When I was eight years old, my parents made the brave decision to move to the United States of America in search of the American Dream. At the time, I didn’t know what that meant and I didn’t know how our lives would change, but change they did — and quickly.
We settled in Miami, where many Cuban immigrants live, and got to work making our lives better. Although I’m not the only person to share my immigrant story, there are plenty of things that connect us Latino immigrants together. Things like the metaphorical hunger to survive (as Camila Cabello explained), or jumping the border without knowing the language (according to Cesar Millan) and so much more.
Here are nine things that every Latino immigrant knows to be true… And yes, even if you’re a child of immigrants, you still might relate.
People can never, ever spell your name correctly.
I’ve gotten every variation of my name spelling that you can think of, including one Starbucks barista who wrote “Arena”, except for my actual name’s spelling. And I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve had to say “Gonzalez with a Z” over the phone to some confused customer service representative. It’s not just me, though. Unless your name is Maria or Jesus, then it’s likely that nobody can ever spell your first or last (or both!) name correctly.
You don’t understand this obsession with PB&J sandwiches.
Especially if you came to the US as a young kid, you might have been inundated by classmates who raved about PB&J sandwiches. Well, let me tell you, that whole peanut butter and jelly combo? It’s weird. I could never get over that sticky feeling of the peanut butter on the roof of my mouth or of that weird, soggy bread that it came with. Instead, I’ll take a Cubano sandwich anytime.
Friends would ask why your family is constantly yelling.
This one definitely applies to Latinos everywhere, immigrant or first generation and beyond, but it’s so very true. When my best friend came home with me during college, he couldn’t help but ask: Seriously, why is your family so loud? ‘We can’t help it,’ I simply answered. My favorite example of this is when a couple of friends were over for dinner one night when I was a teen and my mother asked me to get my younger brother to the dinner table. Instantly, I yelled across the house for him. My friends were shocked, but this was par for the course during my entire childhood.
You have an instant connection with anyone from your home country.
I’ve been living in the US for over 23 years and an American citizen for over 17 years, but I still feel a special bond whenever I meet someone else who is from Cuba. I don’t know what it is, but that bond extends to other Latinxs as well. Sometimes we can spend the whole time talking about the food we miss or the struggles we had growing up as immigrants, but the bond is always immediate and special.
Everything is basically “SO weird” to friends.
Whenever I had friends over to my house as a young girl or a teen, or even now as an adult, there was always something that my American friends found strange or odd. From my family being loud to the strong smells coming from the kitchen to how we insist on opening Christmas presents at midnight on Noche Buena, sometimes others just can’t relate to our family life.
Living with a grandparent is no big deal.
Abuelita was over fairly constantly growing up, and in fact lived and still lives with my aunt. She basically raised my cousin, and I know I’m not the only Latina to grow up with a grandparent either nearby or living in our house. The grandparents are always around in Latino families, and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Your baby pictures are all in black & white.
I was born in the 80s, but my photographs from childhood look as if I was born in the 50s. Why is that? Well, basically, it all comes down to the cost of color photography — a cost that was clearly too high for my parents at the time. These days I find it quite quaint to look back at those baby pictures which make me look like I’m coming straight out of a vintage catalogue. There’s the occasional color photo, like the portraits we took for my third birthday, but those are far and few between.
It’s hard not to cringe when people say “America” when referring to the US.
If you come from Latin America, this one can be particularly painful. I’m lucky that my home is in the Caribbean, but I know so many Latino immigrant friends who feel annoyed that the United States of America is the only “America” that is often recognized. Still, just the same, we adopt this way of speaking. After all, I’m an American citizen now, right? I never say “US citizen,” even though that’s the correct way it should be said.
Determination quickly became your family’s mantra.
One of the biggest ways of knowing that someone is an immigrant is that they are incredibly determined. In my family, it was expected that I get A’s and go to a good college (I did). My family was also determined to build a better life for themselves (they did). My parents worked hard to provide for us, never letting me or my little brother know just how poor we were when we were younger. Instead, we were incredibly lucky to be here and able to work hard to achieve that ever elusive American Dream.