a crucial puzzle piece of what makes up immigrant culture that was passed down to me to help complete my very own puzzle of a culture. Even though not everything was crystal clear, I knew that I wanted to work hard to achieve my goals.”
Cultural Identity Puzzle
by Nancy Reyes
The smell of chorizo fills the hallway leading up to my room in my small Plainfield home that I’ve lived in since I was 4. I hear my Dad yell from the bottom of the stairs “NIÑAS YA ESTA EL ALMUERZO”. Growing up my Dad only cooked 4 things for breakfast Papas con chorizo (potato with Mexican sausage), huebito con chorizo (egg with Mexican sausage), papitas con huebito (potato with egg), and huebito con Chorizo (egg with Mexican sausage). Having immigrated from Mexico in their teenage years with nothing but clothes and a little bit of money in their bags my parents have sacrificed their whole lives working low-wage jobs to support themselves then eventually my siblings and I. In my early childhood (ages 3-7) I remember that my dad worked late at night and would wake up at around 12 in the weekends to cook my older sister and I one of his famous breakfast dishes. Fast forward to a few years ago when I took a Spanish heritage class in high school, my teacher Señora Butryn asked the class “What time do you guys eat Almuerzo?” In a split second I answered “5 am”. Everyone else answered somewhere between 11-1 and looked at me like I was crazy. Señora Butryn explained to me that Almuerzo is lunch and DESAYUNO is breakfast. This was the moment I realized that my WHOLE life I had thought that ALMUERZO was breakfast because every weekend in my childhood my dad would serve us our 1st meal of the day at 12:30. My fully bilingual self was shocked. These memories are some of my most precious memories because these are unique experiences that I never would’ve had if Spanish and my Mexican culture weren’t part of my life.
Having two Mexican Immigrants as parents, naturally my 1st language was Spanish. In my childhood everything was in Spanish, the TV, getting yelled at, reading, and writing are just some of the things I can list from the top of my head. At the age of 3 I started going to daycare along with my cousin who is just 1 year older than me. This is where I was exposed to English for the first time. I have a few blurry memories of learning the ABCs and singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star with my friends. Everyday our teacher would give us a letter of the alphabet and ask us what letter it was. If we knew what letter it was we were able to choose what activity to do. This motivated me to try my hardest to name the letter correctly because I wanted to do my favorite activity which was art. It was around Valentine's day when my teacher asked me “what letter is this?” (It was a Q) “...Q...” I responded reluctantly and I had named the letter correctly. That day I chose art in the blink of an eye. Since it was almost Valentine’s day we were making glitter hearts. I grasped the Elmer’s School glue bottle firmly and gently drew and filled in the heart I traced on my pink construction paper. Then I dumped all kinds of glitter on it. Even though my mother wishes she could have been home reading stories to me instead of working all day, going to this day care was what allowed me to learn English and learn basic skills like knowing the alphabet and how to write my name. If it wasn’t for this experience I would’ve had a harder time in kindergarten adjusting to curricular concepts and just the language in general.
When I moved to Plainfield and started Kindergarten at Lakewood Falls Elementary school I was tested on English proficiency to see whether I had to be put in bilingual classes or not. I ended up not being put into bilingual classes. I loved going to school more than anything and I have some of the best memories of my life from elementary school. I loved going to class and doing activities with my friends and creating things I was proud of. One of my fondest memories was a class christmas party we had in kindergarten. We all wore our pj’s to school and we watched The Polar Express while eating popcorn. Although elementary school was so much fun it was also a time of struggle and growth for me. Since my parents never really finished school, knew minimal English, worked so much, and were unfamiliar with the way of teaching in America. If I didn’t know something they didn’t know how to do it either. Due to the circumstances at home I had to learn how to be responsible from a young age. I always made sure to know what was due the next day and what we were learning in class. I would get frustrated if my classmates were moved to advanced reading or math because I always felt that I could do it too and this motivation played a huge role in my future. I also had to worry about not stressing my parents out too much because they were already mentally and physically exhausted from work. From a young age I took my school work seriously because I wanted to make my parents' sacrifices worth it. I always acknowledged their hard work because we could’ve easily continued to live in the apartment we were living in but they wanted to give my sister and I the best life possible and for them that meant working even harder to buy a house. I noticed working hard was one of the many qualities that was instilled in my parents early on because of their own parents and the struggles they had to overcome. It is a crucial puzzle piece of what makes up immigrant culture that was passed down to me to help complete my very own puzzle of a culture. Even though not everything was crystal clear I knew that I wanted to work hard to achieve my goals.
When I started middle school I was an awkward girl with super short hair, braces, and glasses. I didn’t play any sports and I didn’t really know anyone because more than half of the people in my grade went to a different middle school. I had always had friends but I never had friends for more than 2 years before something went wrong. This is the time of my life where I really struggled with my identity because I just felt so different from my friends. They were all white and had parents that let them go to sleep overs, have sleepovers, and go on vacation with their friends. I wasn’t allowed to go to sleepovers or go anywhere with my friends if an adult wasn’t present. Sleepovers for my mom were and are an absolute no no porque como dice mi mama “uno nunca sabe” “que tal si tiene un papa o hermano depravado?” “que tal si tienen una vibora de mascota y te sofoca en la noche?” “que tal si hay un incendio y no te sacan a tiempo?” This was so frustrating to me because I missed out on so many sleepovers and hangouts. During this time I remember being filled with so much anger towards my parents. We would always fight and I would say things like “I wish I was white” and “If you don’t love me why didn’t you give me up for adoption”. I felt like I didn’t have an identity. The only thing that became clear was the importance of school in my life. I remember the summer before 7th grade I was moved into honors Language Arts (English), something I had dreamed of since elementary school. However this meant being in all different classes from my friends, so the only time I would see them was lunch. I made more and more friends because I was and am very friendly but I always felt like there was something missing. When 8th grade was about half-way done I dropped like 4 friends because I heard they were talking crap behind my back and I felt like I just would never fit in. By the end of 8th grade was where I made new friends which carried on into high school.
High School was where I learned to appreciate my culture and who I am. During this time I took 2 Spanish Heritage classes which made me feel like I had a whole community of people who felt the same way I did or struggled with the same issues. Every day in that class we would talk about our favorite Mexican/Hispanic foods, the novelas we watched with our moms, the way some of our parents pronounced things wrong and many more topics. I finally felt like I was part of a community. I made so many friends that complained about many of the things I did and shared so many similarities with me. My freshman year I went to at least 5 of my friends Quinceñera which really helped me appreciate our culture. I started to listen to a lot of music in Spanish. I listened to Mana, Wisin y Yandel, Don Omar, Shakira, and Los Tigres Del Norte during this time. I also started watching Soccer more since I had started playing it in middle school in order to submerge myself in my culture and I actually ended up making more friends. Through soccer I found something I loved doing, something I could share with my dad, and friends that I still talk to and play soccer with today. I am so thankful for high school because this was when I truly found the way to appreciate my culture.
All of my experiences throughout my life good and bad have helped me piece the puzzle of my identity together. I feel like today I can finally say I am Nancy Reyes, a Mexican American woman born to two Mexican immigrants with pride. My culture has empowered me to make my people proud and to never forget where I came from because truly my culture is what makes me unique.