Growing up in Palm Springs, CA, I was blessed to be surrounded by a diverse and supportive community. Many of my friends were of Latinx or white descent (some spoke Spanish, some did not) and the community’s kindness was abundant. I never felt insecure in my identity as a second-generation Guatemalan who did not speak Spanish fluently.
Am I Latina Enough?
It was not until I went to college that questions about my identity emerged. In my first year at Boston College, another student jokingly told me that I should not be able to join the Latinx student club because I did not speak Spanish fluently. I was told that I was not Latina enough.
But in other settings, leaders of organizations wanted me to assert my Latina identity in order to add ethos to their diversity claims. I felt lost and conflicted as people told me where to go and how to identify myself, telling me whether I was “too Latina” or “not Latina enough.”
I love my father's Hispanic background, but I struggle to put myself in a box. I felt classified as an "in-betweener": I did not know how to describe my own identity because it varied relative to where I was and whom I was with. I have difficulty calling myself Latina because others have utilized this title to either benefit themselves for that diversity claim, or to exclude me altogether. This is a challenge that I am still learning to navigate as I get older and develop more confidence in claiming my identity.
Finding Healing Through a Cuban-American Theologian
It was not until I found the writings of Cuban-America mujerista theologian, Ada María Isasi-Díaz, that I began to love and accept the complexity of my Latina identity. Her writing gave me permission to lean into the messiness of my own identity.
Born in Cuba in 1943, Isasi-Díaz moved to the United States at the age of 17. She knew the intimate struggle of finding a home in the midst of displacement. Known as the “mother of mujerista theology” (“mujer” being the Spanish word for “woman”), she yearned to promote an inspiration of liberation within Latinas.
Isasi-Díaz discusses multifaceted identities in her book, La Lucha Continues: Mujerista Theology. She argues that there is no such thing as a ‘single-site’ person. Rather, we all have different roots and interactions that drive us forward in life. She describes her own experience of dancing between cultures: “We were displaced from somewhere concrete and our ‘original’ selves – our first selves as well as our creative selves – continue to be displaced not only from where we came but also from where we have arrived or have always been.”
Once we leave our place of origin, we never necessarily settle down completely or find that same sense of home again. We keep connecting, physically and culturally, to that place from which we originated. This idea of a multi-site person involves continual transformation. It is important to take in all of the different layers of place and of person.
The Danger of a Single Narrative
In celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, we need more interdisciplinary language surrounding these complex issues. For Isasi-Díaz, narratives matter; there is no claim for neutrality. She is deeply interested in the emotional, the related, and the situation of narratives of reality. For Isasi-Díaz, wholeness is central.
In reading Isasi-Díaz’s writings, I have found healing, a sense of symbolic repair giving form to the devastation in life. Her writing has helped me answer questions about my background that I have been asked by others and have also asked myself. In this way, Isasi-Díaz has given me the gift of myself.
Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s famous TEDtalk also applies here: There is a danger to a single narrative and to what a single narrative leaves out – and this danger is alive and well throughout Hispanic Heritage month. When stereotypes fill in the gaps of a person’s complexity, it flattens their worth and leaves no room for depth. Isasi-Díaz fights against this single story that I have been told about Latina women, shedding light on these "in-betweeners" who have beautiful and multifaceted identities.
As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, let us remember to look at the complexity of the diverse stories that are involved. Let us be challenged to offer a critical perspective of euro-centered aestheticism and to enter into conversations about the effects of a diaspora space as we celebrate the many narratives of Hispanic heritage.