I have started classes already and I’m already a little overwhelmed by all the reading I’ll have to do this semester. I also have that lingering high school complex to be the best in the class lurking in the back of my mind. I’ve been trying to banish it by just telling myself to have fun with my courses. Just do my best and get a good experience out of it. My professors were great, but I was a little worried with my Latino lit class at first. I like my professor but she’s a little timid, not like the other powerful female English professors I’ve had/have. However, I think the class will be an enlightening experience. Today we talked about how Latino literature IS American literature and often struggles with issues of identity and something clicked in my head, an immediate connection to this literature and its authors.
Although I’m not really a first generation Cuban in the sense that my parents are very “Americanized” since they have been in the US since they were very young and I didn’t grow up in the “barrio” or in the heavy shadow of cultural obligation, I too struggled with identity. For me, growing up in small town, white bread, Tennessee and searching for some kind of answer to the question, “Who am I?”, I clung to my cultural heritage as a way to make myself unique and special, to make my identity something definitive. I never wanted to fit in; quite the opposite; I wanted to distinguish myself in every way possible. So I made sure everyone knew that I was Cuban, in elementary school showing other kids where it was on the map, in the rest of my school career vigorously educating them when they said, “But you don’t look it…” as if I could not possibly be Cuban because I wasn’t dark-skinned.
However, while I was educating my peers about the diversity within the Latino community, I also paradoxically worried I wasn’t Cuban enough, especially since I didn’t know Spanish, even though I knew that there is no “standard” to being Cuban and you should never limit yourself by your ethnicity. I still cling to it occassionally when I feel unsure of myself but now I’m in a more diverse (comparatively) community where there’s lots of different Latinos, even other Cubans besides me. Maybe it’s not so special, maybe I can’t base my identity, my need to feel unique, solely on being Cuban because it makes me feel safe, but I can still keep that orgullo which is definitely distinctly Cuban. And I can still ponder my identity, something my professor said was uniquely American (though I don’t really agree). I know better now. I know am Cuban no matter who I am. I know that my identity is comprised of more parts than I can count and that it don’t NEED to pin it down. I just need, to be so very cliche, to be myself and let go. I’m more complex than a single label can encompass.