Here we go again: Nuyorican, Gringa, and Puerto Rican what shall I be labelled?

Here we go again: Nuyorican, Gringa, and Puerto Rican what shall I be labelled?

Nuyoricans are a funny bunch. They have a mixed cultural identity that is extremely strong that forms a strong core component of their being. The term broadly refers to the Puerto Rican diaspora experience.  There are now more Puerto Ricans stateside in the United States than in Puerto Rico itself. As such, the term Nuyorican also is used at times to differentiate between those born in Puerto Rico and those just of Puerto Rican descent. The term and the identity are rife with political nuance.

Just this past week some colleagues were discussing their Hispanic identity in response to a recent post by a self-identified Argentinian Latina. Here is the rub when this Argentinian, who was born in the US to an Argentinian mother, went to Argentina she was effectively disowned by Argentinians therein.  She had made a point growing up in New York to self-identify with being Latina and yet that was not the identity ascribed to her by Argentinians in the home country.

Identity is such a fluid, rejected and accepted concept. I too as a Puerto Rican female often get rejected by those in the island. In everyday life, I do not feel the need to constantly note I am Puerto Rican. I am brown. I stand out in a crowd. People know that I am “something.”   I just am a Nuyorican. That is how my mom raised me to be. I am a strong New Yorker with Puerto Rican blood running through my veins.

When I go to Puerto Rico, there is often the assumption that I do not know Puerto Rico and Puerto Rican culture. I am a “gringa” despite being brown and from there.  Yet, when I tell them my mom died there, my grandmother is buried there, my sister lives there (for now), they do a double take and look at my eyes.  It’s as if they are trying to gauge how much Puerto Rcian blood runs through my veins by piercing their eyes through mine.

Every time I go there I have to prove myself.   Anytime, I go anywhere in Latin America, for that matter. I was in Panama a few months back where a man was shocked to hear me speak Spanish. I had ordered in English at first and he approached me wondering “what I was.”   I get asked that all the time both in the US and abroad. I am a chameleon at times and an exotic one at that.  People have thought I am Tunisian, Indian, Ethiopian, Cape Verdean, French and so on. Name it and I have been thought it depending on the context.  When I let the man in Panama know I was Puerto Rican, he did a double take. He thought I looked it but had not met many Puerto Ricans that spoke Spanish. Aha. He had probably met Nuyoricans.

Anyway,when I go to Puerto Rican I have to prove many things. I have to prove I am from there and that I get the cause. I have to prove I feel the pain and that I can empathize. And every trip I leave having proved it so. In a way, if I make it there I can make it anywhere. If I can be accepted by my own skeptical people, who are bound to be most demanding, I can be accepted in most other places. However, it is quite a dance. This brown-eyed and skinned girl is still a “gringa” but I’m their “gringa.”

11 replies »

  1. I’m of Italian descent, and work with a person who is also Italian, but delineates his ancestry by saying he’s Sicilian. So, in his world, there are degrees of how Italian one can be. He’s apparently not heard of Garibaldi and that his family was living in a unified Italy in which Sicily was part of. Whenever he brings it up now, I remind him of the Punic Wars and that, at least by some percentage, he’s part Carthaginian. 😀


  2. As a natural born U.S. citizen, with relatives from the Dominican Republic and Italy, I have similar issues in that I do not know what to identify as. When I identify as Dominican, I get asked, “De donde tu eres?” You’ll respond and they’ll ask, “En que parte?” Like dude, stop pressing me. Why is it that we identify as Dominican or Puertorican when we are getting shunned by those truly from there? From now on, I will identify as American and White.

    It amazes me how all this time, I’ve been identifying as a minority when in reality I am a natural born citizen. I am not a immigrant. Therefore, how can I possibly be a minority?


  3. I had a new client once who, after introductions were made, asked me if it bothered me that she was Puerto Rican. Surprised, I said, “Of course not. Why on earth would that bother me?” She was very direct. She said, “Because I don’t want you to pretend that you don’t see my color or hear my accent. I am what I am.” I have to admit, I was taken aback for a bit. I truly don’t think of color except for how culture may affect whatever the situation is that a client brings to me. I finally said, “Well, if you won’t pretend not to see MY skin color or hear MY midwestern accent, then we should be ok!” She laughed. She had the most glorious laugh, rich and deep. We ended up enjoying each other immensely.


  4. I guess identity is so fluid and context related too. Mimi, I nominated your blog for the sisterhood of the bloggers award. I hope you have a lovely weekend.


  5. Oh wow. I had no idea. That’s an interesting educational tidbit for me. My limited education on Puerto Ricans comes from my old neighbor from Hondurans who told me Puerto Ricans have softer accents and smoother skin, so they think they’re better than everyone else. Of course, she had lots of theories about white people as well. (Ironically, she wasn’t exactly open to diversity. lol)


    • Hey! Thanks for sharing that situation. Interesting how these ironic situations come about. Yes, identity can be such a fluid and wedge issue. Hope you are doing well in the run up towards the holidays.


  6. I totally get it; I’m in an even more confusing situation as I am half Puerto Rican and half Italian. Being biracial sucks as you tend to be rejected by both cultures. I was raised and grew up with my Puerto Rican mom and Puerto Rican side so I don’t even “feel” Italian but not speaking Spanish makes me a total gringa and it sucks cause I feel very Puerto Rican. I even make my own sofrito, pastelles, flan, coquito and etc!


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