Where are you from? Are you Italian? No. Are you Puerto Rican? No. Oh so you are Mexican? Nope. Oh, So you are Columbian? Nope. So, where are your from? What are you?
My heart goes out to all the folks out there trying to figure out the quantum physics of my origin. Really, I am very serious about this because my own culture has plagued me.
Self discovery has always been in the back of my mind. What confuses people is the way I look and my accent. I mean Fuhgeddaboudit, what accent, right…right?
I grew up in the Lower East Side (LES) of New York City. I refer to it lovingly as the “Lowa.” Some may call it Alphabet City. My prime space to dwell was on the corner of 11th Street and Avenue A. My confusion erupted from the culture, let me explain.
When I was in the 4th Grade, we had culture day. All the little boys and girls were assigned to draw the flag of their own specific culture. So of course I grabbed the red, white and blue and started drawing the most gorgeous Puerto Rican flag. My teacher came over and said, “Fanny you are not Puerto Rican” we argued and she than said, “Your mother is Jewish!”
I went home with my flag and went to my mother, who had already been called by the teacher. She said, “Fanny we are Russian, Polish and Bolivian” but I knew this. I was more confused. Because I explained we have a Puerto Rican flag in the kitchen, living room, fire escape, bedroom… we eat arroz gandules, pasteles, pernil…? We went to the Puerto Rican parade every beginning of summer. When my mom would clean she would have old school salsa and occasionally whip out the chancleta when I misbehaved, which was rare cause I was a saint. What was going on here?
My mother explained that we go to Temple on Saturday and Church on Sunday. My mother explained that as we know she is Jewish and my father is Catholic. He is from Bolivia, South America and identifies himself as Aymara of the Andean culture of the Andes mountains. She discussed how she was slightly unsure of exactly where but her parents came from Poland, which was controlled by Russia. My father also explained that he was part Wales and German with Jewish descent from his fathers side. After I digested this, which I was aware of why do we represent Puerto Rico?
My mother explained when she met my father he did not know english and she did not know spanish. There were no other Bolivians in the area. When they moved to our neighborhood there were only Puerto Ricans who were her friends. So, in order to understand the latin culture she immersed herself and so did my dad as they both felt it was a median between them and then assimilated to the culture.
The other issue was that my mother was very sick, so she did not have custody of me during the weekend. So, every Friday, Saturday and Sunday I lived with my grandparents in Brooklyn. Here I learned only about Jewish home cooking and Italian neighbors home cooking. Also, every summer I would go to North Carolina with my grandparents, where I was submersed in down south culture. So, I would go from Yo’ to Yall’ in a New York minute. I would toss all the food from up North out for Hush Puppies and Sweet Tea.
Proudly if someone asked I would often say to help them feel better, is that, I am 100% fake Boricua as my friends would loving tell me.
I identified as a Jewish Latin woman my whole life. However, many people would say to me that I sounded like these two woman, who I have always adored Fran Drescher and Rosie Perez; I can see that. In some instances when I moved to New Jersey I would get, what country are your from? Um, last time I checked…America.
This would often make me laugh explaining that I was from America of the US of A because I was literally born in Bellevue hospital one floor from the psychiatric ward. Although I come from a melting pot where if you dare questioned someones authenticity it was a punch to the mouth. Outside of the mean streets of New York City fashion, elsewhere in the United States, I had to learn that people dont travel everywhere to uproot and the folks from these towns always lived there. What I mean is that their mom lived there, their grandaddy live there, their great grand daddy and so on. So anything slightly different was not from the America they new, their norm.
Instead of being offended I had to get passed that and learn the new normal, which was easier top understand their point of view. I did and since I had always been quite a chameleon; although I have thick accent, thicker than my mustache this wasn’t difficult for me again, and, I had to put my feelings away.
Recently, I was able to do DNA search and family tree on one of the popular heritage sites. At first I was sceptic, like, really? I always wanted to see if I had other family maybe have insight on my brother who passed away or the cousin my mother always spoke about that was kind of a secret.
At first, I built my tree and made so many branches that I loved this process. I gave in an sent in my DNA and what I found out, I felt gave me closer. Closer, because the majority of my family was deceased. I was able to get answers that made me truly sob over.
My results came back that I was not Puerto Rican, which made me honestly laugh and felt sad about it. However, what my parents had mentioned in the past I was able to get so much insight. I am officially 60% European Jewish (50 from my mom and 10 from my dad); Indigenous America – Andes (Bolivian Aymara and Andes mountains); 11% Spain (this would be when spain came to Bolivia before they sought out independence); 3% Portugal; and 2% England, Wales & Northwestern Europe, which matched my fathers stories.
At first, I felt empowered with this knowledge. As you can probably imagine I was always told I was not 100% anything. I was also told I was not Jewish enough or Spanish enough, yadda yadda so this often plagued me. I remember, one of my previous directors, mentioned to me that I was not Jewish because she did not see me in her temple this honestly made me sad for her and her lack of education. I also did not even know where she went to temple. I do have a temple and church I go to, by the way… you know… just saying.
Anywho, I can now yell from the top of a mountains, truly what my DNA was. I also found the missing first cousin who my mother told me about and his dynamic but we will need to revisit that at a later time maybe a part two.
So now my accent, I really dont know what to say when I am speaking but I know I truly own it. Remarkably, it is what draws the crowds in on this Fannytasticlife!
Hear it for yourself on my podcast Fannytasticlife, thank you.