I have never felt Latina enough. I will be the first to admit that I’m pretty white. I was born and raised in the US, attending schools until high school where I was one of a handful of children of color. For what felt like most of my life, I tried to assimilate. And now 10 years later I’m trying to stand out by being authentically me. But who is that? Someone introduced themselves at a Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month event today in this way and I’m going to echo it - I am 100% Brazilian and 100% American. I am Amanda Mariani Ferreira, and I’m a Latina.
My experience isn’t that different from those first-generation kids with immigrant parents. I never really fit in culturally as an American, but I was too white to fit in ‘where I’m from’ - which is a question that made me very angry growing up since the answer was always ‘here and all anyone was asking was for my cultural background. We’re constantly battling the
balance in our own identities and ultimately it’s always made me feel like I was never enough.
I’m not loud, warm & huggy (yes real word) and I don’t love being the center of attention - I actively find ways to avoid it. I felt like most of my life because I didn’t fit those qualities that I should strive to be more American. As a teen, I created a brand on Etsy called Undefined - because I thought labels were dumb. I still think we shouldn’t revolve our personalities or actions around what we think people perceive us as or just to fit in with a specific group. However, outside of that, labels are powerful. They help you express your experience and connect you to a greater community who can relate - cry, laugh, and support you through your growth.
I don’t have a good transition into this but - for a while, I genuinely thought my `temperament would have been better suited for an Asian household (which I also know is not a monolith culture, and this should be a more specific comment). I wanted my family to be more proud of my academic achievements versus if I had said hello and kissed every single cheek of the twenty people at a party - which is a horrible experience for an anxious kid. At the same time though, I hated any recognition and school awards killed me (although you know this girl got a bookstore gift card for her French skills in middle school). I just didn’t want to take up space in any capacity. And now I’m realizing I should be taking up all of the space I can in this room with this 5’2 16 year-old-looking body.
A friend's dad once told me that he regretted not speaking Italian with his parents because he’s since lost the understanding of the language. I don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese - I also avoided both by taking French in school. At every turn, I tried to defy the identity I was physically given as a Latina. There’s a lot of conversations about this online about those who don’t speak their native languages being ‘bad Latino/a’ but that’s dumb. I grew up in the US, where English is constantly everywhere. Plus, in a time where differences weren’t embraced, assimilation was. I was always obsessed with popular culture and the women I saw in music, film, television was not reflective of me (except for Gotta Kick It Up, which is ICONIC Disney Channel).
Even though I’m sure it's buried somewhere in my memories, I don’t remember why I stopped speaking Portuguese. This book Contagious by Jonah Berger recently described it in the best way that I’ve can express it - ‘our memories aren’t perfect records of what happened. They’re more like dinosaur skeletons patched together by archeologists.’ My memories feel like the buried skeletons that haven’t been patched up, mostly because I’m so busy worrying about the future. Anyways, I think it was just gradual and since being the youngest I spoke English to my older siblings and since I didn’t feel like my base personality aligned with what was ‘Brazilian’ I decided that it’s ok to focus on other things that I aligned with more - fashion, music, pop culture, and being a total nerd. Plus remember when I said I hate being the center of attention? The fear of having to speak Portuguese with my family and the potential of added attention kept me from learning it - which is so dumb by the way. (Yes, I have used dumb 3 times already, it is a great word to describe how I feel).
I mostly heard Portuguese at home, and now I hear it mostly from my mom or the music I have to actively seek out. I’m 25, still unable to put a simple 3-year-old sentence together, and trying to keep up when people speak Spanish around me. And those 7 years of French were great when I actively practiced, but now all I have is a great Netflix show Call My Agent. But you know what, I don’t regret it. There is always time to learn as long as I dedicate myself to being who I want to be in the future, and right now I’d love to be someone who not only understands but can also speak Portuguese (at a maybe middle school level).
Being Latina is more than the stereotypes I thought were critical to the label when I was thirteen. It can be anything I identify with under the label, like loving big hoops and red lipstick (outside of masking / pandemic season), being extremely driven, willing to forge my path, crying while watching anything from sitcoms to romcoms, supporting Latina artists and maybe being a little stubborn.
I had a full panic attack the morning I needed to record a Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month video for work. Yes, I think I sound dumb, and it may take me 5 more years to actually watch. Then, I cried again today when I made the mistake of pulling up YouTube comments below the video (which is never a good idea). Ultimately, it’s because I don’t feel like enough. I’m learning to embrace that, let it drive me to becoming more of who I want to be. Plus, let me just embrace the fact that little ole ME was featured online by one of the TOP brands like ever.
Also another brag- I was given the opportunity to take up some space in one of my favorite publications that really has fueled my love and curiousity for marketing - Adweek. No nervousness here, just a proud marketing Latina moment!!
When I moved to LA, I didn’t know that it would rekindle my love for my culture and that Hispanic Latinx Heritage Month would both be the most stressful and beautiful month sandwich between two months. Maybe that’s what needed to happen for me to appreciate who I already am at my core. Seeing people that look like me, who are proud and embrace their cultures in such abundance has been amazing. I think the biggest thing corporate America also taught me is to shut up about being grateful for where I am and prove that I am deserving to be there. I fought myself for so long that once I got here and people actually cared that I was Brazilian I didn’t know what to say. I just spent so long suppressing that part of my identity I didn’t know how to show up for myself.
I guess I’m writing this with the hopes that 1. You’ll understand me a bit better and 2. This resonates with someone who also has never felt enough. My culture, my generational background is a part of me and it’s important to recognize where my family and ancestors have been. The labels I choose to associate with are unique to me. There is no such thing as being Latina enough. I own that label because it is true to my experience.
~ok now I feel like I overshared and this should have been a journal entry~