Puertorriqueño. Americano. Two identities. One country.

Daniel A. Ramos
Columbus, OH

The story ran about Alisha on 5/23/13 really struck accord with me. I was born in Ohio to a family that still held a very strong Puerto Rican identity in a very large Puerto Rican community west of Cleveland. When I was young I didn’t know the difference between my culture and mainstream American culture. I grew up knowing what Spanish was and understanding my parents and extended family, but didn’t think it was any different from my Italian or Eastern European friends whose families spoke their native language. Only when I went away to college did it hit me that I was considered a minority. As I gained a greater understanding of what that meant, I naturally developed a strong dual identity. I was no longer just American. But I was Puerto Rican American.

But like Alisha I also have problems speaking Spanish. After my younger brother was born, my parents stopped speaking Spanish in the household. Over time I lost my ability to speak Spanish. So in high school and college I made it a point to re-learn my parents’ language. However, while even re-learning my Spanish I still was reminded of the duality that is my cultural identity. Once in a higher level Spanish class in college my professor made a statement using me as an example that still is stuck in the back of my mind. The class was Latin American history and civilization and we were covering the section on Latin American immigration into the United States. My professor was Puerto Rican herself, and used my identity to contrast to hers, stating that while she was Puerto Rican because she was born and raised in Puerto Rico and that I was American, and not truly Puerto Rican, because I was born in the U.S. – despite being raised in a family that still kept many of the traditional Puerto Rican cultural activities and the Spanish language alive, where my grandparents and many of my aunts and uncles, including my father, were born in Puerto Rico.

Now, because Puerto Rico is an American territory, that adds an additional complicating factor on all of this. It raises several questions in my own mind. Am I less Latino because Puerto Ricans are born American citizens? Because Puerto Rico is so Americanized, what is the true Puerto Rican culture? Will Puerto Rico possibly becoming a state change my cultural identity?

 

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