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.