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BY ZAYDA RIVERA
Is the Latino Community
Losing Its Identity?
“You’re not a real Puerto Rican.”
That’s the comment I heard, often from
other Latinos, when I was growing up in New
London, Conn. Why? Because, although bilingualism
is very important in our society, I—like many third-generation Latinos in this country—was not raised to
Sometimes I felt like my family thought we’d be
taken more seriously as citizens if we didn’t speak
Spanish. In the 1980s and ’90s, speaking Spanish—or
even having an accent—stigmatized a person as less
educated or an ESL student. That stigma still exists
today, but thankfully, attitudes are changing, if slowly.
Still, I never felt that my cultural connection was
any less present because I didn’t speak Spanish; I
never felt that the Latino blood that ran through my
veins wasn’t “real.” While the Spanish spoken by my
grandmother sounded so beautiful, I always answered
her in English. It was the norm for us.
My earliest childhood memories are of family, food,
music and celebration. The minute we walked into la
casa de mi abuelo (my grandparents’ house), the aroma
of mama’s “healing” food would instantly warm us
with a feeling of belonging, closeness and security. I
was overwhelmed with orgullo (pride) when I was with
my family, and we brought the house down by dancing salsa and singing all night long.
It didn’t matter that the majority of my friends
were Black or that I dove headfirst into the hip-hop
culture of the ’80s and ’90s. In fact, those aspects of
my identity made me feel even more Latino, since
some of my ancestors were Black and Latinos were a
driving force in hip hop from its inception.
Still, I felt that speaking Spanish was something I
needed to learn. U.S. Census Bureau data shows that
Latinos will make up 30 percent of the U.S. population by 2050. So when I moved to New York City, I
made it a top priority to speak Spanish, which wasn’t
difficult living in a highly concentrated Latino area of
Now more than ever before, I see how the Spanish
language can bring me closer to my cultural identity. I
almost understand where the “not a real Puerto Rican”
comments originated from, although I still consider
them highly ignorant. Was Willie Colon, one of the
originators of salsa music, who didn’t speak Spanish fluently, not a “real” Puerto Rican? Latino identity spills over into so many other beautiful aspects
besides the melodic language, such as our music, food,
traditions and family values.
The only way we as Latinos will ensure the continued relevance of our culture is by passing the torch
onto our young people. Almost all of my 1-year-old
daughter’s books are bilingual, as well as her toys and
the shows that she watches. Third-, fourth- and fifth-generation Latinos who are raised extremely Americanized, as I was, need to be taught their rich Latino
heritage and need to educate future generations so our
traditions, beliefs, values and identity will not fade.
Do I think Latinos are losing their identity in this
country? No. In fact, I feel that our identity is growing and its roots originate from the island of Puerto
Rico to Latin America, Central America
and Mexico. It seeps into the American soil from the concrete jungle of
New York City to the deserts of
New Mexico and the beaches of
Florida. ¡Sigue pa lante Latino!
(Move forward Latinos!)
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