Just days after celebrating the new year, I began my journey to the unknown: Paris, France. I was flying overseas for the first time and all I could do was imagine the experiences I would encounter and the fears of language barriers. Little did I expect I would learn more about myself than the French language and culture. Spending several months abroad on my own has given me stories to tell for a lifetime but I want to share the story of a friendship that challenged my perception of identity and taught me to embrace how individuals define themselves -- regardless of societal expectations.
Growing up in Atlanta, where a majority of my Latin friends were of Mexican descent, with a father from Peru and a mother from Colombia, it is evident I encountered an identity crisis multiple times throughout my lifetime. I often struggled to define my ethnic, racial and cultural background because I learned various aspects of Latin culture through various people.
When discovering I was only one of two Latinas in my study abroad program, I instantly found myself gravitating towards the other Latina in the program. Coincidentally, we were both of Colombian descent. Already sharing a common nationality, I thought developing a friendship with her would be easy.
Just by knowing she was Colombian and female, I created a list of expectations. A sort of distorted version of reality that heavily affected my approach to our friendship. Soon after getting to know the surface of her personality, I realized I was becoming the judgmental, ignorant individual I detest so much in the states. With every outing, I found myself questioning her Latina identity: What Colombian doesn't like Vallenato (Colombian folk music)? How does a Latina enjoy EDM but can't dance Salsa?
For weeks, I blamed her for not being "Colombian enough," as if I had the credibility to determine who was or was not "enough" of their nationality. She didn't fit into the little box of Colombian stereotypes I created and it was driving me insane.
It was then when I realized the root of the problem was my perception of identity. My whole life, I embraced all aspects of Colombian and Peruvian cultures to prove that I am Latina. The judgmental, ignorant mentality was precisely the type of mindset I was trying to prove wrong every time my identity was questioned.
Her response to my frustration demonstrated she was beyond the labels. She didn't waste time proving her Latina-ness to others and gave no attention to those that questioned her. She embraced all the cultures that shaped her; both the American and the Colombian. Latinos come from numerous ancestral backgrounds so the stereotypical cage we are often exposed to is in reality only demonstrates a small portion of the entire Latin race.
There are black Latinos, white Latinos, heterosexual Latinos, homosexual Latinos, catholic Latinos, Muslims Latino, Latinos that enjoy Salsa and Latinos that love Rock n' Roll! We are too diverse to define in one simple sentence. Like my Colombian buddy, I started to care less about showing off my Latina-ness and just enjoying the aspects of my cultures that helped shape me.
Even though being Latina in Paris is different from being Latina in the states, I have discovered a new freedom. A world in which my diverse cultural upbringing speaks through the experiences I gain and the friendships I develop.