Relics: Beyond Latinx Heritage Month
This summer, a friend asked me what my “relic” was. He challenged me to pick the one item that encompassed my many complexities and summed me up. Just one. After putting much thought into my own relic, I became curious. What would other people say when asked the same question?
It is truly difficult to condense one’s identity into a tangible object. But there are objects that remind us where we come from, and shed light on who we’ve become. We see ourselves in these objects. They preserve cherished memories and reveal hidden stories.
We decided to ask six Latina women at Duke what their relics were. They were presented with the challenge of picking an object that best represented their Hispanic identity, the relic that told a story of their past and relayed the ways in which Latinidad seeps into their life at Duke. The objects varied in shape and form, and the narratives that came with them did too.
I’d like to believe that if we took the time to ask people these sorts of questions, we’d live more intentionally. We’d better understand each other. We’d be able to have more meaningful conversations that lend themselves to unexpected insights and connections.
There are stories nestled in everyone at Duke. I hope this serves as a brief reminder that we can find these stories in everyone if we took the time to listen.
My relic isn’t really an object. It’s a color.
I come from Lima, where we only have two seasons. In the summer, it’s always sunny, and the skies are always blue. But in the winter, it’s always grey. It’s never sunny and cold. That doesn’t exist over there. So when I walk out of my dorm in the morning and it’s foggy or grey, I am reminded of home.
I went to an American school, where the majority of students are Peruvian. Coming here and being a minority is definitely different. I feel like there are certain stereotypes, not necessarily specific to Duke, but in the greater Durham community too, with being Hispanic. It’s hard to overcome these stereotypes. It’s the accent. It’s everything.
I was talking about this in my Education class the other day. Back in Peru, my English was so good. I was considered really educated because of the way I spoke. Here, it’s the opposite.
Being in another country makes you value where you come from a lot more. I take so much pride in our traditions because I have to explain them to others. I feel like over there, everyone is Peruvian. So things just are. They make sense to everyone. Here, I have to explain things to people.
They’ll ask me:
“Why is food so important? Why do Peruvians care about food so much?”
Then you really have to go into it, you have to think about these things that back home we would just take for granted.
This necklace is the oldest thing I own.
It belonged to my grandmother, who wore it during her teenage years. She then gave it to my mother when she was a teenager, who then passed it on to me when I was about sixteen.
When my mom gave it to me for the first time, she said:
“So, this belonged to your grandmother and she gave it to me when I was a teenager, and now it’s yours!”
When I asked for more context she just said that it could be “whatever I wanted it to be”.
I remember being so unsatisfied. She refused to give me a clearer meaning because she wanted it to be something that I reflected on myself.
I’m still figuring out what the story behind the little elephant is, but I think, to me, it represents a world of opportunity.
There is a beauty in having the opportunity to shape your own meaning out of something. It’s an opportunity not many people have. Like on one day it can mean strength, and on another, when I really need company, I’ll know my mother and grandmother are with me.
It can take the shape and form of whatever I need.
My situation is different in that I moved from Colombia to Canada when I was very young, and I was never really immersed in Latino culture growing up.
It was here at Duke that I was able to connect to other Latinos. The warmth that I get from the Latino community, having spent most of my life away from our family and that culture, is truly amazing. People here are Hispanic and so proud of it, they are willing to show it off and share it with everyone. As a kid I struggled with that in a really white community. We were the only Hispanic family there, I found myself rejecting that part of my life for a long time.
I have come to embrace my Hispanic roots. I’m so proud to be Hispanic. I think the people create a sense of home and comfort. I feel more at home here than I ever did in my actual hometown. It’s a community of love, appreciation, and support.
My relic is a collage of family photos of me as a child with my parents and grandmother. I actually made it for my mother for Mother’s Day, and ended up taking it with me to school.
I think there is something so innocent about having childhood photos and seeing how happy everyone is in them. There are a bunch of different family vacations, my first communion, Christmas, Easter, a trip to Jamaica.
I’ve always said one of my favorite things about being Latinx is the strong women that we have in our heritage and our culture.
I think my mom is such a great example of this. She’s a strong Latina woman in every sense of the word. She’s loud, but independent and confident. I love being able to learn from her.
And then there is my father, strong-willed. He’s the rock of the family. I really appreciate growing up around them and having a loving environment at home. I was able to make mistakes and not have my world shut down for making that mistake.
Another thing is the fact that both my family and so many other Hispanic families are so welcoming.
You’ll have a friend over and they’ll be like “Vamos, siéntate! Are you hungry?”
Having that in my Hispanic household is something I really appreciate growing up around.
When I think of what reminds me of home, I think of sitting at the table to eat.
A lot of my friends would get back from school and eat lunch alone, watching TV or on their phone. But my family was religious about table time. You couldn't even look at your phone at the table. Era un crimen.
I would have lunch after school everyday with my three brothers, and dinner was always all five of us.
When I played soccer, my friends would come over after practice and we’d all eat lunch together, too. The act of sitting at the table to eat became really important to me.
Here at Duke, we all try to have dinner together, too. If we haven't seen each other during the day, we’ll come together and use the opportunity to talk about how our days were. I felt like the act of sitting at the table, and the people you choose to sit at the table with, are really important.
I’m Puerto Rican, Dominican, and Argentinean. That mix always made me feel a bit different from the rest of my friends. But coming to Duke, I felt that difference much more.
When I’m in a classroom or talking to someone who isn’t Hispanic, I feel like they don’t always perceive me in the way I try to come across. They have different codes and ways of expressing themselves that came as a huge shock to me when I first got here. Sometimes I’ll say things and people won’t really understand me. They think I’m weird, and I have to clarify by telling them that wasn't what I meant. I think people also don’t take me as seriously as I would like because they don’t understand me in the ways I would like them to.
It doesn’t bother me, though. Instead of reminding myself that I’m uncomfortable, I embrace the fact that I am learning from it. I’m out of my comfort zone and I like it.
I have two relics. The first one is my mom’s necklace that I basically stole from her when I was little. I’ve been wearing it since I was in middle school and always play with it. It reminds me of my family and being back home.
The other one is this t-shirt I got from my dad when I went to college.
You know that line in Hamilton that says, “go get your education, don’t forget where you came from”? Well, that’s basically what he said. Go and get your education, go be better and bigger than what we were, but don’t forget that you’re from here and that you always have a home in Puerto Rico. This is always going to be your home base.
So, whenever I wear it, I’m reminded of that and I feel nice and warm.
It’s my history. It’s my people. It connects me to generations of generations of family. It plays into the way that I speak, the way that I dance, the food that I like. It’s everything. It’s everything around me.
I’m very white-passing (especially if I straighten my hair). So I have to make an effort to let people know that I’m not white or American. I’m Hispanic. I’m Puerto Rican.
And through that comes a lot of the pride. Because you could easily just be like, “oh I’m white”. But there’s a sense of ownership in saying:
“This is why I am, this is where I come from. this is my family, this is me. and I’m not ashamed to tell you.”
It’s really empowering and brings a lot more into love and light into who I am.
It is through this—conversations about necklaces, the sky, a piece of furniture, a photo, or even a T-shirt—that we obtained a glimpse into individuals’ inner musings, into how they grapple with their identity.
The women that participated in this project allowed us to enter their world, and we walked away with a newfound appreciation of the diverse impact identity has on people. For these Latina women, they shared experiences of not always being perceived the way they intended to, of having to claim their identity and having to explain their traditions to others. But we also heard of embracing roots, of pride, of the sense of home and comfort that they find among the community they’ve joined. We saw them reminisce about strong mothers and fathers, of a sense of responsibility and of difficulties along the way.
This project was undertaken during Latinx Heritage Month, and it's not until now that it became ready for release. Though not intentional, I believe that this adds a deeper level of nuance. These five women continue to maneuver through their daily lives with their Latinx identity, continue to think of home, continue to see those reminders whether they be an object or something intangible. These five women are not the complete story of Latinx identity at Duke, and we can continue to discover the multi-faceted aspects of this even when not aided by a designated month.
These conversations can happen at any time. Are we brave enough to seek them?
That being said, we hope to continue open conversations on identity, and objects that may be rooted in them. If you have a relic that speaks to your womanhood, and culture, and want to share it, e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org and submit a relic of yours and we'll feature you in our upcoming continuation!
Photos by Lola Sanchez-Carrion
Written by Lola Sanchez-Carrion and Daisy Almonte
Edited by Eliza Moreno