“I like that you have all these different cultures to you,” my best friend, Claudia, told me a few months after meeting. “It makes you interesting.”
In Georgia, I’d never seen my multiple halves as something to be proud of. Even though I knew the Latinx community across the U.S. was made up of hopeful, motivated, and hard-working people, it was only my white side that ever garnered praise—how well I could speak English and adopt American values, the fact that I was light-skinned, or that I appeared grateful to live in a country with more opportunities than the “third-world country” that birthed me. My Latinidad was secondary or something to root out altogether.
Now, as an expat residing in Antigua, Guatemala with my husband and small son, I feel a greater sense of belonging. Here, there is no need to assimilate. When asked about my background, I don’t fear that my response will somehow alienate me, or that I’ll have to prove myself.
The friends and acquaintances I’ve made in Guatemala are patient when I don’t understand a cultural reference, and it doesn’t matter whether I speak broken Spanish or whether traces of English roll off my tongue. I am not made to feel “less than” because I grew up in another country.
But it’s the connections I’ve built with other mixed race expats that have had the most profound impact in the way I see myself. Throughout my life, I’ve felt pressure to present myself in different ways depending on who I was with. But with those of mixed heritage, that weight is lifted. We don’t try to define each other according to our social conditioning. We see each other for who we truly are; as “others” who understand what it means to live in the liminal space between worlds, and who have found a home in this place, too.
When I take weekend drives through the cobbled streets of my town, I marvel at the restored colonial buildings and the brightly-clad women carrying baskets of fruit waving to each other. I’m reminded of the values my mom tried instilling in me as a child: laughter, food, the joy of sharing, strength, resilience, and being generous with everyone we meet—that’s what it truly means to be Latinx.
In living abroad, I’ve found the confidence to correct people and offer them a more expansive view of what it means to be mixed race. The times I’ve traveled back to the U.S., I’ve felt a newfound pride in my Latinx heritage, striking up friendly banter with strangers the way we do in Central America; sharing from my culture in a way I didn’t feel safe doing as a kid. Te encantaría, I tell them. You’d love it.
Now, as I look at my mixed race son who stumbles with his own version of Spanglish, I understand that belonging doesn’t come from perfectly expressing our heritage, but from being embraced and accepted for our quirks and differences. We don’t need to fit into a mold of other people’s expectations; we can celebrate our uniqueness and reclaim our apparently disparate halves.
Like my mother’s pet monkey and parrot, these parts of myself will always be chasing after one another. But living overseas has given me a new lens through which to view my amalgamation of identities. Here, I am free to explore my roots without the need to code-switch. Here, each part of me lives in imperfect harmony.