I recently stumbled across an article that not only caught my attention with the words, ni de aqui, ni de alla, but also upon reading, made me feel understood on a somewhat uncomfortable question we get often asked when we travel…”where are you from?”
“I have been asked: “If your mother is from Mexico, then you’re not really American, right?” Outside of the United States, my second-generation identity is practically invisible, as I rarely reflect people’s perceptions of what “American” looks like or means. Ni de aqui, ni de alla – I am neither from here, nor there.”
As people who may identify as those who are bicultural or multicultural, meaning that we grew up with more than 1 set of cultural attitudes, customs, traditions, expectations, foods, languages, and people; traveling and having someone ask us where we are from may be a difficult and problematic question to answer.
Being bicultural and multicultural in the United States is often a difficult thing to navigate and to explain to others. When we travel, it is also a challenge to describe to others our backgrounds, and explain the fact that though we were born in America, we grew up and were disciplined in a different language and culture all together. As a result from being used to experiencing life in more than one way and language, we often times identify with our heritage before “American” as a way to answer the “where you’re from” question. Whenever I travel, my go to response is that I identify as Mexican American, while others could say I am Filipino American, or Turkish American. I know personally for me, my reasoning as to why I identify as Mexican American is because my Mexican heritage is very important to me, and it has shaped who I am.
“Though I had lived in the United States my entire life, I never felt entirely at home. Television shows and movies rarely depicted families that looked or acted like my own; my classes in school seldom discussed the background or culture of immigrant families; finding restaurants and stores that sold my family’s traditional food sometimes meant driving to the other side of town. We were minorities, and our values, habits, and even physical appearance were not necessarily what the dominant culture depicted as “American.” And so “American” could never fully encapsulate who I really was.”
Growing up bicultural, it was hard to see myself be represented in the media unless it was on the news, and for something not seen in a positive light. Aside from that, the environment in which we live in (the United States), where history is taught in favor of one group of people; in a place where learning a new language is seen as good only if it means being able to put it on your resume to become more marketable. When do we start to appreciate the culture and people also attached to that language? Maybe being on the move, traveling and exploring other ways of life is an attractive concept to us; we grow up being multicultural and being exposed to more than one language and ideology, in which back home (the United States), our cultures and languages may unfortunately not receive the respect, or even representation.
“Travel therefore comes naturally to me. Having internalized the idea of never completely belonging in any single place, I am comfortable with the concepts of movement, adaptability, and change that are so fundamental to my family’s story.”
This passage really resonates with me. As sons and daughters of immigrants, our families understand what it means to live in movement – to adapt, observe, assimilate, and change. Many of us know what it’s like from either hearing conversation about it, or doing it ourselves. As I was planning my year in Spain, I remember my parents telling me that they were just surprised at how I was going to leave the country they left their own country for, in search of a better life. I told them of course that I was thankful for their sacrifice, but that also in the end, it wasn’t about just making it in one place and settling, but to also keep moving and see where else I could make it, and be happy with myself. Being born in this country has given me the opportunity to travel, so I was to take advantage of that.
I think that another one of the sections that really made me reflect was the author’s experience with traveling to South America, in order to become more connected to her roots.
“People listened to my family’s music, ate my family’s cuisine, spoke my family’s language, followed my family’s customs. People hugged each other often and didn’t think twice about inviting you over for dinner or drinks.”
“But ultimately I was not quite at home in Latin America either. My Spanish had a bit of an American accent; I preferred American folk music to Latin American rock; and my independence was foreign to many women I met.
“They were shocked to hear about my two years living and working in San Francisco: “You lived in an apartment on your own? So far from your family?” Locals began calling me gringita, claiming I had become too Americanized.”
“And even though we shared a heritage, many people I met in the region didn’t seem to understand what it was like to be in the minority…….They didn’t have to defend their culture, or work for its equality. Meanwhile, I could only understand my culture through its position in the United States; my second-generation identity could not exist anywhere but there. That made me feel more American than anything else.”
And that’s when it hits me, when we realize that just like our love for traveling and how engrained the act of moving is in our families and cultures, so will our cultural identities. We will constantly have to be shifting our explanations, to different people. Where in the end, we just want to be accepted for who we are, and how to navigate and walk a thin line between our cultures. I feel that the older I get, the more I let go and stop pretending to act in a way that I feel is acceptable for others. When I would go to visit my family in Mexico, luego luego I would get identified as “del norte” (from the north) by street vendors, who would then turn up the prices for me because “soy del norte.” If I stayed in the States, I constantly felt like I was pushing against my own Mexican heritage (when I was younger) in order to fit in with the majority white students, and all for what? To still be identified as the Mexican girl, or the Mexican girl who acts white. So…then who am I? Who are we?
“Traveling is a form of resistance to being defined by only one thing. The ultimate freedom in travel lies in the fluidity in identity that it offers, and the opportunity to define who I am for myself.” Travel taught me that I didn’t have to pick one place where I could fit.”
And that, my friends, is another way in which travel can allow us to not only see a variety of different forms of lifestyles, but also allowing us to not adhere to one specific identity, if that is what we wish. We can be global citizens, citizens that adhere to the world as their home, and not a confined and select region in the world. Travel is liberating, and there isn’t anything else I can compare it to. Yes, I am Mexican-American and I love to travel and I will let you know this.
If you would like to check out this article in full length, please check it out here. I hope this post inspired some talk and thought about how travel can push us to uncomfortable questions, that also lead to freeing answers.
Make sure to let me know what you think! Leave me a comment below with your own struggle (or lack thereof) when answering the question of where you’re from when you travel. I’m curious to what other Latinx have to say on this subject!
Hasta la proxima,