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20 Only Things Latinas From The Midwest Just Get Better Than Everyone Else

Growing up Latino in some parts of the United States can be, well, challenging. I was born and raised in Nebraska — smack dab in the middle of the country — and definitely have a few interesting anecdotes to share. While my hometown had pockets of diversity, it was a far cry from the cultural melting pots found on the coasts. Although this lack of community was often frustrating and isolating, it informed my sense of identity and, ultimately, gave me a deeper appreciation for my cultural heritage. And while I don’t claim to speak for all Latinos who were raised in the Midwest, you might be able to relate to some of the experiences I recount below.

People would try to feed you your own culture’s cuisine instead of just sticking to what they know.

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You’d go over to a friend’s house expecting to eat some good ol’ fashioned American food, but their family would make (in my case) Mexican food — or at least attempt to — because they figured that’s what you were used to. And while that may have been the case, sometimes you just wanted some mac and cheese!

People always assumed you spoke Spanish.

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Yes, your last name may be Spanish, but that doesn’t mean you have an expert command of the language. In my case, I understand it better than I speak it, which often disappointed those who wanted me to play translator.

People constantly mispronounced your last name.

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It’s ree•VAHS. Not ree•VIS. Constantly having to correct people was downright exhausting, but alas, it came with the territory.

People assumed you had a huge extended family.

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All Latino families have dozens of tios, tias, primos, and primas…right? Well according to popular culture, yes. But IRL that’s not always the case. All of my extended family is still in Mexico, so I didn’t have the big family functions growing up.

People thought you were Mexican instead of another Latino ethnicity.

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While I am, in fact, Mexican, that’s not the case for all Latinos. Seems obvious, but to many in the Midwest, it’s easier to generalize than to take a step back and try to understand just how diverse the term “Latino” really is. It can cover a lot of ground, and Mexico is only one small part.

You were likely the only Latino in class.

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While this would’ve depended on the size of your hometown, you probably didn’t have too many fellow Latinos in class. And if you were lucky enough to not be totally alone, odds are that you and the other Latino kid were grouped together often — whether you wanted to be or not.

You were likely the only Latino at work.

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The same can be said for work situations. It’s worse in the office when people will look to you to be the official spokesperson for all Latinos. Talk about pressure.

You were likely the only Latino in pretty much any social situation.

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While we’re at it, why not just lump all social situations together? Because the chances of you running into another Latino (or even another person of color for that matter) in a place that’s majority white are real slim.

People would ask if you’re related to [insert Latino person here].

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Again, going back to one of the points mentioned above: Not all Latinos have large extended families. And, moreover, we aren’t all related to each other. Do I know a Franco Rivas from Arizona? Well, do you know a Jim Smith from Arizona??

There was always that one Latino eatery you could rely on.

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One of the things I love most about my culture is that we travel well. We bring our traditions everywhere, including the most delicious ones. Some of the best Mexican food you’ll ever have is in the Midwest — you just have to know where to look.

Your friends would get Lunchables while you got leftovers.

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Speaking of food, can we talk about how your friends always got cool-looking Lunchables while you had leftover for lunch? You liked your mami’s cooking, of course, but you secretly longed for a Lunchable every once in a while.

People would figure that your family works at meat factories, farms, construction sites, etc.

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Latinos are notoriously hard workers who are often in roles that are highly undervalued. In the Midwest, those are commonly construction and farming jobs. But Latinos work in a variety of sectors and aren’t confined to limited definitions of what they can or should do.

None of your friends understood the importance of Sábado Gigante.

Your non-Latino friends just didn’t get it. Sábado Gigante was what the weekend was made for. If only you’d had more Latino friends to talk to about it!

Your family shopped pretty much exclusively at the one Latin grocery store in town.

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I mean, why go anywhere else? Your parents were on a first-name basis with the owners. Plus you could get treats you couldn’t get wherever, like De La Rosas and Takis.

Your parents’ homemade elote was always on point because you lived in the land of corn.

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There may not have been very many elote stands — *sheds tear* — but your parents made the best elote thanks to the local abundance of corn. It was a total win-win situation.

Your friends were confused when you referred to soccer as fútbol.

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It’s called fútbol literally everywhere else in the world. It makes no sense to default to soccer when Americans are the only ones who use that word.

You got asked how you maintain your tan “year-round” a lot.

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I, um, go about my daily life? Few things are more awkward than explaining to inquiring minds that your skin color is this shade, y’know, by nature.

None of your friends understood the healing power of Vicks VapoRub.

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Got a cough? Vaporú. Headache? Vaporú. Stomach cramps? Vaporú. It really was/is a magical elixir for Latino families everywhere, but if you grew up in the Midwest and tried to explain it to your non-Latino friends…well, they just didn’t get it.

The motherland felt like a world away.

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Without a strong sense of community, the motherland became less a tangible place and more so a figment of the imagination. You know it’s real, but it seems too distant to even comprehend.

You regularly felt like you stood out because you were Latino.

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This may ring true for many people on a variety of levels, and it definitely isn’t unique to those in the Midwest. But in a place like that, you’re more likely to stick out on a day-to-day basis by just living your life than you are in a place where there are more people who look and act like you.


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Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

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Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

For many who regularly take part in the holiday season, Christmas traditions are strongly tied to religious beliefs and practices. The ways in which the customs around the holiday season are carried out often deeply rooted in cultural rituals and they often vary from family to family. For my Puerto Rican family, the holiday season is drawn out well past the first of January when radio stations reel back on the jingles and Mariah Carey classics. For us, the Twelve Days Of Christmas sales or songs we know of don’t relate to the days leading up to December 25, but rather the twelve days in between Christmas Day and January 6 The Epiphany, a biblical day that marks the final leg of the  Three Wise Men’s journey to deliver gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus Christ.

Día De Los Reyes has always been an especially important day for my family. The fact that “reyes” is my mother’s maiden name has only made the day a little sweeter.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

A more popular holiday back on the island, my abuela and abuelo Reyes brought their traditions to the mainland with them in the 1950s.

On the evening of January 5, each member of my family from grandfather to my youngest sobrino pull out cardboard shoe and clothing boxes (all marked with our names, drawn on and decorated over the years with crayons, markers, and glitter pens) to take part in a tradition that we hold dear in our hearts. After we’ve filled the boxes with snacks like carrots, lettuce, and sometimes grass for the Three Kings’ camels to munch on as they pass through our town we stick the boxes under our beds. Finally, just as we would with Santa Claus, we write the Three Kings–Los Reyes–a handwritten note wishing them safe travels as the journey to see the baby Jesus hoping that as they did with him on that first Epiphany, they’ll leave a small gift or token of some sort under our boxes.

Dia De Los Reyes functions similarly to Christmas Eve in my family. We all wake up and check under our boxes to see if we were good enough this year to receive any gifts. We’d go to mass together, where as kids we’d hope that maybe Los Reyes stayed in town with their camels long enough that day to be at the church community center to pose for photos. We would visit family and eat pernil and arroz con gandules, dishes reserved for celebrations and holidays.

As I got older I went to mass only sometimes and stopped looking to get my photos with Los Reyes.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

I never stopped checking my box for gifts though, or remembering each rey by the names older relatives taught me to write in my letters: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. As an adult I focused on new ways to celebrate “being a king,” as my family would say, and took on the role of expert coquito maker.

When I started dating and began wanting to bring boyfriends home for the holidays, part of my new role during the holiday season also unintentionally became one of both gatekeeper and teacher of my Puerto Rican culture. As a sophomore in college, I brought my then boyfriend home for December for the first time. In my household, Noche Buena, Christmas Day, New Years Day, New Year’s Eve, and Dia De Los Reyes were all days set aside for family, exclusively. I knew not to ask for exceptions, and in the past had willfully or grudgingly passed up holiday and New Years parties to honor the expectation of being en familia.

But in my twenties I badly started to yearn for my first New Years kiss and wanted, even more, to share part of my twelve days of Christmas with somebody who mattered to me.

My parents, on the other hand, were hesitant. Dia De Los Reyes was about Los Reyes, as in my family.

My boyfriend was someone they saw a few times a year and knew of only from phone calls, letters, texts, and video chats. Someone so unfamiliar certainly wasn’t considered family, and moreover someone who wasn’t Latino couldn’t possibly understand the sanctity of the day we’d honored so lovingly all our lives.

Most concerning of all, Dia De Los Reyes is also known among some circles as “the poor man’s Christmas,” my grandparents’ explanation being that back in the days of Jesus, being a king didn’t mean wealth like it means today. It meant that the giftschildren and observers receive in their boxes today are small, like a $10 gift card, socks, some mittens, or maybe candy. The last thing my family needed was for some guy they didn’t know to reach into an old shoebox of all things, pull out socks, and think we were cheap. With some convincing and a little grumbling, my family allowed me to write my boyfriend’s name on a box, fill it with lettuce and put it under my bed on January 5.

That night as I lay in bed, I did feel nervous knowing that I was bringing somebody into such a special part of my life that no one had ever seen before outside of my parents. Earlier in the day, I made sure to explain to him how seriously my family took our family only traditions, and how it wasn’t just about the religious holiday but the namesake that ties us to one another. I felt silly as I highlighted decorating beat-up boxes as one of my favorite traditions, something I hadn’t ever admitted out loud. Quiet and reserved, he listened to my stories but didn’t ask any questions.

In the morning, I still had my family only morning mass and our opening of gifts, but later that day my boyfriend was invited over for pasteles, coquito, and the checking of his first and only Three Kings Day box.

My parents observed with critical eyes as he went through the motions of our traditions, seeming charmed by the gifts of a hat and gloves left resting on top of torn up shreds of lettuce, proof that Los Reyes had come through our house. As he followed our lead I sat hoping that by participating in the events himself, he might better understand where my love for my culture comes from, or maybe even briefly feel the same sense of childhood joy I do on that day each year. Admittedly, it was an awkward day for everyone involved and not filled with all the magic I had hoped for. Nonetheless, I still felt proud of myself for being able to break down a barrier that had long existed between myself and not only romantic connections but a friend, too.

I wanted the opportunity to show those outside of my family the part of my identity that I hadn’t always made transparent in my daily life, even if that meant that they didn’t understand or wouldn’t “get it” at first.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

Even though the person who got to take the test run of my family only traditions and I aren’t together anymore, a few years ago he broke the mold for being able to bring others into a part of my life I was using to shutting so many close to me out of.n Maybe he did think that of us, our gifts, or the day we celebrate as cheap, but after the fact I, didn’t care. In the years that have followed, what has mattered most to me has been that I could start sharing Reyes, this name that laid down the foundation to who I am before I was ever born, and all the nuances that come with it with those I want to know me better.

This Dia De Los Reyes will be one of a few Reyes family festivities that my current boyfriend will be participating in, and another year where my family pulls out his box and welcomes his extra cheer into our holidays. While he’s still learning about my roots, I’m still learning that I can take these moments and use them to bring myself closer to my culture and my loved ones.


Read: Twitter’s Latest Hashtag Fights Back Against The Normalization Of Death And Violence Against Migrant Youth

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When I Moved Away From My Family For College I Started My Journey Of Becoming An Independent Latina

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When I Moved Away From My Family For College I Started My Journey Of Becoming An Independent Latina

When it came time to choose a college, I wanted to go as far away from home as possible. I love my family, but I knew that I needed to move out if I was ever going to be a truly independent person. Going across the country for school was the best and most frustrating experience of my life up to that point all at once. As a Latina going to college, I learned so much about myself, my family, and my culture that made it all worth it. Here are 20 important lessons from my college years.

1. We’re not in abuela’s kitchen anymore.

Credit: @simply_samantha/Instagram

In Los Angeles, I had access to Cuban food anywhere I wanted. My abuela would make me ropa vieja if I asked, and I could always get lechon and plantains delivered from our favorite restaurant. In Boston, there was no abuela and nowhere that delivered, and my scaredy-cat self certainly wasn’t going to take the subway alone to find what I wanted. Once I had access to a kitchen again, I learned how to make my favorites and more. It helped me feel connected to something familiar while I navigated the newness of college.

2. Community doesn’t just happen.

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The Cuban-American Students’ Association was a godsend once I found it. Here were people who spoke like me, had families like mine, and got Cuban food for meetings. Seeking them out and getting involved with them took work, though, and I joined late in my college career. Had I found them earlier, I might have had a smoother transition to college.

3. Keeping in touch requires patience.

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I talked to my mom, grandma, great grandma, and anyone else who happened to be in the house at the time on a weekly basis. Telling the same stories over again and answering the same questions got old fast, and I had to learn how to be patient. They were trying to figure out this newfound independence as much as I was, and I couldn’t let their concern for every little detail bother me.

4. It also requires boundaries.

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Going to college meant that for the first time, I had way more control over boundaries. It took me a while, but eventually, I realized that I didn’t have to pick up the phone every time someone called – I could protect my time if I needed to and call back later. I also didn’t have to tell them everything, and while I don’t advocate lying to your family or withholding important information, it was nice to know that I wouldn’t get in trouble for staying out late as long as I chose not to share that. I felt less anxious and more in control of my decisions. 

5. Things slip through the cracks too easily if you don’t keep up.

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When my great aunt died, no one told me. We weren’t particularly close, but I was still shocked at the news when my dad casually brought it up one day. Everyone had assumed that someone else had mentioned it. I realized that if I wanted to be kept in the loop, I had to do the work to keep myself in it.

6. Dating is a whole lot easier when you’re far from home.

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Bringing boyfriends to meet my family always made me anxious. In college, I could go out with someone, and nobody would know. It helped me be more adventurous and relaxed. If the date went wrong, I wouldn’t have to retell all the gory details, and if it went well, he didn’t have to meet my parents if he dropped me off at home. I could keep it to myself, grow in the relationship, and then let everyone else in when I was ready.

7. I had to make my own decisions.

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Before college, it felt like I rarely made decisions on my own. I constantly had a committee of people around me to help me decide on everything from what to wear to which classes to take, and I had a weird fear of disappointing people by making the wrong choice. Sometimes I had college friends around to help, but sometimes, I was on my own, and it was paralyzing. Without people around to constantly validate my actions, I had to learn to trust myself more.

8. You always need some structure.

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After spending what felt like every Saturday cleaning the house and constantly operating on my family’s schedule, I loved the idea of having complete control over my own routines — which meant that for a long time, I didn’t have them. My “No parents! No rules!” attitude meant that I regularly slept with unfolded laundry at the foot of my bed and had a hard time remembering to take the trash out. My poor, poor roommate! Eventually, I knew I needed some structure, but I created it on my own terms.

9. Life requires some fearlessness.

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Growing up, I was always warned about the bad things that would happen if I went anywhere alone. “Sin chaperona, no!” was a common refrain. But in college, I learned how to be a little more fearless. I could take the subway by myself if I paid attention to my surroundings. I went to Italy for spring break — sin chaperona. Realizing I was capable of doing these “scary” things boosted my confidence and made me feel truly independent.

10. Being alone sometimes is a good thing.

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With three younger cousins, a little sister, and countless tias, tios, and people who were somehow related to me even if I didn’t know how time alone was scarce. I loved the noise – usually. College gave me my first opportunity to really spend time alone. Sometimes I enjoyed the quiet, and sometimes I made a beeline for the dining hall to just be around noise. Over time, I learned to really appreciate long stretches of time on my own more.

11. When it comes to language, “use it or lose it” is right.

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I went from speaking Spanish almost daily to almost never, and I lost so much vocabulary so quickly that I worried I’d lose it all. To me, speaking Spanish is a huge part of how I personally express my identity as a Latina, and the thought of losing that ability freaked me out. I spoke Spanish to everyone I possibly could and listened to a lot more Spanish-language music than ever before to make up for it. 

12. Being Latina was a bigger part of my identity than I realized.

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You know that bad joke about how vegans will always tell you they’re vegan as quickly as possible in a conversation? That was me, except I told everyone I was Cuban. Ev-er-y-one. It made me feel special and interesting, and as a freshman in a small New England college who walked in without a single friend, I craved those feelings. But I was also extremely proud to be a little bit different, and I realized just how much I loved my culture when I moved away from it.

13. Apparently, being Latina is “trendy.”

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Here’s the thing about being different: You also start to feel a little like an oddity. Most people asked questions about being Cuban that led to really great conversations, but some made me feel like I was on display. All things Cuban had been trendy for a few years, and sometimes it seemed like I was one of those things.

14. There are a lot of misconceptions about Latinidad out there.

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I found myself making a lot of corrections and introducing seemingly new perspectives in many of my conversations. No, Cuban food is not spicy, and no, Che Guevara and Fidel Castro are not “heroes” to all of us. People were shocked at the new information, and I was shocked at some of the broad generalizations I bumped into. I’d never assume that all food from all English-speaking countries was the same – so why did some people seem to think that Cuban was just another way to say Mexican?

15. Other parents had been as strict as mine.

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Trading stories with other Latinas about our childhoods was an amazing experience. You mean your mom called required phone calls home every hour on the hour when you were out, too? And you weren’t allowed to sleep over at certain people’s houses? My childhood wasn’t so strange, after all.

16. Other families were so similar to mine.

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Come to think of it, our entire families felt similar. From Nochebuena festivities and chismosa older family members to Vick’s as a cure-all and countless requests to “ponte un sueter,” I was amazed at how alike Cuban families from all over the country really were.

17. There was a lot about my culture that I didn’t know.

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Similar as we were, there was so much I didn’t know about what it meant to be Cuban. Other Cuban-American students used all kinds of slang I had never heard before, and when I said I had no idea what “El Burrito Sabanero” was, you could hear the gasps from down the hall. There was a lot to catch up on, and while I was happy to dive in, sometimes my lack of knowledge made me feel like a fake Latina.

18. Therapy is not a bad thing.

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It’s no secret that mental health in the Latinx community needs more attention, and because it’s never really discussed, it took me two and a half years before I took advantage of the free, on-campus counseling offered. I didn’t have to tell anyone I was going, which was one less thing to worry about, and it was a relief to have a way to talk about some issues I’d always wanted to address but didn’t really know how.

19. And I learned to handle stress.

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Stress was the biggest issue for me to figure out. I had always been an incredibly anxious person, and everything seemed to have the potential to stress me out and totally ruin my day. I was on my own in college, and I needed to learn how to swim before I sank. It’s an ongoing process, but since going to therapy and really working to find a solution, I’m getting there

20. Now that I felt I had truly grown up, anything was possible.

Credit: @simply_samantha/Instagram

I know my family cares about me, and all of their questions, restrictions, and concern really do come from a place of genuine care. But going away to Boston for college – a time meant for learning, growing, and exploration – was the best thing I could have done for myself. It allowed me to grow and make mistakes away from watchful eyes and make decisions that were truly my own, rather than decisions made out of fear of disappointing people. It helped me grow into a more independent person who felt confident and knew she could be a capable adult, and it was totally worth the lack of Cuban food to get there.


Read: Get It, Ma! These Are The Latina Artists Nominated For The 2019 Grammys

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