Each year, from September 15 to October 15, we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month. I am the product of Dominican immigrants. Growing up, we practiced many traditions that encouraged us to stay close to our roots. However, as I got older, my childhood was diluted by my American lifestyle.
My parents made every effort to fill our home with customary Dominican holidays and cuisine, speak Spanish, watch telenovelas, and hold loud family gatherings with Merengue or Salsa music playing in the background. It was often a lively and colorful scene, but we would not have it any other way.
However, being born and raised in a home that honored Dominican culture posed challenges for me. As a New York native, I was exposed to a different life from how my parents were raised in the Dominican Republic. My friends usually spoke English, ate pizza and burgers, listened to house or hip-hop music, and didn’t necessarily have a strong attachment to Latino culture. It was easy to get confused when the people in my circle did not make an effort to preserve their heritage. In some way, I felt that being “too Dominican” would alienate me from a selected group of friends.
The assimilation came full circle years later.
Leaving home facilitated the process of disconnection from my heritage. Gaining independence gave me the power to really explore my identity on my own time. I admit early adulthood was confusing. I felt pulled in two distinct directions. I was not mature enough, yet, to understand that holding on to my heritage did not make me less of an American.
In the last couple of decades, there have been significant changes to my life. I married (and divorced) a Dominican man who gave me our daughter. Setting roots, traditions, and honoring our parent’s culture became more important than I thought possible. I wanted to make the recipes my mother did and celebrate holidays in the same ways I had during my childhood years. I also wanted my daughter to learn to speak, read and write Spanish, the same as I did early on. She learned to dance the bachata, merengue, and salsa. I shared stories with her about what it was like growing up in an old-school Dominican household.
Although I brought my daughter up in a more Americanized household, some customs have been preserved. Whether listening to our music at home or cooking our favorite Dominican dishes, we try to implement a piece of our heritage in our everyday living. These little things bring us back to our center and make us feel closer to family.
We all celebrate our heritage in our own way. As my parents get older, I hold dear the memories and customs they passed on because when they are no longer with us, it will be one of the best ways to keep them in my heart and everyday life.