Growing up, my parents told me I was a Latina—more than that, I was Colombian. My mother was born in Bogotá and moved to the United States as a child. My mother and grandparents spoke Spanish to me and I grew up listening to Juanes and Carlos Vives. But I spent the first half of my childhood in a small town in the Midwest, often being either the only of one of very few Hispanic kids. Although I was white passing, I didn’t feel like I belonged to the white midwestern culture. The kids in my hometown had parents that had gone to local colleges, married young, and moved two blocks away from the house they grew up in. My family was from all over the place, sprinkled across the world in a big web.
So when my parents told me we were moving to Washington, D.C. I was over the moon. Finally, a place where I could meet other Hispanic kids and feel at home in my culture. But when I walked into my 7th grade social studies class, I immediately recognized my otherness. Now, I was not too Latina, but too white. The Hispanic kids in my classes were Latino To The Core. Their parents made pupusas on Sundays and watched telenovelas in their free time. My parents listened to NPR. While they were still fluent Spanish speakers, I was desperately trying to relearn it. For most of my primary and secondary school years, I felt stuck between these two cultures. It was an imposter syndrome of the worst kind—feeling like you don’t fit in with the cultures of your parents or the culture you grew up in.
It wasn’t until the end of high school that things finally started to turn around and I realized that being in between two cultures can be not only a good thing, but at times an advantage both in school and work. Throughout high school and college, I met other kids who had similar experiences to me; other kids that didn’t feel included in the cultures they were supposed to be a part of and a product of. This helped me to feel less alone. I did things that helped me connect to my roots. Whether it was visiting my relatives in Colombia, cooking arepas with my grandmother, or even practicing my Spanish, I deliberately sought out experiences that would connect me to my culture. Community was an important factor in my connection to my roots. My grandparents, my aunts and uncles, and the friends that I found that were also in between two cultures helped me feel more comfortable with my identity. And in connecting with some other girls in TWN—through mocktails and speaker events—I realized how many other first and second generation girls felt the same way I did.
In addition, I realized over time that my multiculturalism can be an asset. Employers have finally been catching up to the demand for diverse employees. It’s now a huge advantage to have experiences outside the dominant culture. Being able to relate to people from multiple backgrounds with different values and experiences is always a good thing. It also gives me more empathy for those who have similar feelings of otherness. My imposter syndrome hasn’t been resolved entirely—I still doubt myself every so often. But I remind myself how lucky I am to be a part of more than one culture. It gives me knowledge and experience that I could otherwise only dream of, and it expands my horizons both in school and in my career.