Feature photo by steve_steady64

Perhaps you are like me, walking the tightrope between your inherited and learned cultures, suspended in a curious vacuum. What are the ingredients you’re composed of? Why don’t they have a precise flavor? Don’t you know who you are?

Are you betwixt and between?

Perhaps you are.

You could be like me, shrinking when a Spanish-speaking parent approaches the service desk in the children’s department at the library I work at, ashamed to inform, once again, that I do not speak Spanish. You, too, might speak in nervous tones when you visit that other country, the way my cousins and I would exaggerate the sharp notes of our English to each other in silly, Valley Girl accents to make fun of ourselves to the natives before they made fun of us.

You also might feel terribly, hopelessly out of place on 26th Street, bullied when your hairdresser from Uruguay chatters too brightly and too fast with your mother, and squeamish when the relatives visit from the island and make you feel utterly spoiled and useless, the measurements of your small Chicago bungalow looming luxurious in comparison to their cramped, shared quarters back home.

And at once you balk at the idea of no pasteles on Christmas or someone not thinking Edward James Olmos is clearly a god on Earth. You curse the overpresence of “taco” seasoning in American fare and curse yourself when you incorrectly pronounce a Spanish word you know perfectly well because others around you are doing it (for example, when at my restaurant job the other servers pronounce chorizo wrong wrong wrong). You could become violent when celebrities like Eva Longoria are touted as soldiers for the Latina way and could near-cry out of passion when Marc Anthony sings “Preciosa Puerto Rico.” Yes, this is being betwixt and between.

For years I’ve wanted to blame my parents for this consuming feeling of not quite belonging and of stunting me by not teaching my brother and me Spanish as children. Yes, they ought to have taught us, but I’ve realized that in reality they both had to walk the tightrope themselves, English being their first language, America their birthplace. The balance isn’t easy, no matter the generation. You will wobble some. You have ties in lots of directions, and though things might tangle, at least, at least (!) your threads reach far.

Our Mexican and Puerto Rican culture is very important to my family, and without Spanish or the soil of the motherland beneath my feet, it is written in me and all the spaces of my heart. As my father bustles manically to prepare for the massive tamale-making celebration we hold every year around this time, I see the way my family faithfully keeps the traditions of our culture alive alongside our American experiences, bantering boisterously back and forth about recipe ratio and construction technique, inviting dozens of our friends from different backgrounds to join us, firmly declaring our stake on a large portion of the final product.

From Spanish words for body parts to mariachi to pozole Sundays to Loteria, my parents included the music, cuisine, and customs in our upbringing without us really noticing. It was threaded so seamlessly that I assumed I must be missing the Big Picture. I wasn’t. I’d been living it all along.

My parents didn’t fill in all the holes in learning what it means to be Latina. There is, after all, a lot to it–I had to teach myself to salsa, developed a Frida obsession independently, and made the choice to be the first on both sides of the family to have a quinceanera, but hear me well: I do know who I am, betwixt and between and sideways and longways, inside and out.

So, my boyfriend is Italian, and my iPod plays Weezer, and I don’t like beans.

In the middle can be sweet if you let it and can stretch your ties both ways.

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