“Where are you from?” is a common icebreaker that I’ve struggled with my entire life. I was born in Huehuetenango, Guatemala, and was adopted and raised in Blaine, Minnesota. For some people this question is easier to answer than others. However, I am from two places and find difficulty in choosing a side. It wasn’t until ninth grade that I stopped thinking I had to choose between the United States and Guatemala.
Growing up I attempted to fit in with my classmates; I began rejecting learning Spanish, and started to stereotype the language and the people. In fourth grade my family sent me to a cultural immersion camp, La Semana, so I could learn more about my culture and language. Despite going to the camp and being surrounded by people who wanted to learn about their culture, I continued to renounce my heritage and tried to assimilate with what I assumed Americans were supposed to be.
My perception of what an American girl was included activities like cheerleading, dancing and jumping rope. Since I never participated in those activities, it made me feel like I was an outsider to my classmates. I believed there was something wrong with me and thought I wasn’t “American” enough. At school, I had trouble fitting in with most of my friends because I didn’t look like them. On the other hand, there were times when I felt like I didn’t belong among other Hispanic people, especially when I was with the group of kids at my church. They unintentionally made me feel embarrassed because I could not speak Spanish fluently and wasn’t able to comprehend people speaking it.
In school there were a few times when my friends would start speaking about their cultures and I wasn’t able to contribute since I was confused about my own cultural identity. One of my friends from Bulgaria made me feel jealous because she had the ability to learn her native language and dances. She even went on yearly visits to Bulgaria.
I haven’t returned to Guatemala since my adoption. However, looking back, going to La Semana and finding community with other adopted people makes me want to learn more about “home.” It also makes me wonder about things like my birth mother, birth family, or even what happened to my foster parent. Despite not wanting to immerse myself in Guatemalan tradition at the beginning, something started to bloom in me and spark my desire to let myself accept my heritage.
It is something I continue to struggle with. Recently, I have begun applying myself in Spanish class. Growing up, it was embarrassing to look Hispanic and not speak the language. The embarrassment from not speaking Spanish created more shame about my culture. A moment that was defining for me was when I looked around and saw how many people also had multicultural backgrounds. I still have a long way to go but I am beginning to see that I can be Guatemalan-American and don’t have to choose one culture to live with.
I know I want to go into a social science field in college, specifically anthropology. My own experience with accepting my background and traditions would help me with analyzing past human culture and help me have an easier time with acceptance of their cultures. College will help me understand how I fit in the world while learning more about different cultures. It would help me form an idea on what I want to do with my future as I am exposed to new topics and ideas. College would be a rewarding experience since my birth mother gave me up so I could have opportunities she never had, including college.