This video was produced by María Teresa Alzuru. Born in Caracas, Venezuela, Maria grew up in the southern United States. She received her B.A. in Political Science from Columbia University and is currently pursuing an M.A. in International Affairs with a concentration in Media and Culture at The New School in New York.
In this documentary project I wanted to talk with immigrant women from different parts of the world about how they grapple with their identity as a result of living among two or three cultures.
My own immigrant story began when I was five years old, on a day I can’t remember, when my parents told me we were moving from Caracas to the U.S. I was too young to be traumatized, but my twelve year-old brother thought the world was ending.
On February 22, 1988 in Caracas my parents took me from the hospital where I was born to the apartment building my father’s father built. It was fully inhabited by members of my extended family. Across the hall from us lived our cousins. One floor above were another set of cousins, the youngest of which was my exact age. A couple of years later I could be seen running around in a typical Venezuelan preschool uniform of red polo shirt and denim overalls.
The staples of my diet included arepas, empanadas, cachitos, milanesa, plátanos, and arroz con caraotas. I spoke Spanish and took English lessons from a private tutor with my siblings and the across-the-hall cousins. Every Sunday afternoon, I played in my grandparents’ backyard with the cousins from my mom’s side of the family.
On November 7, 1993, my family and I arrived in the United States, expecting to stay two years while my mom got her Master’s degree. We have been living here ever since.
There were a million things to learn but English happened in the blink of an eye. It entered my system and never left. By the time I got to high school, I was speaking English almost all the time and taking Spanish classes. Most of my friends were Americans and the most they knew about Venezuela was that I was from there. I didn’t wear a uniform to school and my staple foods included Hamburger Helper and mac ‘n’ cheese. The only family I saw was my grandparents who tried to visit once a year and whatever aunts and uncles could afford to make the trip from Venezuela to the U.S.
Somewhere along the way I developed an identity crisis. Thanks to my light skin, all my peers considered me to be “white” and said to me, “you’re Hispanic, but you’re not really Hispanic.” To which I thought ‘what exactly am I then?’
It wasn’t until high school, when the Hispanic population in Athens, Georgia began to grow and diversify, that I started to identify with my Venezuelan heritage. With my new Hispanic friends I learned how to dance salsa and merengue and found I could actually talk about my cultural traditions in a way they understood perfectly. A new life began where I felt a deep connection to my native Venezuela.
Today I still feel that strong connection and I am more certain of my identity.
In the future, I hope to make more short documentaries with the women in this video on themes such as the first day of school in the United States and how they answer the question, “where are you from?” Being multicultural is a reality for me and the women in this video and it will never cease to be a part of us. My hope is to tease out what that means in some small way.