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April 10, 2013

Wetbacks and Whatnots

The major part of my life I've spent living in New York, in Upper Manhattan, where mostly Dominican families live. I love Dominican people, they're lively, happy, hard-working, and proud people. However, since I've been young, it's always been a little hard for me to fit in because my family is Nicaraguan. You'll probably think it's funny since New York City is a melting pot but I find that for the most part, people of different nationalities settle in places together but my family is one of the exceptions, so we adjusted.

I love my heritage. My culture is rich and diverse, and even if it weren't, I'd still be proud to say that I am Nicaraguan, that's where my parents and grandparents are from. Like other immigrant families, there were situations which drove my parents here and that is how I ended up here. The thing is, that in a place, mostly filled with specific nationalities, people always find a way to single you out if you're different. I don't know what it is, but as soon as people realize that something is not like the other, they find ways to make fun of it because they don't understand it, whether it be intentional or not.

My mom came to the United States from Nicaragua in the 1980s, she didn't know any English, so we only spoke Spanish at home. In Kindergarten, I was in a monolingual class, which means that I was in a class that only spoke one language, the thing is that my class only spoke in Spanish, no English.  There's this time I remember all of us were shouting out furniture pieces (in Spanish) in class to our teacher so that she could write them on the blackboard and I was sitting there trying to change my answer because I wasn't sure that if the way I said my furniture piece was the same way my classmates said it and I didn't want them to make fun of me. I was five.

Growing up in a Dominican neighborhood, I learned a lot about Dominican traditions and Dominican independence day and while they were singling me out for being different (not exclusively Dominicans, I used to hear it a lot from Puerto Ricans also) I used to get jealous because they got to celebrate their heritage together and sometimes I still do! September 15th comes along and guess what? I have no parade on 5th or 6th Avenue. I've heard people complain that their parades aren't on 5th Avenue, well, at least you have a parade! I have nothing! Nothing is more frustrating than not having ONE Nicaraguan restaurant in New York City...not one! However, there are tons of places that sell Dominican/Cuban/Puerto Rican food. All delicious if you're wondering.

Growing up (and sometimes still today, depending on what kind of person I meet) I was always hesitant to tell people my nationality because I usually got this:

"Nica-what?"
"Where's that?"
"I've never met anyone from there."
"Oh, is that in South America?"
"Oh so you're a wetback."
"So you're basically Mexican."

I suppose it's preposterous for me to assume that people know their geography, so I can't really get upset about that can I? I mean you can tell me you're from Belarus and I can tell you that it's in Eastern Europe, but not everyone knows geography like I do. The first four of those statements probably don't bother me because those are the ones I heard a lot growing up, so I grew accustomed to it and they're also not offensive. The last two however, those two, can make me go from sweet to irate in 0.05 nanoseconds.

No, I am not a wetback. I was born in the United States, I am actually an American citizen but I am first generation Nicaraguan-American. Someone actually said this to me recently and I was really angered by it. I went home, I thought about it, and although I am not a wetback, my mother did cross the border (the river and a whole lot of other stuff) illegally back in 1984, so if you want to get technical, my mother's a wetback. I sat there and wondered why I was so offended by this. My mother has come a long way and crossing the border is no great feat. I suppose that the word itself is what bothers me, because it's condescending, as if all these people that cross the borders and swim across the rivers come here to mooch off this nation and then come here to do nothing. We all know this is not the case. Wetbacks come here to work and make your lavish life all the more lavish.

My mother is a lot more than just a "wetback." My mother's the reason I have an education, the reason I have a job, the reason I pay taxes for my state and my country that these people who have called me wetback benefit from. After I calmed down, I decided that I would reclaim the word "wetback" and that I would not be offended by it because if it weren't for a wetback I wouldn't be here typing this blogpost today...you're welcome. Yes, I am the daughter of a wetback, and I'm damn proud of it.

On to the next one...

"So you're basically Mexican." I can't tell you how many times I've heard this one throughout the years and this is probably the one that bothers me the most. In fact, this is the remark that sparked this post!

No, there's nothing wrong with being Mexican. Mexican culture is rich and diverse and full of so much history and don't get me started on the food. The problem here is that I'm telling you I'm one thing and you're calling me another. Sure, there are similarities between Nicaragua and Mexico, we like tortillas, they like tortillas, we speak Spanish, they speak Spanish, we have indigenous people, they have indigenous people but that doesn't mean you can generalize us into one group. My accent is completely different than the accent of a Mexican Spanish speaker. Our countries' histories are completely different. I just find that some people like to bypass Central America and make us all Mexico. Well, we're not all Mexico, the same way that Dominicans are not Haitians and Haitians are not Dominicans, the same exact way that Koreans are not Chinese and Chinese are not Korean. We're all different, it's what makes us cool.

I guess I'm a little sensitive when it comes to this subject but can you blame me? I'm proud of what I am and I don't want to be steam rolled into another culture. I like to learn about other cultures and appreciate the differences between all of them. I guess not everyone is like that and I shouldn't expect for others to think the same way as I do. I suppose I'll have to learn to shrug it off or give on-the-spot geography lessons.

,
Elba  
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