Living in a foreign country like France has spurred me to reflect a lot on my identity. In the United States, if someone were to ask me what I was or where I was from, the answer would be easy and wouldn’t require much afterthought. I am Puerto Rican – I was born in Puerto Rico, all of my family was either born or raised there, and the majority of my extended family still lives there. However, being raised in the U.S. for nearly all of my life, the American identity also largely shapes who I am. Moreover, there are different stereotypes that are associated with different nationalities, such as that of the American in France, which tends to be somewhat negative, painting Americans out as uneducated, lazy, uncultured, and more. Being aware of this negative stereotype about Americans, made me very nervous to come to France, as I did not want to be judged and disliked. However, in Lyon I have found this to not be the case. If anything, I feel that a negative attitude is given to those that speak English and/or don’t try to speak in French. For instance, in the past when I have told French people that I was an American, I was often given a funny reaction or a joking eyeroll. However, after speaking with me, I think many were surprised and impressed by my language skills, making them less judgy and actually very open to conversation with me.
Here in France (and in other foreign countries), when someone asks where I am from I typically respond with, “United States, but I’m also Puerto Rican.” I think I respond this way because in reality I am more in tune with American culture, due to the fact that I have lived in the U.S. for nearly all of my life. While I completely identify with my Puerto Rican heritage, I admit that I am not fully as Puerto Rican as someone that has lived there – in the effect that I am not familiar with current slang, the state of its government, and more generally, my Spanish was learned through communicating with my family, rather than in an educational setting. Nonetheless, my Puerto Rican identity plays a big role in my life, which is why I wouldn’t want to disregard it. Additionally, being Puerto Rican gives me the larger identity of being Latina.
This balance and relationship between my Puerto Rican identity and my American identity have become clearer to me, living in France. Personally, I feel as though each identity has both different and overlapping impacts on my overall character. For instance, I believe my Puerto Rican identity strongly influences things like my relationship with my family, my work mentality and ethic, my culture, and beliefs. Whereas, my American identity impacts other aspects of my life like my relationships with friends, my educational background, my work experiences, my love for convenience and consumerism, and my mindset. Finally, I feel as both identities have influenced my personality, which can be seen through the way I interact with others, my interests, and so forth.
Personally, I have found that as a Latina, I tend to find myself naturally getting along best with other Latinos. I think as a group we share a lot of the same values and characteristics, which makes it easier to understand one another. Not only that, but language also plays a huge role, as being able to speak in Spanish facilitates easier communication and sharing of ideas. In addition to getting to practice my Spanish with friends, I am also taking a Latin American Political Thought course that is taught in Spanish. The class has provided an additional avenue to further my Spanish skills, in terms of allowing me to practice my Spanish verbally and grammatically, while also expanding my knowledge on concepts and theories concerning the Latin American identity. Altogether, I would really emphasize the importance of identity while abroad and how distancing yourself from what you are used to can really benefit you in finding your identity.