“Where are you from?” This is a question that has become increasingly difficult to answer as I get older. Growing up in Miami, I was “la peruana” or “la peruanita” — labels that delineated and affirmed my Peruvian identity.
Although I did not know too many Peruvians (I was surrounded by many when compared to other parts of the U.S., as I would later find out), I grew up with the culture, which included Peruvian food, the Spanish and Quechua languages, videos of Eva Ayllon (an Afro-Peruvian Creole singer) that my mother would play, huaynitos (folkloric music) that my father would sing, and phone/skype conversations with members of my family. My grandmother would also visit every summer, bringing some of that Peruvian flavor and scent with her. We would always joke that she and the goodies that she brought for us smelled like Peru.
Then I graduated high school and things changed. For financial aid purposes, I had applied to Middlebury College in Vermont as an international student. I was grouped with other international students, and slowly became the “fake international” — a term I was comfortable with because I knew that I had not just hopped off of a plane from Peru. But I was appreciated by others for the Peruvian culture that I brought with me, and I was treated as a South American asset.
For the domestic students, I was Mariella from Miami. That made sense to me too, except suddenly there was less room to address my Peruvian identity. The answer to “Where are you from?” became more complex. I would say “I’m from Peru, but I live in Miami.” It was during my college years that I also became “Latina” and a “woman of color.” These were labels that I did not identify with, that I am slowly now understanding.
After leaving Middlebury, I went to New York to pursue my graduate studies. Then, I felt more Vermonter than Miamian. Once again, it felt as if my Peruvian identity was being pushed to the back shelf.
Now, whenever anyone asks, I just say that I’m from Peru and live in New York, but it feels wrong to leave out the other parts of me. Especially the Miami part.
As DREAMers (another marker), we are often identified by our state. Although I have never identified with Florida as I have with Miami, it feels wrong to leave out my home city altogether.
Oftentimes, it’s assumed that all DREAMers “feel American.” I have never fully felt this way. The fact that I am many things makes it hard to answer whenever someone asks me where I’m from.
Simplifying all that I am into one term – “American” — strips away too much of my identity.
Yes, I want to be a part of this society. I want to be able to work, drive, and identify myself like any other person does. Yet, labeling and trying to fit people into categories (sometimes for political reasons) does not do justice to the culture and qualities that we as DREAMers bring to this country.
I am happy about the deferred action that has been granted to DREAMers. I can finally obtain a NY state ID and claim to be from a state. I am excited at that prospect. It’s just the beginning of an upward spiral towards acceptance and stability in this country, something I have been wanting for a long time now.
Mariella Saavedra has enjoyed contributing to America’s Voice as a part of DREAM Summer and will continue her graduate studies at Columbia University.