Sunday, May 19, 2024

Stereotyping damaging to self-identity

I am Puerto Rican.

A Puerto Rican who can’t speak Spanish, a Puerto Rican who doesn’t eat Pavochon (turkey seasoned like a roasted pig) during the holidays, a Puerto Rican who wasn’t born in Puerto Rico.

A Puerto Rican who isn’t Puerto Rican — well, according to people who say that’s what I am.

Culture is defined as the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time and a particular society that has its own beliefs, ways of life, art, etc., according to Merriam-Webster.

But just because we grow up in a certain culture doesn’t mean people are bound by the rules of it.

I grew up in the Bronx with a poor Puerto Rican family in a Puerto Rican community, along with Mexicans and Black Americans. Spanish was the dominant language used throughout my family, especially with my grandmother, who barely spoke English, if any at all.

My mother, a native Spanish and English speaker, who always translated every word my grandmother said to me, was hoping I would pick up the language by listening to my family members but, unfortunately, it didn’t work.

Many will ask, “How can you be Puerto Rican if you don’t speak Spanish?” This is the average comment I get every time I mention I am of Puerto Rican heritage and can’t speak Spanish or the fact that I am not a heavy meat eater — I do not eat pollo con arroz (chicken with rice) and Pavochon.

So what am I?

Am I an American who enjoys reading American comics drawn by Puerto Rican writer and illustrator George Perez? Or am I a Puerto Rican who knows how to dance Swing and Foxtrot, along with Bachata, Salsa and Merengue? Maybe I’m Colombian because I listen to Colombian singers Carlos Vives and J Balvin. Who knows?

Or maybe I’m both: an American born citizen with Puerto Rican heritage and someone who’s proud of it.

Someone who can enjoy Reggaeton and American Rock music, someone who can enjoy baseball, the most popular sport in Puerto Rico, and basketball (Plattsburgh State basketball), someone who can enjoy the sweet, juicy taste of an American cheeseburger from Five Guys and the GOYA Adobe pepper spice added to my arroz con carne guisada puertorriqueña (rice with Puerto Rican beef stew).

Yes, I do not speak Spanish. Hell, I’m even lucky to understand more than a sentence spoken to me in Spanish, but I try not to be insecure about it or anything else I don’t follow involving Puerto Rico culture.

I don’t force myself to be a Puerto Rican or an American.

I don’t force myself to drink Coquito (alcoholic eggnog) every holiday season or hang out with every Puerto Rican I see. I don’t force myself to drink American beer or be a huge patriot.

I try to be myself, someone who is proud of his heritage and is trying to gain as much knowledge on Puerto Rico as possible.

Your culture may define some aspects of who you are, but in the end, it is ultimately up to you to decide who you are.

Email Alex Ayala at

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