My life changed 15 years ago when my parents decided to move my brother and me from Buenos Aires, Argentina to Miami, Florida. My initial thought was, “Oh cool, we live closer to Mickey Mouse,” and my second thought was I have to leave my best friend Lula behind. At age five you would think it’s easy to make friends; one simply shares her crayons and a friendship magically appears. That wasn’t the case for me because as a Spanish speaker, there was a language barrier. These kids wouldn’t understand why I didn’t understand English right away because English is their native tongue.
Luckily, my first friend in kindergarten was a Mexican girl who translated unfamiliar words and introduced me to the rest of the Hispanic kids in class. My friends mainly consisted of Cuban or Argentinean kids for years.
Subconsciously, I feared letting American girls befriend me, thinking they would judge me based on obvious cultural differences. While they ate peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, my mom sent meat empanadas. A bratty girl who always brought chicken nuggets or peanut butter jelly sandwiches to school used to put a finger in her open wide mouth and say “yuck” when she smelled the peppers and eggs from the empanada.
When my mother switched me to the elementary school near her job, I had no choice but to make American friends. Shortly after the transfer, I started dance camp and met my first gringa friend, Jessica. She exposed me to American things like the Phillies, the 49ers and Philly cheesesteaks. Her experiences at sleepaway camp, inability to speak Spanish and clubbing adventures with her parents (who don’t look a day over 30) are just proof that Jessica and I lived in different worlds.
I’ve learned being raised Hispanic has affected my inability to understand certain normal American household activities. As my family gets together for Saturday noon futbol games, Jessica’s family gets together for football games. Now as a Seminole, I’m forced to watch American football when my FSU friends want to tailgate as part of the traditional college experience.
In a traditional Hispanic household like mine, family dinner is an obligation, not an option. I have to wait until everyone arrives home from work to enjoy the delicious seven-course meal cooked by my mother. In Jessica’s case, they don’t usually sit down together for family meals unless it’s a special occasion.
My mother always kept me on a tight leash; Jessica and my other American friends were able to do things I wasn’t, like trying alcohol at 16, visiting older siblings in college and going clubbing with a fake ID. To this day, as a college student who considers drinking with her friends the social norm, my mom makes sure to remind me that two mixed drinks a night is enough. My mother is a mental health counselor, and she once sat down with my friend Dani and I, and claimed we were alcoholics after questioning our drinking habits. My mom doesn’t realize how attending a school in the South has begun to Americanize me.
I often complain that I don’t have the luxuries and life my friends have. I can’t afford being in a sorority, and my parents don’t understand the American collegiate system and can’t suggest what I should major in. English slang and idioms fly over their heads, like that one time I had to explain to my dad what “cock-blocking” meant.
My gringa friends will never understand why it’s important that I call my mother every day, why I need to tell her where I am at every moment, how I can’t hang out until family dinner is over or that there is no better music to dance to than Daddy Yankee. But mostly they don’t understand that asados (barbeques) are not made up of burgers and hot dogs, but instead made up of asado de tira (ribs), chivito (goatlings), vacio (flank steak) and matambre, all flavored with chimichurri, not ketchup and mustard.
To this day, I still get called out sometimes for my incorrect pronunciation of English words or for not knowing the name of a country singer (Sorry, Luke Bryan). They laugh when my mother goes to great lengths to get ahold of me, like the time she didn’t hear from me for 12 hours and texted my friend Dani to get my college friend Rebecca’s number to ask Rebecca to knock on my freshman dorm and see if someone was alive in there.
I often find myself missing home because I grew up relying only on my parents and older brother. My roommate doesn’t see her family all fall semester until Thanksgiving and doesn’t complain about being homesick. Yet it is her independence that reminds me that moving seven hours away from home, learning about college football and having to cook my own meals (missing mom’s empanadas on the reg) is just a reminder that learning to be independent is one experience that my gringa friends and I share.