Life as an Empowered, Ambitious Bicultural Latina

iVoice Angelica Perez talks about the challenges - and the tremendous rewards - of straddling her Hispanic Heritage with her American upbringing.

Carrying one small suitcase and a load of dreams, my parents immigrated to this country in 1965, from the Dominican Republic. Two years later, they were married and I became their first born child. A middle school dropout, my mother's first job in this country was in a leather coat factory as a seamstress. My father, college educated, also worked in factories most of his life.

Like many first-generation children, I grew up being my family's cultural broker, helping them navigate life in America. As young as 12 years old, I used to take my grandmother to her hospital appointments and advocate for her rights as a patient with MS (Multiple Sclerosis). I translated for my parents during parent/teacher conference nights with my teachers. I was the one who called customer services to report a complaint on behalf of my parents who didn't speak English well. I was well into college and still taking care of my parents in more ways than I can describe.

The older and more Americanized I became, the more I became a cultural bridge to my parents, extended family and neighbors. I was the go-to person for anything American, institutional or in English. Not an easy role to fulfill, especially because it gives children more power than they can truly handle. But despite these major responsibilities, these bicultural experiences transform first-generation individuals into resourceful and empowered people.

Today's Latina women are cultural chameleons, moving swiftly between the intricacies of our American and Latino cultural worlds. We have parts of ourselves that are very American (like our professional self) and other parts that are truly Latino (our devotion to la familia). Sometimes we love like a Latina, and debate like an Americana. We might speak Spanglish, or not speak Spanish at all -- being Latina is not defined by the language(s) we speak, but by the cultural moments we shared with loved ones long ago.

As bicultural Latinas, we have the resiliency of our family -- who fearlessly ventured to an unknown land, leaving behind a mother, a spouse, children and the only place they knew as home. We are quick problem solvers, strong, courageous, driven and self-reliant. We are also ambitious. We carry our parent's dreams, and the new ones we've gathered along the way. Even our American dream is "bicultural" -- we want it all -- we want a house, a career, a business, children, family, friends and our cultura.

Does life gets complicated? Of course. In some ways, we are still stuck in that caretaker, problem solver role that feels heavy in the heart. We want to pursue our careers and professional goals, but at times we feel pulled by a commitment to take care of our parents, our family and our children. We feel obligated to everyone and everything, but ourselves. As "the promise of the future,” we are expected to take advantage of opportunities that were unavailable to our parents. Failing to do so is considered disappointing at best, and blasphemous at worst. There are high expectations placed on us, but not higher than those we place on ourselves. We carry the weight of validating our parents’ decision to come to this country for a better future. At times, we can get emotionally lost in all of this, but there is nothing a visit and a chat with our mamis cannot make immediately better -- the original empowered, ambitious Latinas.

Angélica Pérez is an iVoice on iVillage focusing on issues affecting Hispanic women She is a licensed clinical psychologist who has been working with Latina women and their families for nearly two decades. She is the publisher and CEO of NewLatina.net, an online personal growth and lifestyle magazine for Hispanic women. Follow Angélica on Twitter (@NewLatina).

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