Raquel’s Column: Proudly Latina
by RAQUEL DIAZ
Growing up surrounded by Latinos, I never perceived how my culture didn’t apply to everyone.
During third grade, I rushed to complete a personality project about a fellow classmate which was comprised of writing an essay on a randomly selected partner after gathering information through a simple interview. In retrospect, I see the questions were so easy, they seemed too trivial for even an online dating profile: they asked one’s favorite color, favorite animal, and the all-too-elusive favorite food.
I was a good kid and asked most questions, but I forgot to ask about my partner’s favorite food. I didn’t realize this until I sat down to type my essay and reviewed my notes—the day before my essay’s due date.
In a logic that reflected how simple and self-resolving the world seems to a child, I smirked as I typed in what I figured to be everyone’s favorite food, pozole. This is a traditional Mexican soup consisting of pork, chili, hominy and various seasonings; it is packed with flavor that demands to be experienced.
However, my partner was white. After reading my essay, he ran up to the teacher and complained he had no idea what pozole was. I didn’t have time to pity the fact that he had not experienced life fully at the age of 7, because soon my essay solution had unraveled. I faced the consequences, but I was more troubled by how my partner didn’t know what pozole was.
I grew up eating with this dish, and all my friends knew what it is.
This was the first time I truly perceived there were cultural and racial divisions. My partner didn’t know what pozole was because he is white and didn’t have immigrant parents, while most of my friends were Latinos who also took our heritage for granted, or as the standard. We were constantly mingling and united in daily life, from going to the Mexican supermarkets in East Los Angeles to growing up watching Spanish soap operas. While these may seem like generalizations, and many Latinos are much more Americanized or simply don’t relate to these aspects of my life, these are experiences that resonate with many people I know.
Even though I am still surrounded by people from similar backgrounds, the mere consideration of college life raises concerns about whether I will be faced with the same dilemma I experienced in third grade; that of others not understanding parts of my life that are so common and frequent they fade into the background, afterthoughts that stubbornly resurface when I realize some do not understand them.
It dawns on me as I prepare for college that Latinos are the “other” in the statistics reported in guidebooks. Our numbers are usually lumped into together; we are an institutional asset tucked into the brochures to add diversity.
When surrounded by white people, I feel the need to make sure everyone knows I am a Latina; I feel I need to impose my culture upon them, just as theirs feels imposed upon me.
Not everyone will know what pozole is wherever it is I end up for college, but I won’t cut corners in keeping in touch with my background and being vocal about who I am—unapologetically, a Latina.