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I Am In-Between

You say I'm not from here and they say I'm not from there. But I say I am from there y soy de aquí.

I don't belong to the culture I live in, and I feel out of place in the culture I'm from. My American peers say I'm Hispanic/Latinx and my Hispanic/Latinx community says I'm American. When I'm home, in the USA, I feel like something is missing. When I am home, in Puerto Rico, I feel a sense of disconnect. "Will I always feel like this?" I ask myself. Will  I always need to defend my bicultural self? But the question that weighs the most is this: When I'm free to be me, will I accept myself?

Can you relate? If you do then you're like me, an "In-Betweener". If you don't, then this is us:

We are "Generación in between", a generation between two different cultures and trying to define what it means to be second and third+ generation Americans. For most of us, home is the blend of our Hispanic/Latinx heritage with the American culture. A big portion of "In-Betweeners", have never been to the country that makes them Hispanic/Latinx. That's their parents' country. Yet, they're expected to embrace the culture as their own without mixing it with the culture they're born into. We are stuck in between two cultures we love. Every day, I try to figure out how to live in both cultures when each one screams at me to choose one over the other. My cultural identity is pulled by two contrasting patterns:

  1. being Hispanic, I cherish family over self,
  2. and being American pushes me to value myself as an individual.

For me, choosing is not an option. I AM BOTH.

I live in a culture that is constantly telling me: dream, study, work hard, and you can be anything you set your mind to. Yet when I try living out these rules I am faced with fear, racism, and exploitation. When I go to school, or work, I encounter a society that fears the unknown and expects my conformity instead of giving me a chance to become known.

"In-Betweeners" seem to only fit with other "In-Betweeners". There are exceptions to this, and I am grateful for those who accept us as we are, but most of the time we're outcasts in our own cultures. At least once in an "In-Betweener's" life we will be shamed by both cultures we love for being more American than Hispanic/Latinx, or vice versa. I am learning to be myself in this tug-of-war I live in, and I don't need to be shamed for being more "other" than the rest. To me, being asked to conform to something other than myself feels like cultural appropriation and I'd rather not do that. I would rather honor both cultures that I love. I would rather let them live together in me. See, when you ask me to choose one culture over the other, you are asking me to let a part of me die for the sake of your comfort.

I don't need to be shamed for the way I communicate. I have my own style, and its called "Spanglish". I mix both languages when I talk because one expresses emotions better than the other, and sometimes there are ideas that just won't translate. Many have complained that I'm not speaking one of the two languages "good enough" because I choose to speak both at the same time. Others question why I choose to speak one language over the other, but what hurts me the most is when fellow "In-Betweeners" get shamed for never learning Spanish.

Because I choose to mix both languages, does not mean I cannot speak Spanish or English properly. It does not mean that I am uneducated. And just because other "In-Betweeners" didn't learn Spanish, no te da permiso para juzgarlos pues no sabes porque escogieron solo hablar un idioma. What most critics of Spanglish speakers fail to realize is that as long as I don't alter the syntax, I can use both Spanish and English in the same sentence. Spanglish is my coping mechanism to a world that asks me to choose one cultural identity over another.

Many "In-Betweeners" are forced to grow up at a faster rate than their peers, especially if their parents work two+ jobs to give their children the American Dream. We struggle between fitting in with our peers and failing our parents' expectations. We love our parents, and we respect them, but we struggle daily to honor them and honor who we truly are as individuals. There is no true way of achieving this. For some honoring their parents means choosing work over school, and for others it means choosing school over work. We all have the same goal in mind: to honor our parents and to stay true to ourselves. Both paths are honorable, but the cultural pull still stands. For most American teens, life after high school means going to college. For us "In-Betweeners", it means debating if it would be a wise financial decision to go to college. Do we really need student debt to put pressure on our already fragile financial situation?

There is a small percentage of "In-Betweeners" who complete the assimilation process into American culture. I have family members that choose English over Spanish as a response to their cultural adaptation, and that's OK. Some might say that this response means losing their heritage and culture. I would argue that choosing was their way of coming to terms with the cultural tug of war in our lives. For those of us "In-Betweeners" whodon't want to choose, we live a bi-cultural life that is wonderfully ours. Our cultural identity holds a lot of tension but it is in integrating these values and ideas that I find my true self. No one can take that away from me. I am from here, and I am from there. That is my choice.

My name is Patricia Cogles, and I am "Generación in Between".

Patricia Cogles is 26 years old, is married and lives in Pasadena, California. She was born in Miami, Florida but was raised in Puerto Rico. Patricia is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. She also works at United Methodist Church of Thousand Oaks, CA as the Director of Youth Ministry and Adult Education. She is a worship and dance minister and member of the United Methodist Church California-Pacific Annual Conference, where she is the West District representative for Camp and Retreat Ministry Council and Co-Directed Spanglish 2018 Camp.

[Posted July 5, 2018]

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