My Turn

Frijoles and Billy Joel

Posted

I am a born and bred Long Islander. I was raised on Billy Joel and ate EBC SPK’s while staring at the glittering Great South Bay. I love Long Island and despite its incurably high cost of living, I plan to settle down here.

My father also loved Long Island. He loved the cold snow and keeping up with American traditions, like decorating the Christmas tree and going into the city to see it lit up for the holidays. He was obsessed with the idea that anyone could be anything here—the good ol’ American dream.

Born and raised in Honduras, it is not hyperbole to say that my dad stuck out like a sore thumb in our small South Shore town. As a college-educated school principal in Honduras, he learned to speak English by watching “Mr. Rogers Neighborhood.”

My mother is white, and I inherited her lighter skin and its privileges instead of my father’s darker pigment. Throughout my school career, I was embarrassed by something that seemed to set me apart from so many others in school—my dad’s sometimes fumbling English and accent, the food I brought for lunch looking different than everybody else’s, my ability to speak Spanish an endless game show for peers to ask me how to say stupid phrases.

When I got to college, it was amazing to read stories and meet people who were just like me, straddling the line of two identities and one person, other second-generation immigrants who had our own separate cultural identity from our parents.

When my dad died in 2019, I went back to Honduras for the first time in about seven years. I used to go every year or so, but for the last nine years of his life he and I were estranged. Getting to see my family again, going to a place I loved again, felt like puzzle pieces slotting into place.

My uncles told stories of the example my dad set, moving first to the big city and letting them each stay at his apartment when they went to university, moving to the United States unafraid, and then becoming a citizen, raising a daughter here.

I’ve always been proud to be Latina. To have grown up with experiences different from my peers that helped shape my worldview, but for the first time I was proud of my dad. I had never looked at him as an immigrant before—as someone who left what he knew for love and moved to a new place where he didn’t speak the language.

I was ashamed of all the times I walked away at the grocery store checkout, embarrassed for myself while he explained the cereal was supposed to be on sale, but the cashier couldn’t understand his accent. I had never thought about what he left behind and how he had to morph himself to fit the American ideals.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos make up 20.2 percent of Long Island’s population. Whether they are first generation like my father or second generation like myself, we are proud New Yorkers and Long Islanders. We are also proud Latinos. These statements are not mutually exclusive.

Like everyone else, we work hard each day and look towards a better tomorrow. Paciencia y fe.

Comments

No comments on this story | Please log in to comment by clicking here