I remember my mother telling me stories at a very young age about her life and all of the accomplishments and struggles she went through in order to get where she was at that point of her life. She would tell me how she learned English in the 1st grade since my Nicaraguan grandmother and Salvadorian grandfather were constantly working to make ends meet while still being able to afford to send my mother and her two sisters to receive private school education. My mother would tell me stories about how once she made it to a prestigious private university, she lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for both lunch and dinner and would have to stick her hand out of the car window on raining days and use a rag as her windshield wiper. I remember constantly asking my mother to tell me stories about her youth, as I found them so fascinating, but I remember I used to find myself confused when she’d tell me stories about her difficulties being a fluent Spanish speaking Latina at predominantly white institutions. My mother told me many stories of how she was often called “Coconut” from both her white friends at school and her Latina friends, outside of school. I learned at a very young age, that my beloved mother had been a victim of racism but I never really thought that I too, would soon be able to pass down my own stories of racism to my future children.
I started preschool when I was one years old because like most Latino parents, mine had to work. I literally was raised by my preschool teachers, whom I loved very much, who also happened to only speak English. Though both of my parents are fluent in Spanish and learned English while in school, I can remember Spanish only being spoken at home, from time to time. Spanish music, Latin cuisine and Spanish speaking babysitters were a regular at the Peña household, however, for some reason the Spanish language was not made a priority to know. Spanish was something I knew was part of my culture but I had put it off to the side knowing that I at least knew the basics.
As time went by, I started realizing that though I identified myself as full Latina, others were quick to point out that perhaps I was not, as my Spanish grammar or conjugations were incorrect. Friends from all different walks of life referred me to being “white washed” and sure enough, it was something that became part of the norm. I would find myself in an identity struggle because in my heart and mind I did see myself as a Latina who loved reading Latin novels, listening to Mexican ballets, and traveling to Latin American countries but to a person who was quick to judge, I was a “white washed” Latina who didn’t speak, act or dress like the “true” Latina. In fact, in my Latino Identity class in college, my professor for some odd reason during a class discussion decided to ask the entire class to raise their hands if they felt I was “white washed.” Even though about everyone except for 3 people (me included) raised their hands, I felt no embarrassment as I quickly stated, while shrugging my shoulders, that it didn’t matter what others thought of me because I knew what I identified myself as.
As I continue with the pageant process, I know I may come across obstacles and those who oppose of me winning solely because my Spanish may not be up to par, however, this is the exact reason why I do want to win Miss California Latina. I believe there are thousands of other Latina women in California who are exactly like me: who identify themselves as Latina but who may speak little to none Spanish. I believe these women like myself, need to be represented in a professional way to show others that what matters most is what you truly believe in. I believe these Latinas are caught in an identity struggle as we are both judged from people in and out of our cultures. I’d really like to win this title because I think this would be a great platform for me to reach out to as many people possible, both males and females, who want to express their love and devotion to the Latin culture but may be embarrassed because they don’t know the language for whatever reasons they have.