The smell of saltwater in the air. The unbearable humidity in Florida. Puerto Rican music blasting in every shop and beachfront. I first moved to Florida from the Midwest when I was 11, and I hated it. It wasn’t just the fact I had lost all my friends by moving states, or that I was angry my family was moving across the country again, but it was also a culture shock.
Despite being a second-generation Venezuelan, I considered myself American, “but my family is from Venezuela,” I would say. Not me, I was born here. Living in Michigan and Tennessee before moving to Florida, I grew up around other Americans only. I loved cheeseburgers, Applebee’s, cold winters, and learning American history. I only spoke Spanish with my parents at home, my grasp on the language was bilingual but questionable. My knowledge of Latino culture was very poor, especially any slang kids my age might speak. However, I was still considered Latino by those around me, despite my best efforts to fit in.
Now imagine my plight when I moved to Weston, Florida: 52.2% Hispanic. For a second, I was pretty excited to be around other Latinos. I quickly discovered the limbo I was in. The majority of Latino kids my age had just moved from Latin America. For some, they had only been here for a few years, or even months. These Latinos laughed when I tried to speak Spanish with them. My pronunciation, grammar, and accent were all over the place. I barely understood a word they said, as I had been accustomed to the way my parents spoke. Not the almost constant slang these kids spoke. I didn’t listen to any Spanish music or watch soccer. So despite introducing myself as Venezuelan at first to connect with them, I quickly found out I really was American, “but my family is from Venezuela.”
Stuck in the Middle
As I went through middle school, I was constantly around people speaking Spanish. I also went to a Venezuelan summer camp. People say the best way to learn a language is to expose yourself to it as much as you can, and for me, it worked. My Spanish improved. I started liking some of the songs and artists. I even got a Venezuelan accent in Spanish from my years at camp, something I was very happy to hear when people commented on it. I don’t know when it happened, but at one point I stopped considering myself a gringo. However, so did the other American kids. For just a bit, I was stuck in the middle. I wasn’t as Latino as everyone else, but I wasn’t American.
At some point in high school, around sophomore year, I realized much of this dilemma was in my head. There were many other kids just like me, who grew up in the U.S. to Latin parents. I connected with them. I even started to speak better Spanish and know more of the culture than them, thanks to my summer camp. I wasn’t looking for validation anymore, I had found my own. I introduced myself as a second-generation Venezuelan. I connected fine with the more Latino kids.
Nowadays, my Spanish isn’t perfect but has massively improved. My music playlist is 147 Latin music songs, with only one or two English songs in there.
I find it sort of ironic. I came to Florida as an American and hated the place. But I love it here now. People used to ask me where I was from. “Michigan,” I would reply, maybe Tennessee. But even there, I struggled to fit in sometimes, because I came from a Venezuelan family. If you were to ask me now, I’d say “Miami, I’m Venezuelan.” I’m happy and proud to be here. Not just because of how happy my life has become, but because I believe I found where I belong.
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