I’ve spent two years attempting to write this. I have endless drafts, but none of them succeeded in expressing how I feel. None of the drafts articulated my thoughts and emotions because I could not articulate how I felt when I wrote those. I began writing this piece because I wanted to understand these found emotions. Why was I feeling this? Did I always feel this way?
Why was I conflicted with my identity? Why did I feel guilty for loving one country more than the other? Why did I feel a sense of rejection? Why did I feel like I did not belong?
I thought I knew the answers. At a surface level, it was simple when I looked at it from the outside; people saw me as a privileged white-passing Latina born and raised in the US. How dare I be ungrateful? How dare I complain when I am privileged to live a life others die for? What happens when this Salvadoran-American isn’t American enough but also isn’t Salvadoran enough?
I was raised in a traditional Salvadoran household, the “hay comida en la casa” and “no you can’t sleepover or go over your friend’s house ‘porque uno no los conoce y uno nunca sabe.” I grew up saying “mande” when an adult spoke to me, saying “con permiso” when I had to walk past adults that were talking, and I was guilted when I didn’t like the food by being reminded that kids in Africa were dying of hunger while I was being an ungrateful brat.
In my household, we didn’t watch football or the Superbowl; we watched futbol yelled GOLASOOOO, and waited for the world cup. I never had the American coming of age experience. I did not even enjoy college if I am honest. I struggled to embrace American culture because I did not know much of it. I was a very sheltered child, and I did not spread my wings until I was twenty. It was only then that I began to understand life from my own perspective. I spent my entire life trying to be what people wanted me to be. Recently, I’ve started living for myself- digging deeper, confronting my traumas, my fears, asking the hard questions, and trying to understand all the repressed emotions that have been building up for the past twenty-seven years. Most importantly, I asked myself, why did I always have a hard time making friends and fitting in? Why was I stuck in between my two cultures, and why was it so hard for me to embrace them both?
I am the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants; my first language was Spanish. I am pretty sure the first words I learned were also in Spanish because I did not come into contact with the English language until it was time to enter the education system. Once I was enrolled in school, English slowly started to become more prominent. I was placed in ESOL because of “my accent” and because my parents’ first language was Spanish. Little by little, my native tongue began to feel foreign, and I adopted the language of the colonizers. Once I mastered my English, the desire to speak Spanish was slim to none. Before I knew it, I began to think in English, and slowly I began to lose a part of my identity, but I would not realize it until years later.
When I was in grade school, I experienced my first identity crisis. At home, my parents were loud and proud to be Salvadoran; we even had a huge Salvadoran flag hanging in our living room, and I, too, felt proud. So when a staff member asked me where I was from, I was quick to say, “I’m Salvadoran,” with a big proud smile. She wasn’t amused and began her line of questioning, and eight-year-old me was a little confused. It’s not that deep what more could there be to her stupid question? She continued, “well, where were you born?” looking back at this interaction, I am angry because it was none of her business, but I remember saying to her, ” I was born here [in Maryland].” Then she hit me with, “then you’re American.” Ma’am, I am whatever I say I am; that is what I wish I could tell eight-year-old me to tell that lady. I can remember feeling confused; I did not know there was a right or wrong answer and who was that lady to tell me otherwise.
The older I got, the more my friends would joke with me when I visited El Salvador. They would poke fun at my accent when I spoke Spanish. I swore I didn’t have one, but apparently, I do. In my time living here, I have been singled out, and I have gotten the “white tax” because “the way [I] speak gives me away.” It makes me angry how do I have an accent in my native language when it’s the only language I spoke at home? Then I remember the years I spent in ESOL trying to rid me of my accent, trying to perfect my English. I remember feeling ashamed because I was always pulled out of class, so I let the English language take over. As much as I want to say, “I never cared about fitting in,” that is not true. I did care. I was just good at hiding it. However, the older I got, the less important it became to “fit in” in social settings. I chose growth over the need to “fit in.”
I became an interpreter at a young age. Interpreting in various offices and translating documents. I remember more than a fair share of rude and racist remarks, but I was too young to really understand what was happening then, but I understand now. I wish that was the worst part; looking back, the part that hurt the most was seeing how my parents attempted to shield me from the cruel world.
As an anchor baby or first-generation American child, I had to do a lot of learning on my own. I remember the first time my parents were no longer able to help me with my homework, the sadness and frustration in their eyes. They had no support system, and they wanted to help me- it wasn’t that they weren’t smart; they didn’t understand the way certain things were taught in the American school system. I will forever be grateful for them and all their sacrifices because, despite these obstacles, they supported me in every capacity they could.
How could I love a country that discriminated against and took advantage of my parents? A country that continues to take advantage of my people? How could I love a country filled with xenophobia? How could I love a country where we are made fun of because of the way we speak? How could I love a country that funded a civil war that tore my extended family apart? Tell me, how could I love a country that did not love me? How can I love a country that will never love me back?
I couldn’t. So I loved El Salvador. A country that welcomed its long-lost daughter with open arms. A country that loves me even though I am not a native but a country that loves me more than America ever will.
For many years I struggled to identify why I never belonged. Now I understand. at one point, the US embodied the American dream and the unattainable in other countries. The US represented hope, economic prosperity, the land of opportunities, and so much more; at least, that is what my parents sought when they immigrated. To me, the US represents trauma, xenophobia, systemic racism, isolation, and so much more. I come from a huge family with a sense of community, something that as much as I want in the states is unattainable, and that is why El Salvador has always felt like home.
I will no longer feel ashamed for loving the motherland more than I love the US. I will no longer feel ashamed of loving the land where my family’s beginnings are deeply rooted; The land where my ancestors lay at rest. I acknowledge my privilege in being American, but if you ask me, “where are you from?” I will say with a huge smile, “soy orgullosamente Salvadoreña.”