Changing Identities

IMG_3098            Over Easter weekend, I drove home to spend time with my parents for the holiday, and many of my dad’s relatives came over as well. His side of the family is from Colombia, and I realized an interesting point that never occurred to me before: I was the only one that did not speak fluent Spanish. All of my dad’s siblings had taught their children Spanish from the moment they were born, but my dad never chose to instill the language into my sister or I. Yes, I do understand a large portion and can speak on an intermediate level, but that is due to my own curiosity and desire to learn the language. So, while driving back to USF I began to question why this was, why I was the only one not blessed with the gift of being bilingual.

My dad immigrated to the United States in 1960, as my abuelo was in the Colombian Air Force. My abuelos chose to become U.S. citizens to provide my father and his two sisters with the gift of growing up in America, the land of opportunity. From what I have been told, they still spoke Spanish at home, which is evident in my abuela’s poor English, and I believe this serves to highlight how in touch they were with their culture. Fast-forwarding a few years, my father and his two sisters attended USF before becoming successful professionals. Unlike his siblings, my dad joined the Army, serving as a Captain in the U.S. Green Berets.

In my opinion, this experience is why my dad never taught me Spanish. While he was able to see the world, he was also able to see how much easier it was for a white person to succeed rather than a minority. Jeffery Bennett says in his work Banning Queer Blood (2009), “blood…act[s] as a defining trope of identity and power in cultures around the world. It repeatedly distinguishes between the in-group and the out-group, the stranger from the kin, the illicit from the pure.” He recognized his struggle to succeed would soon become my struggle because the interesting aspect of blood is that it is passed from one individual to another. Consequently, he may have seen his Latino heritage and its “burdens” passing from him to me.

Bennett (2009) might also find a parallel between my father’s time in the military, and his desire to dissociate with his culture. My dad’s experience as a covert solider undoubtedly led him into difficult situations where he witnessed the effect a bloodline can have on a person. From the stories he has told me, I’ve come to realize many of the people he was fighting against did not have a decision to follow their cause, as they were born into it. In other words, they knew nothing else other than struggle. It is likely my dad took advantage of my light skin to remove me from the life I was born into.

My father chose a career field less accepting of queer blood (Bennett, 2009) in comparison to his sisters, and needless to say, he had to work his ass off to get where he is today. As a result, I believe he chose to isolate me from my heritage in an attempt to help push me forward in life. If it weren’t for his sisters, I would not have been to Colombia as many times as I have or be as in touch with my culture as I am. Personally, I own my heritage and see it as a blessing, but I do understand where my father was coming from. My father was not wrong for having this viewpoint, as even today opportunities are hidden from those classified as different.

Rebecca Earle highlighted this in her piece titled The Pleasures of Taxonomy (2016), speaking about the different social classes that emerged during this time simply due to lineage and physical appearance. I believe Earle would agree with my statement earlier regarding my appearance. Namely since I appear to be white, due to my mom’s European heritage, my father saw this and took advantage of it. This desire might even be more powerful than normal as he is of Spanish decent himself, so the values Earle spoke about in her work may have been instilled in my father’s ancestors. Moreover, she says in her piece (2016) that some “individuals possessed a caste identity derived from their parentage but might ‘pass’ as something else”. He knew this, and so by excluding my impure lineage from my life, he would be able to help me advance as far as possible. I believe this is further illustrated in The Pleasures of Taxonomy (Earle, 2016), when she says a “child represented in one painting may be understood as a parent in the subsequent painting”. Here, she is speaking about the fluidity of the caste system that is very similar to contemporary society. By advancing my social status, it is possible my father felt he would be able to do the same for my children and so on. It was an investment in the future.

~David G.

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