If you were to ask me “Who Are You?”, I would immediately say how much of a loaded question that is, leaving me in deep thought for a minute or two figuring out how to answer. Since it is Hispanic Heritage Month, I thought it would be appropriate to embrace a dimension of myself and talk more about it.
A while back in my visual journal, I drew a piece in response to the question “Who Are You?”, an exercise I found in my Art Therapy Techniques and Applications book. The exercise itself is meant to increase one’s self-awareness and esteem, using whatever drawing materials to execute one’s answer to the question. My visual journal entry itself was simple enough, merely tracing over a selfie of myself in traditional Guatemalan clothing, replacing the frame of my glasses with words that describe myself. I wanted to do the exercise again, this time focusing on my Hispanic heritage, specifically things that I noticed about my person.
Both sides of my family hail from the small country of Guatemala, found at the very bottom of Mexico. My maternal grandparents immigrated to America for a better opportunity to support the family in the homeland, settling in the state of New Jersey. Some years go by before my mother and her siblings travel to the States to live and receive citizenship. Meanwhile, my father traveled to the United States as a teenager with the same idea of a better opportunity, living with an uncle in New Jersey coincidentally. My parents crossed paths within the same county, and the rest is history. Me and my siblings were born and raised in New Jersey, along with most of our cousins from both sides of the family.
Growing up in a Hispanic household entailed of accompanying my grandma grocery-shopping to the local store run by other Hispanics, picking out fresh Portuguese rolls for a cheap buck or two. Being Hispanic meant eating tamales around Christmas, and opening presents at the stroke of 12 instead of early Christmas Day. Being Hispanic meant the parties filled with carne asada, elote, and music, the night seemingly going on and on. Being Hispanic meant that me and my brothers’ birthdays were filled with piñatas made by my mother, and getting our faces shoved in the birthday cake. Being Hispanic also meant that I attended many of my cousins’ quinceañeras, as well as celebrating my own in the summer of 2017.
However, growing up in a Hispanic household meant the use of the Spanish language, which opened up Pandora’s box of my insecurities. My parents hoped to raise me as bilingual the moment I popped out of the womb, but saw how difficult it was for me to grasp either. Taking into consideration that I would be attending elementary school where English would be the main form of communication, my parents decided to speak to me in English, along with my younger brothers. Spanish became secondary, which was evidently a problem considering that everyone in the family tree was obviously fluent in the language.
That is not to say I lacked any knowledge of Spanish whatsoever, though I couldn’t exactly tell when I began understanding the language. The main problem was actually verbally speaking the language, a gaping problem that made itself known once we moved away from our family in New Jersey and settled in Pennsylvania. We no longer had as much contact or communication with the Spanish language, solely relying on our parents for practice. On the occasions we would visit New Jersey, it was pretty clear how much me and my brothers struggled to communicate with our beloved grandparents. It came to a point where I felt guilty about my lack of understanding of the Spanish language, especially when I took French as a foreign language class in middle and high school. It took some effort and practice with my parents, along with confidence in myself before I was able to begin speaking Spanish. As of now, I am capable of having engaging conversations with my grandparents, and they have never been happier. Of course, those insecurities in Spanish skills persist.
I had a coworker whose first language was Spanish, so I attempted to play translator to make it easier for her and my other coworkers. A friend of mine who also worked at the same job made a comment about how I spoke Spanish like a “white person”, the insinuation dealing a violent blow to my self-esteem. Mind you, my friend doesn’t speak a lick of Spanish, but his comment made me feel a bit embarrassed since I’m supposed to know the language. However, that served as a push to further develop my Spanish-speaking skills.
Of course, those insecurities came full force over the summer when Yasmin, a cousin I never met before, visited from Guatemala. She was staying at my cousin Henry’s house, so my family decided to visit and invite her over to our home. When we were over, me and my brother caught up with Henry and he helped introduce us to Yasmin. However, Henry couldn’t help but poke fun at me and my brother by explaining to Yasmin that we were “no sabo” kids, Hispanics who could not speak Spanish. Again, Henry wasn’t being malicious whatsoever in teasing us, but me and my brother laughed away our slight embarrassment. There is a negative reputation of being a “no sabo” kid, so I vehemently deny ever being one and claim that I have used the correct phrase “no se”. But a part of me feels that the “no sabo” title may hold some truth. Reflecting on these moments during Hispanic Heritage Month served as inspiration for the following piece.
I took a photo of myself, posing in a manner that pushed my hair out of my face and left my forehead open. From there, I traced my pose in Procreate and decided to go a more semi-cartoony, semi-realistic approach to drawing myself. With my forehead exposed, I wrote the words “no sabo” in red, displayed in a way that is meant to be obvious and humiliating, a tissue is in my hand as I attempt to wipe away the words. In the background, I put together a collage of a variety of photos that are closely related to my Hispanic heritage. There is a photo of myself wearing my pink quinceañera dress, and another one of me wearing traditional Guatemalan clothing for Hispanic Heritage Month the previous year. Photos of pan dulce, ceviche, carne asada, and a tres leches cake I made myself are also included. In addition, there is a photo of a local grocery store selling ethnic foods run by Hispanics and a piñata my mother made for my little cousin’s birthday earlier this month.
This collage brings awareness to my worries of being perceived and labeled as a “no sabo” kid, yet reminds me how much I love my Guatemalan heritage and the memories I made in my Hispanic household. I may not have an advanced fluency in the Spanish language, but that doesn’t erase the fact I am Hispanic. Currently, I am working towards improving my knowledge in Spanish; this fall and spring semester I am taking Elementary Spanish with the intent of brushing up on what I already know and improving upon my grammar and speaking. At the end of the day, if I can communicate and express the love I have for my family in the Spanish that I know, that is good enough for me.