I have a very hard time answering the question “Where are you from?” It would be rather easy to answer with my place of birth, but that doesn’t capture my whole identity. Being a transplant from country to country, there are many flavors that make up who I am, and so my Hispanic identity can’t be restricted by a single nationality. Pieces of various cultures come together to create my story, all of which created the community builder within FoodCorps you’d find today.
Growing up, I was the only person in my family to be born in Medellín, Colombia. I was the only person to pick up the local Paisa accent, one which I’d later lose in favor of my parents’ accent. I can fondly remember Mami’s voice calling to help in making arepas. She is what I now associate with the Hispanic force of will, since she stops at nothing in making her vision come true. Together with my dad, they always prioritized putting my sister and I in the way of opportunities that weren’t readily available to them. In that spirit, we later moved to Lima, Peru due to my dad’s job. This is where I became my own person and developed my deep love for fresh ceviche, a local staple. Not only did I make some of my closest friends here, but I was also able to see firsthand my dad’s ability to grow a company through his charisma and hard work. This company grew enough that their biggest goal became a reality: making a home in the U.S. We created a home in sunny Florida, where I was able to graduate high school and undergrad (Go Gators!). Writing from my FoodCorps service school in Washington, D.C., I can see that my achievement was built through their hard work, which translates to the values I now associate with Hispanic culture.
Even if constantly changing, my nationality has been painted with the colors of Colombian, Peruvian, and South Floridian culture. There is a certain kind of magic that happens when finding someone who understands what Bandeja Paisa is (a platter of beans, fried pork rind, ground beef, and avocado) or who has tried fresh buñuelos and almojábanas (cheese-based Colombian pastries). I can get lost talking about my love for fresh fish and admiration for the ahead-of-their-time agricultural advancements of Incan and pre-Incan societies. Likewise, there is a soft spot in my heart for salsa and merengue played at a party while enjoying warm tequeños at the Venezuelan bakery near my home in South Florida. The many communities I was able to live in expanded the breadth of cultures I celebrate, all of them deeply tied to the people that make them possible.
My parents represent what I now see across Hispanic communities. Papi has always been synonymous to bright smiles, open arms, and hard work, which enables us to build networks of friends from many backgrounds, all working to carve a niche in foreign land. Mami brings thoughts of the gut, grit, and nerve that it takes to inculcate integrity and character while self-starting ventures, which funded opportunities like accessing higher education for my sister and I. These traits are what I think create the current resilience of Hispanic folks. Even in a foreign country with many obstacles to our success, we find ways of banding together to bring about change and make our presence known from the political to the food landscape.
I was drawn to FoodCorps because I believe education is the strongest tool of empowerment. I had the opportunity to access levels of education that are not readily accessible to or even built for students of color. I believe children are the key to breaking this cycle; learning through the lens of food education empowers their choices of not only food, but also their agency in deciding what nourishes and moves them towards their goals. I’m very thankful to have found a place which allows me to use my experience to further elevate communities of similar backgrounds.