What comes to your mind when you think of the word "Latino"?
The idea most people have of 'Latin(o) culture' has been undeniably impacted and shaped by Latinx living overseas, grouping people from over 20 countries into just one, united by language, history, and oftentimes a common destiny.
Hispanic Heritage month is an effort to acknowledge and cherish the contributions of Hispanic people in the US and in light of this I would like to celebrate the contributions of my cultural heritage on my own life.
My experience growing up as a ‘descendant of’ in Britain was very different than growing up in any Latin American country. Like many other first, second-generation kids or children of immigrants, holding onto and trying to understand my culture has formed an integral part of my own cultural identity and journey of self-discovery. My heritage has influenced my life, my personality, perspective, and self-awareness in many ways.
I was born and raised in London where I grew up surrounded by many people from Latin America, from more countries than my mother may have ever met in Peru, the country she is originally from. When we would bump into someone on the street who spoke Spanish I would later ask: “Mami, de dónde es?”. I soon learned that the people in my community came from different countries, more than I could remember for sure and that somehow we all spoke the same language and seemed to be quite similar.
While there are many variations between the people from different countries, cities, even neighbourhoods in the way they speak, the way they look, the food they eat and so much more, we surely have a load in common too. Especially to the non-Latinx judge. Our conflicted and controversial history influenced and unified many aspects of our cultures in a way that you will find common grounds from the continent to the islands, from the coast to the mountains, and all the way beyond.
I am convinced that everybody grows up to believe they are as multifaceted, unique, and individual as anybody else. I for example thought of myself as creative, expressive, and confident, amongst others. The older I grew, the more I began to notice how people would put my personality in line with my Peruvian or “Latino” roots and sometimes had the attributes sounding a little less positive. Soon enough I was introduced to the concept of Stereotypes. I believe anyone living in a multicultural environment experiences something similar which can be very disheartening, especially when this is not self-defined.
But on the other hand, I found it to be very empowering when it was Latinx who would tell me that they could see their, our culture shine through and live within me. Being claimed as part of this community felt and still feels powerful. I have the privilege to see my culture from within while having an outside perspective and in light of that, I would like to discuss some of the qualities I have gathered that are typical for Latinx, in my opinion.
Oftentimes throughout history, Latinos have been a minority abroad, likely searching for a better life than back home. While this is changing and many of us, our parents and even our children may no longer live in the same conditions as our ancestors have before, resourcefulness is something I believe has stayed with us and is passed on to each generation. How to make a (great) meal from scratch, reusing plastic bags, Tupperware, and passing on clothes when they no longer fit. How to have fun and entertain ourselves and the kids without spending a fortune - being mindful of resources is a consciousness that was taught to me and has been reflected in every Latinx family I have come across, even before climate conservation became a conversation.
Some of the most hard-working and dedicated people I have met in my life have been of Hispanic heritage. Being good at what you do, earning your coin in an honest manner and “salir adelante” is something my people take pride in and has carried my work morale. I believe that humbleness is not far off this same token. You can’t be “too good” for anything someone else has to do. Supporting the family and getting knees deep into the grind if your mother, aunty, etc. need you to. Respecting each other and being capable of getting your hands dirty is a great trait that can bring you very forward in life by being committed to improvement, even if it's hard. This taught me to persevere and discipline myself to achieve the things I want.
When things get tough, having a positive life philosophy is something I can clearly locate on my Peruvian side. Enjoyment is a core part of “the Latin way of life”, humour and fun can flow into every minor thing we do, making life more interesting and fun, and I believe that is the engine that gets us through hardship, the ups and the downs.
Many elements of our culture have been distributed around the world for pleasure, recreation, and healing purposes. This includes a variety of dances, music, gastronomy, and spiritual rituals. Being at the core of this gives me a deep insight into how our art is used to deliver history, emotion, and context.
When I am with my family it feels like we have never been apart. We can laugh about anyone and everything. You can’t be of a sensitive nature when you come across us. We are seriously silly and that is the best part. Understanding the irony of life and not having to take myself too seriously is a relief.
My favourite thing is that there is always a good reason to party, because anything can be a party. Whether you are cleaning your house on a Saturday morning blasting that Merengue (shoutout to D.R.), or you meet up with a friend or relative after a long time, or even if you “throw the house out of the window” and invite everyone over. We don’t make the term “Party” too technical. There is always a good reason to celebrate life. Dance and happiness are symbols of gratitude to the universe.
Drama and storytelling are substantial components of my culture. Take 'Telenovelas' or that uncle who can make anyone crack up when he recites what happened when he bumped into 'Fulano' at the market. I find it very easy to motivate myself for different things and create excitement for myself. Making it interesting is always possible and I like to believe that I use this technique in my everyday life to keep it compelling for both myself and anyone who experiences my daily doings.
Culture is everything that surrounds us and gives us a sense of heritage. I hope that everyone can feel proud of their heritage and identify with the aspects they like of their own culture. I also hope that anyone who read this gained a positive insight into my culture and anyone who self-identifies as Latinx has seen themselves reflected between my words.
Thank you very much for reading this. With much Love, Gabriella.