SeriesLIVE

Alina Hernandez

Immigrant Archive Project
Alina Hernandez was just seven years old when she talked to us about growing up in a multicultural family and the importance of learning to speak Spanish. Today, she’s a junior in college. We caught up with her recently and picked up the conversation where we left off.
Show transcript
00:00
The way that I measure my heritage and how connected I am to
00:03
it has in no shape or way connects to whether or not I have the
00:06
ability to speak perfect Spanish.
00:08
It doesn't take away from the fact that I am proudly a Cuban
00:11
woman.
00:17
My name is Elena Hernandez.
00:18
I'm 20 years old and I'm gonna be a junior in college.
00:22
Fantastic.
00:23
Uh Elena, I understand you grew up in a mixed family, so to speak
00:29
right?
00:30
A Latino dad, an American mom.
00:32
What was that like growing up with two distinctly different
00:37
cultures, growing up with two distinctly different cultures
00:41
was very interesting and I wouldn't have it any other way.
00:45
It was kind of like normalized because everyone in Miami is
00:49
either American and Cuban like Colombian Argentinian anything
00:55
And it was, it was interesting because like we all kind of grew
00:57
up with like the same experience in a way and then going off
01:03
to college.
01:04
It was interesting because it was like here, I felt like I wasn't
01:07
Latina enough at some times and then going there, it felt like
01:10
I was too Latina.
01:11
So it's been interesting growing up trying to find that balance
01:15
trying to figure out.
01:16
OK, where do I stand with how I identify in my Hispanic culture
01:23
And let's go back to your childhood for a moment.
01:25
Um What was it like juggling sort of both the American side
01:32
and the Latino side?
01:33
Was there, was there pressure to be a little more Latina was
01:37
there like, like walk me through what that was like, I would
01:40
definitely say so I was, when I was like very little, like,
01:43
even at the age of like three years old, my mom and dad tried
01:46
to get me to speak Spanish, I got a tutor.
01:49
She was the best.
01:49
We would play games.
01:50
Like she made it very fun.
01:52
But for some reason, it just wasn't clicking for me.
01:54
And I, I apparently I didn't know this but I refused to learn
01:58
Spanish and I kick myself about that still because my Spanish
02:02
isn't as strong as I wish it could be.
02:05
And I, I wish it was because I feel like I, I would be able to,
02:09
I would be able to communicate with my easier.
02:11
And there were just moments where I wish that I pushed myself
02:16
to actually learn about, learn about what it's like being
02:19
Cuban and speaking Spanish.
02:22
But it, there were also really great moments because then
02:24
like we would do instead of Christmas, we do no, where we would
02:29
um I get to open up my presents on Christmas Eve and I remember
02:32
thinking that was like the coolest thing ever because all
02:34
my friends had to wait till the morning of um So like there were
02:38
amazing moments like that.
02:39
But yeah.
02:41
Very cool, very cool.
02:43
And would you say that having grown up in Miami, did it make
02:48
that duality a little bit easier or more challenging?
02:52
What would you say about that?
02:54
I feel like growing up in Miami, it definitely made it easier
02:56
because again, everyone in some way is Latino or Latina.
03:02
And we all were able to, I had like very similar experiences
03:06
with my friends and sometimes I became friends with people
03:09
because of those shared experiences with being Cuban or just
03:12
being Latina in general.
03:13
I feel like it made it, I didn't feel like I had to prove myself
03:18
that I was Latina.
03:20
I just had to be me because I am Latina.
03:23
And, and, and how did that change?
03:25
I understand you went off to college, not necessarily here
03:28
in South Florida.
03:29
You're going to school in Pennsylvania, right?
03:32
How, how did that change?
03:34
Did you feel like you became more Latino when you went out there
03:37
Less Latino?
03:38
Like how did that change your, your, your identity?
03:41
Would you would you say going to school in in Pennsylvania
03:45
It definitely made me embrace my Cuban culture a lot more which
03:50
I find very interesting because it's so accepted here.
03:53
And like growing up in Miami is just a melting pot of cultures
03:56
and then going to Pennsylvania.
03:57
It's like, I'm one of the very few Latina or Cuban students
04:03
So in a way, it felt like I was like, OK, I gotta represent, I
04:06
gotta, I gotta show up and show out and I feel like it made me
04:11
look back and recognize how much I wish I embraced more of my
04:16
culture growing up.
04:17
And because when you're growing up, you're a sponge, you can
04:19
absorb so many more different things.
04:22
And I, I wish I, again, I wish I pushed myself to do that more
04:25
but I'm proud that I can look back and recognize that I needed
04:28
to do that and I can continue to do that forward.
04:31
And, and what aspects of your culture would you say that you
04:33
sort of embrace now that you're there, right?
04:36
Like you lean into what?
04:38
To sort of show your Latini that let's call it something very
04:43
interesting is that um doing theater, I've done theater my
04:47
whole life and doing theater in Miami.
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I did all American all like, no, no, nothing really with any
04:53
like cultural substance.
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And then going to a school in Pennsylvania all of a sudden it
04:59
was, there's a show called and then the next thing I was in a
05:04
show called, which was student written and student directed
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And I all of a sudden found myself telling all of these amazing
05:11
Latina and Latino stories that I never did in Miami.
05:14
And I'm kind of it.
05:15
It, it was so weird to me because it felt like it flip flopped
05:19
Do you feel like maybe you're being typecast?
05:27
Yes, I feel like I am being type casted because in my, in, in
05:33
it, the way that I think about it is if I don't play this role
05:38
who else at my school is going to play this role.
05:40
There's not many of us in numbers, it's a majority white school
05:44
Um But at the same time, I would not choose to do any other production
05:49
besides the shows that I, the shows that I was doing because
05:52
I was telling these super important stories and giving voices
05:56
to so many Latino women and Latino men who were never able to
06:00
share their stories.
06:01
And I feel like I've been able to open up the students at my school
06:05
to WW what life could be like as the daughter or son of an immigrant
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and what it's like to grow up like that because it's very different
06:15
Interesting, interesting.
06:18
Would you say that experience has made you or it has given you
06:21
the tools um to be a better actor, having the background that
06:28
you have?
06:30
Yes, I, I feel like it, I feel like it definitely does.
06:33
Um I, I feel like it does help my acting in multitude of ways
06:38
I feel like I have a deeper sense of empathy um because, oh sorry
06:49
trying to think here.
06:51
Um Because I've heard so many stories from my dad, Maya Maya
06:59
is an amazing storyteller.
07:00
I feel like I get that from them.
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I feel like I get that sense of being able to share not only my
07:06
life experiences but be able to share the life experiences
07:09
of so many others in the same way of sharing my own.
07:13
It's, it's still that connected, even if it's not my own story
07:16
at someone else's.
07:16
I still have that connection to it.
07:20
You, you know, you mentioned earlier about struggling to
07:24
learn Spanish, right, sort of rebelling against it for a little
07:28
while.
07:29
And um you mentioned the fact that you regret having rebelled
07:37
against it, not having learned it.
07:41
Is there sort of a thinking in society that in order to be Latino
07:45
or Latina, you're not genuinely Latino or Latina unless you
07:50
speak the language.
07:52
Um I certainly have seen that and I don't think that's necessarily
07:58
true or necessarily valid.
08:02
What's your stance on that?
08:04
Um The way that I measure my heritage and how connected I am
08:08
to it has in no shape or way connects to whether or not I have
08:12
the ability to speak perfect Spanish.
08:14
Well, I wish I could, it doesn't take away from the fact that
08:17
I am proudly a Cuban woman.
08:19
And I feel like there is that standard though where it's like
08:22
oh you're Cuban, OK, then say something, say something in
08:25
Spanish and then if you don't do it, it's like, oh Well, you're
08:27
not Cuban enough.
08:28
So if it's not language, what is it that makes you more or less
08:33
Latina?
08:34
I think it's the experiences that my, that my father and Maya
08:39
and Abuela have, have told me about just from Maya having to
08:44
go into war in Cuba.
08:46
I couldn't even imagine what that would be like or having to
08:48
come from a completely different nation country and then
08:52
come to the United States and figure out how to navigate with
08:57
becoming a United States citizen.
08:59
Having to learn a different language, having to fight 10 times
09:03
as harder as any other American citizen.
09:05
Right?
09:06
That's what makes me proud because my family has fought to
09:09
get me to where I am and I'm gonna continue to go forward and
09:14
and beyond language.
09:15
It's the food like we always used to have our dinner with um
09:21
and, and just everything on the table a whole spread that I
09:25
used to invite my um my friends who celebrated Christmas and
09:29
who weren't Latina.
09:30
I would invite them over for dinner and they would always leave
09:33
with full tummies and huge smiles on their faces and being
09:36
like, this is so cool.
09:37
I love that you guys do this and I invite them every other year
09:41
It's, and it's music, especially like I've gone into, it's
09:46
interesting because again, not knowing Spanish and not learning
09:49
it when I was younger, Spanish music when I was younger, didn't
09:51
really click with me.
09:51
Because I didn't understand it.
09:53
But now that I'm older and I can just listen to a plethora of
09:59
different music genres.
10:00
I've really found myself loving, loving Latin music and Latino
10:04
music.
10:05
I think it's, it moves the soul in a way that I haven't found
10:09
music to move me otherwise because it's just so interconnected
10:13
through, not, not, not only experiences but their own experiences
10:16
with their family and what their family has gone through and
10:19
the hardships that they've gone through.
10:21
And I just feel like Latino music, I mean, it hits harder than
10:25
regular music.
10:29
And at 20 years of age, how would you say you self identify at
10:33
the age of 20 I self identify as a Cuban American woman.
10:38
I am Latina proudly, Latina very loudly, Latina um very proudly
10:43
Latina and I wouldn't have it any other way at all.
10:49
I'm so proud of my heritage.
10:51
I really am.