Since as far back as I can remember I’ve known I was different.
It started as a grade school kid yelling, “HERE!” when the teacher checked attendance in the morning before classes started. I was the only Hugo in Kindergarten. In fact, I was the only Hugo in the entire school.
I knew I was different at home when my mother called for me pronouncing my name OO-go and not HYOO-go as they did at school.
I lived in two worlds. A Spanish speaking one at home which was very different than the one outside my door in English. I can share with you quite the laundry list of idiosyncrasies, but nothing as vivid as food. My mother treated me to mouth watering delights like lomo saltado and at school I was exposed to lunch time fails like sloppy joes.
Just how different I was became even more apparent to me when I visited Peru, my parents’ country of origin each summer vacation. There I was known as “El Gringuito”, a foreigner from Los Estados Unidos. It didn’t matter that both my parents were natives, my birth certificate read U.S.A.
It wasn’t any better when I returned home to New Jersey. There I was a foreigner too. My name was different, my skin tone was a little darker, I spoke a different language and my parents had a funny accent. It was clear to the kids in my neighborhood that I wasn’t from around here.
Not Peruvian enough.
Not American enough.
This dilemma was a defining moment in my young life. All children ever want is to be like everyone else; be accepted by their peers. It quickly became real to me that full acceptance would never be achieved. It is at that moment at the tender age of nine or ten years that I decided “to hell with them”, I am from the Republic of Hugo Balta.
This is the story I shared with Denise Soler Cox during an interview for Project Enye at the Hispanicize 2015 Conference. An initiative which tells the stories of other republics like mine; the children of two worlds. It is a state of acculturation, adopting the best of two cultures and making it your own.
In speaking with Denise, as she shared with me her story; I realized how much we were alike. Even though our backgrounds were different; her roots are Puerto Rican and mine are Peruvian…we had similar experiences growing up in the U.S.
I remembered that conversation when Donald Trump attacked Mexicans during the announcement that he was running for the White House. I was invited to speak in a television program about how the presidential hopeful was not only alienating the Mexican community, but Latinos in general. Some critics, many Latino – told me that I was wrong. They were quick to correct me that Trump singled out Mexicans and not any other Latino group. That’s factually correct of course, but what they failed to see is that for many people in this country we are all the same. Mexicans, Peruvians, Puerto Ricans, fill in the blank for any of the more than 20 Spanish speaking countries…to them, we are all the same.
It is we, the Latinos who don’t see how very much alike we are.
Don’t get me wrong. I am the first to say that despite the U.S. Census poor attempts to put Latinos in to a nice little bucket labeled U.S. Hispanics; we do not self describe as such. We don’t ask, “where are you from” because we want to know if you’re a Latino. We ask because we want to know where you trace your roots. I am a proud Peruvian-American who recognizes and appreciates that I’m part of a larger family of Latinos in the United States, but that is our communities collective Achilles heel. We celebrate our differences much more than what we have in common. This is why I was chastised for declaring Trump’s attack on Mexicans as not only an attack on them, but on all of us. Once again I wasn’t “enough”.
Who am I to defend the Mexican community? After all, I’m not Mexican or Mexican-American. In some circles I’m not even a real Latino having been born in this country. What do I know about the struggles of immigrants?!
This was the topic of conversation when a friend came calling complaining about the lack of unity among U.S. Latinos and our inability to have a unified front in the fight for fairness, equality, respect. It is difficult to have one voice when there are historical divides between Peruvians and Ecuadorians, Colombians and Venezuelans, Caribbean’s and Central-Americans, etc. Except there is one difference; the children of those immigrants.
We, the sons and daughters, many who have been made to feel “not enough” for a number of excuses have the opportunity to declare their own republic forged by the common experiences of second, third and fourth generation Latinos. We, the children of two worlds don’t need to inherit the historical road blocks of our fathers. We can choose to unite to defend the rights of one another, to support causes which affect us directly or by association, to take our place at the decision making table in politics, society and business.
We are proud of the historical revolutionary, innovative, industrious spirit of the United States of America. We build on a solid foundation of family values, strong work ethic and pride instilled in us by our parents. We provide a united voice and offer an open palm in support of one another in times of celebration or trouble.
We can do all those things and much more because what made us different in our youth makes us the same in our formidable years…we are AMERICAN LATINO.