"What are you?"
"I am half Columbian and half Puerto Rican."
"Wow. That's really interesting."
In Puerto Rico, I can see the land, and how fertile it is. The rainforests are over grown with huge plants that look as though they should have become extinct along with the dinosaurs. Miles of palmtrees take me to another place that's exotic and vast, different from Queens, N.Y.
I'm drawn to the sea. The color doesn't seem real. It overwhelms my eyes and makes me wish that I could jump in and have the color stick. I am those things.
"Isn't Puerto Rico kind of a poor country?"
"No, not really."
In Bogota I see a family struggling to get by, a family trying to lead a decent existence. I have seen them twice in my life.
"Columbia's really scary because of those drug cartels and stuff isn't it?"
"No, not really."
So I'm half Puerto Rican and half Columbian. On the one hand, I am interested in the cultures of my heritage. On the other hand, that interest becomes a struggle with my father.
"Why do you waste so much time on that bullshit?" I can always hear my father's question in my mind as I think about who I am.
"Dad it's not all I am, but it's something that makes me unique."
"Bull shit. I can't understand why you have to think in that same mediocre way that all those other assholes think in. Next you're going to tell me that you're 'hispanic'. I hate that word. What does it mean anyway?"
When my dad, who is Columbian, does business in Spain he pretends he's Spanish. He says it isn't that he's ashamed of where he came from; he says it because Spaniards are racists who think South Americans are inferior. He says it makes it easier for him to do business this way.
"Everyone's talking about "what" they are. This guy I work with has never even seen Ireland and he's Irish. What the fuck does that mean? His whole family has been here since the Potato Famine. I hate that. It's so stupid. It's like those people in Catalonia. They think it's so important to preserve their language. They are just rude speaking Catalonian in a room full of people who can only speak Spanish. It's a stupid mentality. Look, you're American o.k.?"
I am American. I see things as Americans do. To me, what my father relates about his upbringing says he was underprivileged. For his purposes, his memory recollects that sometimes it was underprivileged and sometimes that it was not. It is when he is making a point about how far he has come, as a successful business man and man of life. It isn't when he truly questions what bearing his upbringing has on his character; cast in that light it was a strengthening, not a weakening, force.
"Millie, I don't know where you get this idea that I came from some kind of underprivileged background. We didn't have a lot of money, but we always got what we wanted."
"But didn't you tell me you were poor? Didn't grandma only have 3 years of school?" She has great penmanship, but her spelling sucks.
"Yeah, but times were different for her. She taught me manners and I always knew how to behave. We weren't underprivileged."
One side of me says find out everything there is to know about the culture and, in particular, the family I've come from. The other side paraphrases my father; what does it matter? I'm searching for a middle ground. Discussion on this matter with my father is not a dialogue; instead it is a forum for the philosophy of his life.
"Let me tell you something sweetheart, there are a lot of mediocre people out there who are constantly trying to put labels on themselves and it's nothing. It says nothing about who they are."