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Does heritage define your culture?

Opinion columnist Charlene Santiago poses for a portrait in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016.
Opinion columnist Charlene Santiago poses for a portrait in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication on Wednesday, Aug. 24, 2016.

Young Latinxs in the U.S. are creating a new sense of identity, yet are still expected to resist or assimilate between cultures, creating uncertainty in how they present themselves.

“Estas muy gringa/o.” (You’re too American)

“Habla el español bien.” (Speak Spanish correctly)

“Where is your accent from?” “Could you say that one more time? I didn’t understand.”

These are some questions and comments that Hispanics and Latinos constantly encounter.

Today’s reference to the term “Hispanic” or “Latino” in the U.S. differs from the context it held 20-30 years ago. In the past, Latinxs in the U.S. would communicate mostly in Spanish, and were therefore stereotyped by society as non-English speakers or English-speakers with thick accents. Hispanics were also marginalized for having a strong connection with their country’s culture.

Today, Spanish and English proficiency among Latinxs should be widely considered normal while also keeping in mind the shift in resistance or assimilation to American culture.

Latinxs who are born and raised in the U.S. tend to be very fluent in English, and are able to communicate efficiently in Spanish as well. They interact daily with the American culture and their culture at home, constantly shifting languages, practices and perspectives.


This constant shift from the predominant American culture to the Latinx culture might lead to some Hispanics not being very fluent in Spanish — the language their parents and their “abuelas” speak, the link to their heritage.

These circumstances, in the face of relatives, tends to be negatively overlooked. Elders expect the new generation to maintain reasonable knowledge with their culture. Assimilating to the American culture can imply betrayal, and to some extent, arrogance. This social circumstance leads to opinions such as “You Are the Worst Latino."

Former ASU Spanish Heritage Program Professor, Roberto Ortiz Manzanilla, closely studied his former students’ connection to Spanish and each their respective cultures.

“It’s important to keep in mind that culture changes all the time, it’s not fixed or unmovable,” he said. “What happens sometimes is that they [students] get an 'ideal' because they are not practicing it … the culture moves with their families across the space but not across the time.”

Hispanics who arrive to the U.S. at a later age have a different sense of identity. This group of Latinxs unavoidably encounters cultural assimilation. They become vulnerable to a number of changes that might differ from their identity as individuals. They begin to question their interaction with other cultures and how to become socially engaged.

These Latinsxs can be considered well rounded bilinguals yet they are expected to communicate in English without an accent, which is a part of them they cannot control. Consequently, they are exposed to prejudice and labeled as uneducated or inferior.

These expectations not only limit a person’s autonomy, but also, through culture, limit a person’s sense of individuality. They are characterized through culture, rather than being perceived as an individual.

Vanessa Ruiz, 12 News Anchor, decided to speak on behalf of many Latinxs who encounter this conflict not only to a social extent, but also in professional fields. Ruiz was criticized for her pronunciation of certain words with “a Spanish accent” during the English-network newscast.

“I seize the moment to address some viewer inquiries wondering why I pronounce certain words in Spanish in just that — Spanish,”she said.

Not only did she embrace her culture and individuality, but she put a stop to the expectation being enforced that she should say things “the American way.”


“How do you identify your culture?” Anayensi Almaraz, ASU Global Health Junior, said it depends on the context of the conversation.

“If the conversation is more centered on my heritage I am more likely to use the terms Mexican or Mexican American decent,” she said. “If the conversation is geared more toward my culture pertaining to the U.S. and my life as an American, I would use Chicana or Mexican American decent.”

In this kind of scenario, the person’s cultural identity evolves and creates a new phenomenon: uncertainty.

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, where cultural diversity was unknown. A homogenous circle creates a determined sense of cultural identification. All I knew was the “Puerto Rican” way.

When I arrived to Arizona and I had the opportunity of meeting different Latinxs who were born and raised in the U.S., I started to realize certain patterns of inefficiency when communicating in Spanish. I asked myself: “Why identify as Hispanic or Latinx if you cannot even speak the language?”

Although bilingual, I considered myself belonging to one single culture, that of my country yet part of a bigger culture, Latinx, that communicated only in Spanish.

Through my peers, I learned that culture goes beyond physical or geopolitical borders, languages, practices or perspectives. These are simply factors to understand diversity.

Although people share culture, one has the chance to create identity. Creating your own culture given different circumstances you confront.

As a Latina, I realize that uncertainty is unavoidable for many, but we all have the power determine who we truly are.

Reach the columnist at or follow @santiagoc_17 on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors.

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