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Being a part two worlds makes me richer

I recently saw on PBS a documentary about “In the Heights,” a Broadway musical by Lin-Manuel Miranda. He wrote it as a final work for his graduation, and the original cast for the play was made up of minority students from immigrant families.

In the documentary, the cast members talk about their backgrounds, family, dreams and fears.

Listening to these stories got very personal to me. One said, “My parents immigrated here from Guatemala. Because life was hard for them, they wanted me to learn only English, not Spanish. ... I am Latina, I look Latina, I feel Latina, but I do not speak Spanish, so I feel myself a ‘fake Latina.’”

Those words touched a deep cord in me. I have been in this country for 48 years, arriving here in July 1972. Because I wanted to work in my profession, architecture, I immersed myself studying English. After finishing five courses at Evans-Cambria School in Los Angeles, I went to UCLA for two more courses in advanced English. After six months, I was able to take the ESL proficiency test at UCLA and passed with flying colors. I looked for work afterward and landed a good job with a prestigious architectural and planning company in Beverly Hills. I flourished in the workplace, and my life revolved around an English-speaking world.

I didn’t have many opportunities to speak Spanish besides writing to my parents and occasionally speaking with my husband, who spoke Spanish very well. He was a New Yorker.

As time passed I felt more immersed into the English world, my whole life revolved around it. But in my heart I was still very Bolivian and felt my music and costumes deeply in my heart. When our daughters were born, my husband and I decided to have family rituals involving our two cultures to give them the gift of both. We took things from his family and things from my family, making a new unique one for us. Our two daughters grew up learning about and respecting both cultures.

However, every time I would go back to visit my parents in Cochabamba, Bolivia, I felt uneasy, as if I just didn’t belong there any more. Even talking with family members made me feel like they spoke a different language. I was no longer part of that group. I felt an outsider. I didn’t belong to their circle anymore. I was a fake member. It made me sad.

I would return to the U.S. and I just didn’t feel that Americans accepted me either. There has always been something present in my interaction with people in the U.S. at work and outside work that made me feel like an outsider. That has been my life, not feeling full Bolivian and not feeling full American either. I felt hanging in between.

So who am I? I just don’t know, but I carry deep inside me Bolivia and its music, and I am thankful to this country for giving me great opportunities in my profession and a great husband. From my arrival in the U.S., I have been accepted without reservations as part of his wonderful family; for that I am forever grateful. I have made wonderful friends from all over who make me feel accepted. And, thanks to technology, I feel more linked to my Bolivian family as well. I feel lucky. I feel content. I feel I am part of two worlds. For that I am richer.

Gracias a la vida que me ha dado tanto.

Maria-Cristina Page lives in Medford.


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