October is Hispanic Heritage Month. Until recently, I kind of scoffed at these "heritage months," but I have come to appreciate them and their meaning. A little family background here: All four of my grandparents were born in Cuba. My paternal grandparents emigrated in their early twenties, and they met here, were married, and had my dad and uncle here. My maternal grandparents were married in Cuba and lived there until their forties. My aunt was born in Cuba and came to the US in her teens, and my grandparents came to the US when my grandmother was pregnant with my mom. That makes me second generation American.
My father-in-law was born in the Dominican Republic, and my mother-in-law was born in Cuba. Her family left Cuba when she was a little girl. After a brief stint in Spain, they settled in the Dominican Republic. My in-laws met and were married in the Dominican Republic and my husband and brother-in-law were born there. They came to the US right around the time my husband was entering first grade.
That makes Caleb first generation American on his dad's side, and third generation on mine.
As a second generation American, I know what it's like to feel a deep-rooted love for your culture without ever having experienced firsthand some of the things that your family talks about. Spanish was my first language - I didn't learn English until I started school. I love Cuban food over most other kinds of food. Living in Miami makes it a little easier to keep those roots intact (who am I kidding, it makes it impossible not to). With that being said, I feel like for myself, as for so many of my peers, there is a kind of disconnect between our identity and our experience of that heritage.
I consider myself American first. I have friends who have a hard time considering themselves fully American, like they never really belonged to one or the other, and I honestly cannot relate to them. I have always felt so strongly tied to the United States and to the great nation that it is. After all, my family and my husband's family came here for a reason, right? My pride for America is one that is not bound to who is in office, or what is happening in the world of politics. My pride for America stems from the fact that my grandparents, like so many others, came here, with nothing, and built homes, careers, and families for themselves. They sacrificed and washed dishes, drove trucks, and worked in factories. They learned a new language. They acclimated to a culture so inherently different from their own. And they became something. And their children became something.
But I also have pride for that place from which my family came. A pride for the music, the food, the traditions, the coffee (oh the coffee!), and the language. A pride for the island I love without ever having stepped foot on it. A pride for the sacrifices our family made for us, in the hopes that each generation would do a little better than the last.
I always promised myself that even if it was tough, I would make sure Caleb spoke Spanish. It's been harder than I anticipated, but I am keeping that promise. Sure, my kid speaks a funny version of Spanglish and asks me to put on his "shorts" and "zapatos". But that's okay - one day it won't be lost on him how important it is to have that connection with his heritage.
So will Caleb learn to love his Cuban and Dominican roots? Absolutely. He will dance salsa and merengue and drink cafe con leche and guarapo. He will celebrate Noche Buena and eat lechon and arroz y frijoles and flan. He will have mangu, queso frito, y longanizas for breakfast.
But he will also sing the words to The Star-Spangled Banner, and feel the patriotism in his veins on the Fourth of July. He will eat apple pie and drink - I don't know - an Arnold Palmer? He will celebrate Thanksgiving the American way - with turkey, stuffing, corn, and mashed potatoes. He will visit cities like Washington, D.C., and New York and know that there are no cities just like them anywhere in the world.
And he will know that he is lucky to have roots to be proud of and a home country he can love, too. So to all my mommas with foreign blood in their veins, next time a heritage month rolls around, don't just brush it off. Reconnect with your roots, show your kids what it means to be able to celebrate freely the best of both worlds, and teach them that while it may not be perfect, America really can be pretty amazing.