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In the 7th grade during cultural week, I vividly remember being asked to explain my cultural background in a paragraph. The teacher specified that we should talk about what makes our heritage special and what we are most proud of in terms of our cultural identity. I thought my answer to this question would be simple. I’ve always told people that I’m half Peruvian and half Bolivian. It was quite a different response from my peers who proudly answered that they were 100% Colombian or Venezuelan, born and raised. When asked to talk about what my heritage means to me and how I embrace my cultural identity, I began to feel stuck. Although I’ve occasionally gone on family trips to each of my parents’ home countries, I have lived in Florida my entire life. English is my primary language and my Spanish, as Melissa Lozada-Oliva beautifully explained in a poem, “is an itchy phantom limb: reaching for a word and only finding air.”

When I reflect on how I grew up, the primary language I speak at school and home, friends, neighbors, and classmates I’ve been surrounded with, I feel as though my life story closely resembles that of any other American. The only difference is in the background details. I can speak and understand Spanish, I have been to places most of my peers have never been to, and in these places, I have people that I can call family.

Being born and raised in South America, my parents had an incredibly different lifestyle. My mom grew up in Bolivia, and my dad in Peru. Since I was born, we’d travel as a family with my sister to visit their hometowns at least once a year. One thing that always stood out to me was how mirrored my mom and dad’s families were. They each had the Hispanic, stereotypical, sizeable families consisting of my grandparents, and many aunts, uncles, and cousins which I perceived as a great contrast to my small four-membered family. Staying in Peru and Bolivia, two impoverished countries in South America, I was astonished by the difference in their traditional lifestyles compared to mine at home.

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At my mom’s childhood home where everyone got together, my two aunts would spend most of the day in the kitchen preparing full-course meals for the bunch of us gathered together close by. In Peru it was no different, my grandmother basically lived in the kitchen, making sure every family member had their preferred plate, from ceviche to lomo saltado, to my personal favorite, aji de gallina. I’ve never witnessed such a chaotic household as my family, and I thought to myself how different is at home. I noticed how much families from both sides give special importance to family values and cherish family gatherings. In Peru and Bolivia, Sunday is the dedicated family day where everyone comes together for lunch, with no uncle, great-aunt, or distant cousin ever being a stranger.

What I learned from seeing them engage in these traditions and values firsthand was how energetic and passionate I can be about everything in life. My perspective of viewing the world changed as I felt connected to such a vibrant way of life. Family is my motivation to seek

I had Living in such impoverished places, they make up the Hispanic community which I hear so much about from my parents. 

If further down in my school career I get asked about my cultural identity, I would know. I would reflect the Peruvian-Bolivian heritage that makes up who I am through my family who live in faraway countries. My cultural experience has driven me I be proud to be of Peruvian-Bolivian heritage. My cultural identity is a huge part of who I am today.  

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