My fingers poked at the radio pre-set buttons, searching for the perfect song. After 10 months of living in Bogotá, Colombia, I had finally returned to my hometown and driving around sunny St. Petersburg, Florida felt cathartic. I rapidly flipped through radio stations until I found a song that gave me pause. “Ay Vamos” by Colombian Reggaetón artist J Balvin flooded the car.
This was the first time listening to music in Spanish in my hometown felt completely normal. Sure, I had some Shakira on my iPod before moving to Colombia, but who doesn’t love “Hips Don’t Lie?” Humming along while I drove my siblings to school was the first time I didn’t feel like I was pretending to be Latina or like I was using music as a tool to feel more “connected to my roots.” It just happened to be a song I listened to all the time in Colombia because it was very popular there. Simple as that.
Despite my last name and my stereotypical Latina features – curly black hair, tan skin, full lips – I have never been fully comfortable identifying myself as Latina, which is why listening to Latin music or speaking my basic Spanish used to feel so awkward.
My dad is from Venezuela and my mom is from the United States. Being biracial (yes, I know Hispanic is not a race, it’s an ethnicity) paired with not fluently speaking Spanish made me feel like an imposter when it came to all-things-Latin.
Then I moved to Colombia and immersed myself in the culture, because you don’t really have a choice when living abroad. I didn’t notice my perspective towards self-identifying as Latina changed until I returned to the United States for a two-week visit.
Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t Salsa dancing in grocery store lines or crossing myself at church, even though my family is Protestant. The changes were minor: I felt comfortable speaking Spanish to the guys working on my mom’s roof after they spoke Spanish to me first. I listened to the Spanish-language radio station while driving. I had an actual conversation with my dad in Spanish, when we normally always speak English.
I fully understand that living in Colombia for 10 months doesn’t make me Colombian. I will always be from the United States, nothing can change my upbringing and I probably will always speak Spanish with an accent. However, that “imposter” feeling that always used to creep up on me when someone asked about my background subsided when I returned home.
I am not advocating for everyone who feels disconnected to their heritage to drop everything and live in the “motherland” like I did. (Although, the metaphorical motherland in my case would be Venezuela, not Colombia.) I also don’t think knowing a certain language is the only way to feel closer to a certain ethnic group or culture.
I can only speak for myself. I moved to Colombia to become fully bilingual in hopes of forging new career opportunities. I also hoped to feel more connected to a culture that has loomed over my life, but was always out of reach. Living in Colombia, I no longer feel like I’m grasping for something that will never be mine. I obtained it. I am embracing it.