Struggles of identity within Central American youth has been difficult. Living in an environment where someone is constantly dealing with more than one culture means constantly negotiating identity spaces. My paper is an autoethnography about my personal life and the struggles I go through in finding my identity in Lake Balboa. I talk about my life and the way I saw myself growing up. As a young adult I always felt guilty about whether I should acknowledge my parents’ background or just acknowledge my place of birth. I hope others find my journey and my parents’ journey a useful insight into my life.
It was late at night and all I could hear were the crickets. I kept rolling side to side around my twin bed, fixing my blanket every time I moved but, all I kept thinking was about my life and my parents. I always wonder what their lives would have been if they never immigrated to the United States. It would not only change their lives but, also mine. My identity would be different, I would not have struggled to find one. I would not have challenged myself in finding who am I. As for my parents it would be the same situation, they would not have to accommodate to the new society so that my brother and I would feel comfortable. It got harder for me to identify myself as I started to go to school and learn a second language. This thought kept running through my mind, “Were my parents happy with who I am? Are they proud of my dream career? Was it worth it? Leaving their country?” All these questions had answers that took a long time to find.
The Neighborhood Where I Grew up
Lake Balboa is known for its park. There people can feed the birds, ride boats shaped like swans, celebrate birthdays, or take children to play on the playground. It is mostly known for their beautiful cherry blossom trees that bloom in the spring where people come and take pictures. This neighborhood has a population of about 51,558 as mentioned in the United States Census Bureau database. My apartment complex is filled with people of various cultures and ethnic/racial identities, including Hispanic and African American people. The overall community is filled with white, Asian, American Indian, and Cuban demographics. I have seen neighbors move in and out, and I have lived here for a long time. My mother told me we moved to this apartment when I was a year old. I am eighteen right now so I have lived about seventeen years in the small apartment.
I love my neighborhood it is quiet throughout the day. When something major happens, it is big. For example, it was a hot afternoon and I felt my sweat come down my forehead as I was watching a movie on my tablet. My dad was fixing the antenna in my room when suddenly, we hear a loud noise, but we did not pay attention because we thought it was a truck passing by. A couple of minutes later, I hear police cars approaching from the distance, turning off their sirens not far from where I live. Then my dad yells across the room, “Que paso!” What happened? I told him I do not know; I turn on the television and look for the news. I remember seeing two big bold white words saying, “Breaking News.” I could see the helicopter zooming in a street corner and that is when I noticed the car dealership and their yellow wall. It was my street corner, the corner where I get off the bus and walk home every school day. Finding out that a small plane crashed in the corner of the car dealership was the worst thing to find out. Although it is scary at first, the community around became used to it. This special neighborhood is where I learned how to ride my bike, getting bruises, and where I am currently learning how to drive.
I decided to walk down my street and I noticed at the end of the street there is a studio where YouTubers filmed a music video. Who knew famous people came here and filmed? As I kept waking, I entered a street that is a dead end and noticed offices and a mechanic shop filled with luxury shiny yellow, blue, and black Ferraris. That was surprising to me because my street does not look nice enough to have this type of equipment. My street is usually filled with trash everywhere and sometimes drunk people. But this marks a lot of changes in my neighborhood. I remember there was a small beige house and every time I would walk by a small black hairy dog would come up to the fence and start barking. They tore down that house and turned that place into five condos. Next, to the condos there used to be other houses, about two. They also tore them down and replaced it with townhouses. I know they were expensive because I had a friend living there and they moved out a year later. My parents always say that we are going to move but we never do. I do not want to move anyways because I love this neighborhood no matter the condition, safety or population. It was the place where I grew and lived my experiences. My parents tell me that this is a way safer neighborhood than their hometown and that I should be grateful.
All the sacrifices he made in leaving his family makes me get up every morning and be glad I have this opportunity.
My Parents’ Sacrifices
These two wonderful people have done so much in their life. I cannot thank them enough for always being there for me. I know that they had to struggle to get here, they had to make big sacrifices to be where they are today. Their struggles in their past motivate me each day to succeed in my life. Knowing one day I will pay them back for all that they have done for me. Thinking of what they went through always makes me wonder why they would do that. Leaving their families in Guatemala is a hard thing to do. As we were eating delicious pizza for dinner in our small table my dad was telling me about his past. He is the oldest son in his family with five younger siblings. There used to be seven but two of them passed away from a deadly disease. He comes from a small town in Guatemala called Chopreta. He stopped going to school when he was in fifth grade. He had to work with my grandpa to support their family providing them food every day. My dad told me he had to share one slice of pizza with two of his siblings. He told me, “Ustedes tienen suerte de tener un pedaso de pizza cado uno.” We are lucky to have a slice of pizza to ourselves. This was and is everyday life struggling with poverty. Due to the economic trouble he was having he decided to come to the United States and support his family. He left with his uncle at the age of eighteen. On the way to the United States, he was sleeping on the ground and got bit by a scorpion in the desert. He had to rest for a long time before they moved on to their next destination. Once he made it, he was relieved to be under a roof and sleeping comfortably. All the sacrifices he made in leaving his family makes me get up every morning and be glad I have this opportunity. He always tells me, “Echale ganas en tu estudio.” Give it your all in your education.
My mother is also the oldest in her family and comes from a small town in Guatemala called Jutaca. The funny thing about this is that my dad and mom live about thirty minutes away. They did not meet in Guatemala they met in California. My mother left her family at the age of twenty. She only went up to sixth grade in school and had to go look for work, due to the fact they needed more money to support her family. She found a job that was four hours away from her house. She had to wake up at four am every day to catch the bus that leaves at five in the morning. She worked with her uncle in the city of Guatemala. She would arrive at ten in the morning and left the city at four in the afternoon. Lastly, she would get home around nine at night have dinner and start all over. She became tired of going back and forth and decided to come to the United States and support her family. Unlike my dad, she migrated with people she did not know. She had friends here but, to this day she has no family members that are here besides us. She always tells me, “Tienes muchas oportunidades para tener una vida buena.” You have many opportunities to have a good life.
For many years I have acknowledged myself as an American. I was born here. I know the society and have connected to this environment. Ever since middle school when I started making new friends, they would say that they are part Mexican, Salvadoran, or from another culture. I found that confusing because I thought that was impossible. They were born here, and it didn’t make sense that people had part of another culture. I have always mentioned that I am full American because I know the culture more and did not know much about my parent’s culture. Growing up I have struggled with my identity. I started noticing that it is impossible to be a full American due to the fact my ancestors come from different parts of the world. Little by little I started to take more notice about my parent’s culture. I learned new information about my wonderful culture. In Guatemala, there are twelve different languages and women wear certain clothing called huipil. It’s a certain type of clothing that is colorful and the top part can be filled with pearls. I started to realize that this culture is part of me and cannot ignore it. Every time I present myself now, I say I am part Guatemalan and American. When I hear other people mention they are from Guatemala it makes me happy because not a lot of people are from Guatemala. It’s also good to know that there are other people acknowledging their parent's culture.
There I am at the corner, anxiously waiting for my name to be called to walk across the graduation stage. I never believed this moment will be here so fast. I told myself, “Where did the time go?” I was thinking about the memories I had when I first started school. Holding my mom’s hand and waving goodbye, to walking to middle school by myself and lastly taking the bus to high school. All those little memories are a little accomplishment to me because throughout those years I saw myself grow up. So, there I am on the afternoon of June 7th of 2018 walking across the stage, receiving my high school diploma and smiling at the camera. This was a major accomplishment not only did I just graduate from high school, but I am also the first in my family to graduate from this level of education. I felt so proud that I was able to make it here as a Latino coming from a family that has struggled. Being able to graduate as part Guatemalan and American really made this day special. When the last name was called our student body president got up on the stage and gave a sentimental speech. At the end, he said, “It’s now my pleasure to ask you take your tassel in your right hand and move them left.” At that moment I just realized I graduated from high school and made my family proud. The next step was going to college and begin my future.
A couple of months passed by and my officer from my cadet program emailed me and told me they nominated me for a scholarship. My reaction was priceless. My smile was so big because I remembered my mouth hurting after. I couldn’t believe it, who knew this day would come. I tried to calm myself down because I did not get the scholarship yet. I was just nominated, and I was not trying to get my hopes up. I remember it was an evening on the month of November, when I came in their office to get updates. They told me I had to write a two-page paper answering the questions in the handout. I was excited about writing this essay because I knew that typing about 700 hundred words is worth getting money. On December 15, 2018 at 7:00 in the morning I was getting dressed putting on my black pants, my dark blue shirt with the cadet logo on the left and finally putting on my black tie. I was getting ready to go to the USU Galen Center to attend the cadet graduation but mostly to see who the winners are for the scholarship. Patiently waiting for the winners to be called I recall moving my leg a lot. They started calling by the money order. He was a male cadet and won $5,000. Then I came in second place with $3,000. That moment when I heard my name being called, I looked directly at my parents who were in the audience and they made the thumbs up gesture. It was unbelievable. It was like my life was coming together. I was thrilled that I won because it helped me believe in myself even more. It was an honor shaking the officer’s hand and receiving this scholarship as a Guatemalan and American cadet. Hearing my parents say to me, “Estamos muy orgullosos,” made me really happy because they were proud of me and all their sacrifices were worth it.
Data Access and Dissemination Systems (DADS). “American FactFinder - Results.” American FactFinder - Results, 5 Oct. 2010, factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?src=CF