Growing up bicultural in America, and learning to embrace it

Source: Giphy
Source: Giphy

Last month, I experienced one of the proudest moments ever as I watched my niece Ashley graduate from university. [She’s only seven years younger than I am, so we’re close – almost more like sisters than aunt|niece.]

The most touching moment of the entire weekend was when Ash delivered her speech as the selected student speaker for the school’s multicultural graduation (also known as Kushinda or Ritos de Pasaje). Homegirl stood up there, spoke like a boss, and absolutely crushed it.

The auditorium was dark and silent—save for my dramatic sobs—while the spotlight set on Ashley. She explained to a room packed with hundreds of people what this milestone meant to her personally and to our family. Her voice began to quiver as she shared that her mom (aka my sister) lived a reality that is so prevalent among young Latinas: teen motherhood. The audience comforted her with applause and cheers, and Ash continued to speak openly about how our society doesn’t expect much from teen mothers, especially those of color, but that my sister worked her ass off so that her kid wouldn’t become another statistic.

On that stage, Ashley proudly donned her Latin American-designed sash and colorful stoles from her Hispanic-heritage fraternity (of which, she was president). She spoke beautifully and bravely about her accomplishments as a young Latina. It was quite evident to everyone in that room that her background played a major role in shaping who she is.

In the few weeks since Ashley’s graduation, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about my own identity.

If you hadn’t gathered yet, I too am Hispanic. My mother was born and raised in the Dominican Republic. My father was born in Cuba. While I don’t identify much with my Cuban side, I relate strongly to being Dominican. I speak Dominican-influenced Spanish, devour Dominican food on the reg, and follow Dominican traditions.

Drake loves pretending to be Dominican. Source: Giphy

In middle school and perhaps even in high school, I was really proud of my heritage, and I cared a lot about identifying as a Latina. But over time, being bicultural became an exhausting thing to be. It felt like something I had to prove rather than something I just … was.

I don’t “look” Hispanic, and a lot of people don’t realize that Hispanics come in all colors and hair types. I grew tired of having to explain why I “look African-American,” and why I don’t resemble Sofia Vergara or Shakira or America Ferrera. I also came to resent my English-sounding last name, and having to discuss how imperialism works. And finally, I didn’t want to have to discuss why I lacked an accent, while the rest of my family had one.

You see—I’ve been to Dominican hair salons in Harlem where overzealous patrons had no idea I spoke Spanish, and tried to “translate” what the hair stylists were saying to me. I grew tired of having to say, “Actually, I speak Spanish better than you do. You don’t need to play translator.” I’ve also been in Non-Hispanic Black hair salons, where the stylist spoke poorly about Dominican women and their hair care rituals. It’s easier to just stay quiet, and nod along.

It was all exhausting. So, I tried to blend in as much as possible. This is really hard to write and shameful to admit, but I’ve often pretended that I don’t speak Spanish in social settings, so I wouldn’t have to get into a conversation about where I learned it. In fact, when I order food at a Latin American restaurant, I tend to adopt an American accent instead of speaking normally, e.g. asking for a “kay-suh-dee-yuh” rather than a “quesadilla.”

I’ve never gone out of my way to hide anything, but unless it comes up, I don’t feel the need to share that I am a Spanish-speaking, “Caso Cerrado”-loving, mamajuana-drinking bicultural lady. But I’ve realized something the last few weeks: As much as I’d like to make life easier on a day-to-day basis, I’m doing a disservice to myself and to those around me by not openly embracing that I’m bicultural.

Drake Dominican
I mean, he reallyyyy loves the Dominican Republic. Source: YouTube

Being Dominican-American really does define a major part of who I am: Even though the current U.S. “leader” is a gross troll, I still believe in the American Dream. My mom came of age in the DR during a civil war, and she’s managed to make it here and give her daughters as much as possible. I also believe in the concept of family first, over the needs of the individual. And I definitely believe in Clorox-ing the heck out of my house + overcoming every cold with Vivaporú (but those are stories for another day).

Why am I (over)sharing all this shit? I want to spend more time exploring what it means to be a multicultural millennial in this country, and what brands, leaders and institutions can do to better connect with different groups. It’s something I’ve always held near and dear to my heart, and I finally feel brave enough to delve into these topics. This is it, folks! Or, in the words of my Cuban idol …

caso cerrado
Source: Giphy

How to Embrace the Agony That is Small Talk

via Giphy

Small talk is the social equivalent of getting a paper cut: super painful at first; definitely not the end of the world; but you try to avoid it as much as possible.

I like to pretend this is my face when I’m small-talking it up …

via Giphy

But on the inside, I’m this insecure, shambly mess that actually looks like …

via Giphy

The vast majority of young adults hate engaging in trivial conversation. “Oh, I love this weather we’re having!” “How about them sports?” “Ugh, this elevator takes forever, am I right?”

the. worst.

This one study commissioned by Don Pablo Coffee (and cited by Men’s Health) found the following:

  • 65% of young adults do not feel confident in face-to-face social interactions.
  • Eight in 10 feel more comfortable having a conversation via digital means.
  • 30% of young adults cancel or just bail on events they’re invited to because they fear it will be socially awkward.

We’ve been conditioned to multi-task. Since adolescence, we’ve held entire conversations via IM, text or social media while doing a million other things. These digital conversations are beneficial because they give us the power to control who we speak to and when. It’s extremely easy to dodge situations that pull us outside of our comfort zones. Ultimately, we end up spending all of our free time talking to people who share common interests.

So, yeah, it can be tough when we are forced to socialize outside of that realm.

I’m not going to pretend like I don’t bail on events or dodge situations to avoid social awkwardness. I’m human; I do it. But, I have a little trick that’s made small talk a lot easier.

I’ve discovered that when given the chance, most humans enjoy talking about themselves. So, use small talk as an opportunity to let people tell stories about their lives that they wouldn’t otherwise share. Now, this comes with two caveats: 1. Don’t ask anything intrusive, controversial or weird. 2. Don’t say or ask anything you don’t mean, or that you don’t want answered.

Here are some examples of my go-to “small-talk” questions:

  • Are you working on any cool projects at your job?
  • Have you been cooking anything fun lately? Where do you get recipe ideas from?
  • I just finished “Friends” for the millionth time. I need a new show to watch. Are you binge-watching anything interesting?
  • Has your baby reached any fun milestones yet?
  • [If it’s someone you’re following on social media, you can totally use that as a crutch.] I saw your Instagram post of your vaca to Amsterdam. What was your favorite part of that trip?
  • [Compliments work, too! But, remember you have to actually mean them.] I love that dress, girl. That pattern is so vivid.

These aren’t earth-shattering questions or statements, but they’ll help turn small talk with someone you barely know into pleasant conversations. And, hey – there’s something to be said about steering clear of politics, religion, and perhaps most importantly, the damn weather.

Are We Jaded Yet?

via Giphy

All my life, I’ve wanted to be a writer. At age seven, I began keeping in-depth journals about my daily life. I wrote about school, and I composed Babysitters Club fanfiction (Logan and Mary Anne 4ever, am I right?).

In high school, my journaling morphed into blogging. The musings got deep. I quoted Kanye West, talked about failing AP chemistry and poured my heart out to mediocre 16-year-old boys (of course, back then, you couldn’t have convinced me that these dudes were Barneys).

I went on to college to major in journalism (and theater for one semester, obviously). And that’s when I really fell in love with researching cool things and writing about them. Since graduating, I’ve worked only in content creation roles. I started this here blog, and even began drafting a book I wanted to self-publish.

But … somewhere, somehow within the last year or so, something changed. I still loved writing, but I lost all motivation to do so on a creative basis. How little I’ve written in this blog is indication of that. I could blame it on the chaos that is life – moving from New York to Florida; leaving a hot-mess relationship behind; starting an awesome thing with an amazing human; resigning from two different jobs; and a bunch of other stuff.

via Giphy

That could be it, but I find it tough to actually blame the lack of hustle on my chaos because, guess what? I still had time to binge-watch tons of shit. (If you haven’t watched “Big Little Lies,” “Chewing Gum” or “13 Reasons Why,” get on it, bbs.) So why couldn’t I dedicate that time to working on my side projects?

I laid in bed many nights, reprimanding myself: “You little troll, what is going on? WRITE IN YOUR BLOG. WORK ON YOUR LIFE PROJECTS.” I’d end up brushing that good angel off my shoulder and listening to the mean one instead; the one that would tell me, “Oooh, we can do that later. Let’s see what’s trending on Instagram and Reddit.”

Is this just what happens? Does getting older makes us feel jaded? A recent study leads me to believe that aging might play a role in losing our motivation to crush the world.

Universum, an employer branding company, conducted a study earlier this year and found that the desire to be a leader wanes as students and professionals move forward in their careers. While 65% of Gen Y college students felt that becoming a leader was important to their careers, a slightly smaller percentage of Gen Y professionals agreed and only 57% of Gen X professionals felt the same.

The main reason why Gen Y and Gen X professionals find leadership roles unattractive? Lack of work-life balance. The students that were polled for the study weren’t too concerned about that, but it was a pretty big deal to Gen Y and Gen X professionals.

I can see that. While I didn’t mind pushing myself to the limit a few years ago, until the point of making myself sick, I care about my health and wellbeing now. Having a life outside of work has become more important to me because I’ve experienced the effects of not having a life outside of work. And I think that for a while, I started to see my side projects as just that: Work. So, I came to resent them.

But, after lots of reading, connecting with hustle-minded friends and Drake dropping a new album – I am seeing everything in a new light. Yep, just like my girl Stella, I am getting my groove back.

via Giphy

So, here I am, just a girl, standing in front of the Internet asking you to love me. Well, not really. This is my way of publicly acknowledging that life gets stressful and scary and chaotic at times, and that it’s OK to take a break from your dream and practice some self-care. But if you’re still dreaming, just know that you can get back to it.

So, I’m going to keep working on this blog, and I am going to eventually self-publish something because it’s my dream. And also, because I really, really love this shit.

Millennial PSA: Standing Up to Small Injustices

Source: Paramount Pictures/

“There are two kinds of evil people in this world: People who do evil things, and people who see evil things being done and don’t try to stop it.”

Thank you to Janis Ian for inspiring my #millennial musings of the day:

My millennial friends, if you see someone being treated unfairly – stand the eff up. Ask how you can lend support [lending an ear over coffee, doing some research or coming up with an action plan]. Don’t sit idly by as you watch someone take advantage of a person who does not deserve to be abused.

I hate to get all Taylor Swift on you, but this PSA is particularly geared to my lady readers. There are a lot of people out there [both men and women] who see young women as meek and incapable …  so they end up being straight-up mean to millennial ladies. Let’s stand together, folks. Let’s compete less with each other, and let’s focus on becoming the best versions of ourselves – while helping our peers do the same. [Unless, said peer did something super egregious. In that case, wish the best for that hot mess troll, go no contact and move on with your life. Ain’t nobody got time for pettiness.]

Millennials, Entitlement and Weddings, Oh My!

Source: Universal Pictures/Via

Entitled. Narcissistic. Selfish.

If you’re a millennial, there’s no doubt you’ve heard these words to describe your generation so freely. We really do have a bad rap among older folks. In a 2014 survey [pdf] of American adults, 71% described millennials as selfish, while 65% said they’re an entitled group of people.

I’ve always disagreed with these labels – for myriad reasons. 1. How can the media, our relatives, our older colleagues be so chill about labeling a group of 75M+ VERY DIVERSE people? 2. As far as I’ve seen, millennials are an incredibly hard working, side-hustling, education-getting bunch. The Gen Yers I know put in their time – working 10-12 hours per day on the reg. They don’t arrive on the job only to sit down, do nothing and expect everything to be handed to them. Yeah, there are exceptions. Some people are hot mess trolls and whatnot, but for the most part, I’m impressed with how hard my peers work to make their communities and the world at large a better place. That doesn’t sound selfish or entitled to me.

Whew! That said—I kinda, sorta think I finally found out where the whole entitlement argument comes from.

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