Nov 24, 2014

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LATINA-AT-HEART: Tracy Lopez: Una Gringa Bien Latina

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Latina-at-Heart  is a very special column here at New Latina.  This is where we celebrate and embrace our amigas who feel Latina, despite not being of Latino descent. They are invested in our culture and/or language, and fully understand what it means to be Latina.

It is my pleasure and honor to put the spotlight today on Tracy López, a writer and mother of two, living outside the DC Metro area with her husband, children and Suegra. You can read about her bi-lingual, bi-cultural adventures on her blog, Latina-ish or follow her on Twitter: @latinaish.

1.  Tracy, tell me about yourself…how did you become interested and immersed in the Latino culture?

My family would be the first to tell you, I’ve always been a little eccentric. In school I was first to befriend foreign exchange students and the year I found out I had a Native American ancestor, I started wearing moccasins to school. Later I worked at an Italian restaurant and began calling my parents “mamma” and “papà” instead of “Mom” and “Dad”. When my husband met me, I was in training to become a Korean martial arts instructor. Culture in general attracts me with a passion that is hard to put into words, but because I met and married my husband, (a Salvadoran), Latin American culture is the one that stuck.

2.  Do you speak Spanish fluently?  And if so, how did you learn?  Do you speak Spanish at home?

I would consider myself proficient, but not fluent, (not yet!) Our school required us to study a foreign language; our choices were French or Spanish. My older sister chose French, and since I always wanted to do the complete opposite of what she did,  I chose Spanish. Without Spanish, I think my husband and I would have been nothing more than passing strangers. It’s amazing to look back and see how a seemingly unimportant decision, (which foreign language to study in school), has affected every aspect of my life.

These days I have moments when I feel fluent – when I wake up having just had a dream in Spanish. or when my Suegra or husband (native speakers), ask me the meaning of a word in Spanish and I actually know it! Just recently I realized, (with a mix of delight and annoyance), that I can no longer mentally “tune out” the telenovelas my Suegra often has on in the background when I’m trying to write.

That being said, there are days I curse myself for not speaking better – for tripping over the conjugation of a verb I don’t use often. I still make mistakes on a daily basis. (My Suegra is first to point them out!) We speak a mix of Spanish and English at home but over the past year I have been making a push for everyone to use more Spanish because I want fluency for myself and our children.

3.  How do you see yourself, in terms of cultural identity?

If one looked at my daily life they would see that I go to Spanish language Catholic mass instead of the English language Protestant services of my youth, but also that I prefer re-runs of  Seinfeld over telenovelas. They would see that I eat peanut butter sandwiches for lunch, but I make arroz con pollo for dinner. They would see that when my kids lose teeth, I tell them that Ratoncito Pérez will take the teeth at night, but when I was a little girl, the Tooth Fairy took mine. I text my husband “Te amo” rather than “I love you” but I read the English version of Sandra Cisneros’ book Caramelo rather than the Spanish version, even though I own both. It’s all mixed up. I’m all mixed up. A voice in my head says, “Estás perdida, niña.” … ¡Híjole! Even my little voice is bi-lingual!

In all honesty, sometimes I feel self conscious that my outside doesn’t match my inside, but as I get older I slowly let go of these insecurities and embrace who I am. Race and nationality are at times abstract concepts I step away from – knowing that they are man-made, and like anything man-made they fail to contain the beauty of what is real. We try to put everything in boxes, humans are no exception – I’ve never fit into a box, I think few people do, and so part of accepting myself and gaining self-esteem has been accepting that I don’t need to.

4.  You have a blog titled “Latina-ish.” I absolutely love it.  Can you tell us more about your blog?  And, do you have readers that identify with your biculturality?

I’ve been blogging since around 2002. I had blogs about my kids, books, travel and everything in between, but Latina-ish I started in 2009 for myself. I needed a place to be me and I hoped that with a little luck, I would meet other women who had married into Latino culture – others who could identify with the struggle of raising kids bilingually, putting up with la Suegra, or dealing with a husband who has turned out to be a little more macho than we bargained for.

Over the past year my blog has attracted an incredibly diverse readership. I did meet the women I had hoped to meet, but that wasn’t all! The friends I’ve made through my blog span the globe, male, female, single, married, Spanish speaking and non-Spanish speaking. Regardless of their background, I find that my readers are able to identify with me. I think that no matter who you are, everyone wants to belong and everyone has felt at some time in their life that they didn’t fit in. My blog is sort of like a haven for people that feel that way. Remember the Christmas TV special, “Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer”? There was an island of “misfit toys” – Toys that had been messed up on the assembly line at the North Pole were banished there. That’s what Latina-ish is – the island of misfit toys – and I say that proudly.

5.  How do other Latinos and non-Latinos react to you being so Latina?

Besides a woman or two who have given me a judgmental look, the response from the Latino community has been overwhelmingly positive. They may laugh in amusement, but they’ve never laughed in mockery. A lot of people have said it makes them feel proud that I would care so much about their culture to immerse myself in it. Some have told me that I’m more Latina than they are, and sometimes it’s a wake-up call for second and third generation Latinos in the U.S. who maybe didn’t learn Spanish well. They see me and say, ‘Wait a minute, if that gringa can speak Spanish, I can too,” – and I think that’s great.

As for non-Latinos reaction to me, my friends tend to be similarly minded people of diverse backgrounds who “get” me. My family are the only “Anglos” that really get to witness what goes on in my household on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes they think I’m a little weird, but they still love me, (and they like the tamales I make for them when we get together for the holidays.)

6.  What is the best part about being Latina-ish?

The best part about being “Latina-ish”, is that I’ve found a place to belong. I get to simply be myself without worrying if I’m normal. The Latino community has not just accepted me, but completely embraced me. They call me amiga, hermana, comadre …and I feel like I’m home.


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Tracy López

Tracy López

Tracy is a writer living outside the D.C. Metro area. Her blog, Latinaish.com, examines cultural differences she discovers as she navigates life in a bicultural, bilingual family.

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Comments

  1. Excellent interview, Angelica and Tracy! It is good to be able to know you better, Amiga.

  2. Lisa Renata says:

    You ARE our hermana Tracy! You are loved!

  3. I totally understand where you’re coming from even though I’m not married to someone of Latin descent (or anyone, for that matter :) Estudiaba mucho en España y trabajo para una compañía hispana. Cuando la gente me pregunta si soy latina, les digo, “De sangre, no. pero de corazón, sí.”

  4. We’ve loved you since day one, Sra. Lopez!

    I’m so jealous you know how to make tamales!

  5. I think that sometimes I feel you more latina than me!! Mucho love hermanas, loved the interview!

  6. Tracy is pretty awesome. I think you live a more Latina life than me! I have NO idea how to make tamales, pupusas, and my tortillas are all shapes BUT circle. I just learned how to make rice last year! I think I might be Gringa-Ish! LOL, love your stuff girl, keep on writing.

    • LOL :) I’ve met a few Latinas who feel “Gringa-ish” too – so it all evens out ;)

      As for pupusas, I can make them pero sometimes the cheese comes out too much or the dough is too dry. Las pupusas no son fáciles! Keep practicing! (Both of us! :) )

  7. Melanie Mendez Gonzales says:

    I *heart* this interview and now @Latina-ish.

    I call myself Texicana or Tejana because I live in Texas I have never really felt “mexican” enough (3rd generation Mexican-American) but I definitely look Mexican. So you helped me to see a little more that I do not have to “fit in a box”.

    I’ve been on my “identity crisis” journey for quite some time and days like today, it doesn’t feel like a crisis :-)

    Besos!

  8. Tracy – you’re fantastic, I’m so impressed!
    – Micaela

  9. Hi Tracy, Yes, I am leaving a comment on my own website, but I must jump in and tell you that your story is so honest, beautiful, and poignant, that it reaches poetic form. I especially liked the part when you talk about how society wants to fit us in boxes (or what I call “labels”) and how you have risen above that. I think this is an important lesson for all of us — not letting labels define who we are. At the end of the day, the simple truth is that human beings are complicated, as they should be. Thanks for sharing your story…I think we all feel like we know you better, and see that there is not much difference among all of us.

    • Thanks Angelica, for commenting and for the honor of being interviewed on NewLatina.

      In answering your questions I feel like I got to know myself better, too. These were things I knew, but to put them down in solid words instead of having them swim confusedly in my mind, has given me a much better sense of self. I’m very grateful for this experience.

      Viva New Latina! Que seguimos creciendo y aprendiendo juntas!

  10. On behalf of all of us seeking to claim, reclaim, and celebrate our cultural identity, gracias to La Sra. for her keen eye — for showing us more about ourselves through her observations and essays …

    Tracy, you always will be a Latina to me!

  11. Again Tracy, you’ve inspired me. You are a blessing to my life, completely understanding the highs, lows, and laughs in-between of marrying into the hispanic culture. Gracias por todo tus palabras tan lindas, ayuda, recetas (mmm, que rico), *abrazos*, y sonrisas. And most of all, for being a fellow “Gringa.” ;)

  12. Loved reading this!!!!!! More Tracy interviews please!!! :)

  13. Latina-at-heart – we have a lot in common! Such a nice read – I will have to keep up with your recipes and vocabulary and just great blog material! I have to agree with Angelica that you have reminded us about something important – not to put anyone in a box – whether Latina, Anglo, Asian, etc. – the food someone likes, the language they prefer, the music they listen to may have nothing to do with their ethnic background – or everything to do with it – or somewhere in between.

    In our household I’m the one maintaining the Spanish with the kids (gringa – learned Spanish at 19 in Mexico – fluent), singing to Luis Miguel, watching “Mira Quien Baila” and my husband (Mexican descent) is the one listening to U2, dancing only if forced and telling me to change the channel since he wants to catch up on “American Chopper” – and that’s fine – because that’s who we are. Gracias!!!!!

    • Laura, cómo me hiciste reir! Your marriage sounds awfully familiar.

      Sometimes my husband would prefer cheese burgers to tacos. He would rather watch Cops or Law and Order than Univision. He used to listen to American Country and Rock music before I turned him on to Regional Mexican.

      This is why we can’t look at someone and decide we know anything about them. We’re all unique individuals, and how great it is to just be ourselves – to like what we like – y no importa lo qué digan los demas!

  14. Tracy, I like what you said about not fitting in box. Who wants to be inside a box anyway? Gracias.

  15. Great, great interview! I fell in love with Tracy as soon as I met her online, and once I met her in person fell in love with her even more!

  16. que bonita tu pagina queremos saber mas de ti como conocistes al amor de tu vida, y como ha sido estar entre dos culturas muy diferentes, me encanta con q sinceridad plasma cosas cotidianas q muchas veces no las apreciamos, me encanta esa idea q compartistes sobre como el humano ha querido ponernos en una clasificacion o caja y realmente no exiten las razas, todos somos unicos pero al mismo tiempo todos somos humanos con las mismas necesidades, me encanta…

    • @ Sandri – Muchísimas gracias por dejar tu comentario. Estoy muy agradecida por tus palabras.

      Voy a escribir más alrededor cómo conocí a mi esposo en mi blog muy pronto. Te espero allí :)

  17. Yo también quiero saber cómo conociste a tu esposo, Tracy!!!

    Loved your interview! Thanks for being so honest!

    Angélica, me encanta NEW LATINA!!!

  18. I really loved your interview and I will start following you. I already follow Tracy AKA Traisy…I do embrace her as a Hispanic… I have dated many Gringas and they have a hard time adjusting to my culture, and I’m not “Macho” sort of speak, just easy going laid back.

    • Hey Rudy! :) Haha, you guys are having fun with spelling my name the way the in-laws do, huh? Ever since I mentioned that on my blog, this is how people are spelling it to tease me. If you don’t stop, I might start liking it ;)

      Thanks for your kind comment.

  19. Te ando siguiendo los pasos Amiga! First I was catching up on your archives in your blog, and how here!
    I just gotta tell you, I am very impressed by the way you embody a true citizen of the world, no labels and inclusive of all. How you marvel at differences that make us special. AAAND I also love your writing! You have a beautiful storytelling style that is just a pleasure to read!
    You rock, amiga! Asi de fácil. I feel really fortunate to have come in touch with you (and many other amazing women) in this cyber world!
    Angélica – what a wonderful interview!
    Abrazos para las dos,
    Sue

    • Thanks, Sue. I’m glad I’ve gotten to know you too. You’re spirit is so bright and positive that you’re a complete pleasure to be around – I can sense it even just online, so I can only imagine the awesome vibes you put out in person. (Ojalá one day we’ll meet!)

      Thanks for your kind words. It means a lot to me.

  20. Tracy, your story is so inspiring for other gringas who wished they could claim themselves Latinas (me)! I also share your passion for culture and language and since meeting my husband, I have a deep connection to his Latino heritage. Yes, I make tamales, mole, pastel de tres leches, etc. from scratch and I’m proud of that, but somehow I am still never able to impress the suegra! Lol! I can totally relate! Just wanted to let you know that this story has inspired me to share my own historia! Thanks so much for sharing and thanks New Latina for this feature! It really meant a lot to hear another heart like mine talk about her love for the culture. :)

    • Chantilly – just checked out your story on your blog and I love it. We definitely have much in common and I look forward to getting to know you.

      As for impressing the suegra – it’s a lost cause, amiga ;) … jajaja… Seriously, do what you like to do and don’t worry about it. She might actually secretly admire/envy you but would never say so. I’ve heard second hand that my suegra says really nice things about me behind my back. I think it’s a pride thing.

      Suerte!

  21. Lori Nolasco says:

    I enjoyed reading this interview and am eager to meet other Latinas at Heart. My husband is Dominican, I am self-taught in Spanish and speak it fluently, and have even been told that I could be “mistaken” for a Latina. I learned little about my Italian heritage because my parents’ generation was forced into assimilation.

    Sometimes I feel as if I come from another planet because for every ten Latinas who marry into another culture, there are those like us. I can count other Latinas at Heart on the fingers of one hand. Where are they all? My guess is that they are living with their husbands in Mexico, El Salvador, or wherever their country of origin is. Or else they are in Miami or New York City, where there is a higher concentrarion of Latinos. I love bloggers/blogueras, but I can’t actually sit down and have a cafecito with them.

    This is my offical shout-out to other Latinas at Heart. In the meantime, I will read more of the marvelous blog about being “Latina-ish.”

    • Angélica Pérez-Litwin angelica says:

      Hi Lori! Welcome to our little corner in the blogosphere! No, you are absolutely not alone as a Latina-at-Heart. In fact, we are going to do an interview series on women just like you. If you’d like to be part of this series, let me know. And, yes, Tracy Lopez, http://www.Latinaish.com, is the most Latina-at-Heart gringa I have ever met. Love her website!

      • Lori Nolasco says:

        Yes, Angelica, there really is a Santa Claus! I would love to participate. I can tell you all about how I felt I was from another planet. At least I have the blogueras, even if I have never sat down with a Latina at Heart to have a cafecito.

  22. Diane Librizzi says:

    I too, feel the passion of being Latina, or as I say it, “latina de alma”.

  23. Wow, I’m so happy and surprised to see this. I have felt the same way since as far back as I can remember. Being of African and Native American descent, and not having a full record of everything, I have mused(since I was a child) that there really is a little latina in me but I have no proof.

    I started teaching myself Spanish as a young child just for fun. I’m so happy to find this as I’ve just given myself permission to really embrace who I am, its nice to know there’s others out there. ~una alma latina tambien

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