On Being Latina: How family shapes who we are
Back in July I was asked to be a speaker at Union Bank of Switzerland’s (UBS) Hispanic Heritage Celebration. On October 9, 2014 I hopped on the NY Waterway ferry at 34th street and made my way to the UBS offices in Weehawken, NJ. I was honored and excited to talk about what it means to me to be Latina. I spent weeks thinking about what I wanted to say. I thought carefully about the experiences that have shaped who I am. As I thought about what I wanted my speech to be about there was one central theme that kept arising. The theme of family. Everything that I am and everything that I do comes from and is inspired by my family.
Families are the compass that guides us. They are the inspiration to reach great heights, and our comfort when we occasionally falter. -Brad Henry
WHO AM I? When I think about how to answer that question so many titles arise. I say titles because many of us define ourselves by what we do and in that respect I am a mother, a wife, a writer, a health care professional, and while the list can go on none of these titles on their own can adequately describe me in my entirety. They only briefly describe parts of me and individually are not representative of who I am at my core. We are after all, more than just what we do.
Who we are, deep down, is defined by our values, our morals, our beliefs, our traditions. Who we are is shaped at a very early age and as we get older our choices and decisions begin to factor into who we become. At my core, and what I identify with most is being a Brooklyn born Puertoriqueña. My mother was born on the island of Puerto Rico and my father who is also of Puerto Rican descent was raised in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. It is the fusion of these two very distinct geographical places where my latinidad was forged and closely nurtured by my family through our shared experiences, customs, and traditions.
When a person arrives to a new place, with a new language, culture, and tradition—as many immigrants do, they tend to hold on even tighter to the people around them. Human nature naturally causes families to stick together and form extended family relationships. As time passes, and we become accustomed to our new environment this tight hold loosens, but the concept remains and is passed down from generation to generation. The message is always the same. You hold onto your family. You are loyal to those who share your last name, your bloodline, or even just your neighborhood. For me, family has shaped who I am.
When I was a young girl, my family and I spent every Sunday at my grandfather’s