Growing Up in a Mixed-Latin Household: How My Family’s Core Beliefs and Experiences Impact Me Today

I see the world as an opportunity of what it can be. Through nationality, politics, our fears, and our hopes, my family has brought together their experiences to create how I interact with my everyday life in public and at home.

Lilian's parents moved from Puerto Rico and Argentina to the U.S. mainland for university. (Graphic by EchoX)

Since day one, I’ve always been taught to respect and pay attention throughout the national anthems and pledges of all nations even if it’s just watching FIFA on TV. It’s confusing at school when people not only sit through the anthem and the pledge but also talk through it because, in my family, we value respecting national anthems and pledges by standing and staying silent. For us, standing represents a part of you, your life, or at least what you hope it can be.

“I grew up that way. Regardless if I agreed or not with my country, I was taught that I had to respect my flag. That I had to sing the song,” explains my mom. “Everyday, all students would walk out to the common area where they had the flagpole and the flag was raised and everybody would keep their eyes on the flag. There was silence.”

This is how my mom, a born and raised Argentinian who came to the United States for college and then married my dad, grew up. She came from a closed-off life of carefulness, dangers, and secrets, to a new life in a country where freedom seemed possible around every corner.

“[Now,] I stand for the pledge because I know how bad it can get and I’m thankful everyday to have been given the chance to be a citizen of the United States of America,” says my mom.

She stands not because she has to, but because she wants to. She wants to show the respect and hope she holds in her heart for the USA. Part of this is because my mother came from a place where politics wasn’t talked about…at all.

“People went missing for accidentally saying the wrong thing in the wrong place at the wrong time. And they never appeared again. That’s why they’re called Los Desaparecidos.”

Los Desaparecidos is a term from Argentina that means “The Disappeared Ones.” Between the years of 1974 and 1983, the people in power tried to control how people acted and thought through a dictatorship run on terror.

“The government was pressuring the people that thought differently [to think the same]. People turned against each other and it became violent. When it became violent, the military put themselves in charge [in order to establish a common ground]. But even though the military was in charge, there was still discord among the public. And their way of silencing opposing voices was to make them disappear,” says my mom.*

Sometimes she feels like that here, too. She’s worried about losing friends and peers over political disagreements. In other words, she worries that if you have an opinion that is different from the general point of view, then you could lose your position in your community. It is like you disappear.

“When people don’t get the opportunity to express themselves, no matter what political party they are, whether it is right or left, both sides will feel oppressed. And there is only one outcome to feeling oppressed: Violence. Nobody likes feeling or being oppressed. You have to let people think and be themselves and say what they want or else all of society will just be one black hole of ugly deafening silence. That’s what happened in Argentina,” says my mom.

The fear of violence if you don’t stay silent doesn’t only come from my mom. For example, in Puerto Rico where my dad is from, in several food and beverage establishments, there are signs that specifically say, Aquí No se Habla de Política. In English, it means “There is no talk of politics here.”

“This is because you don’t know if the other person, a stranger, has the capacity to have a calm conversation about difficult subjects,” says my dad.

So from day one, I was taught to be silent. I was taught that politics is only a private conversation with immediate family members. The pressure to keep your head down or repeat what everyone else is saying can be too much. My mother grew up under a military regime where if you step one foot out of line, you’re basically done for. She has seen the fear and change of lifestyle when it comes to protecting oneself.

“If you speak your mind, you would join Los Desaparecidos. And you would never be seen again,” says my mom.

Yet, we hope.

Part of this hope is respect. Can you imagine what it would be like if everybody respected each other? We don’t have to agree, we just have to respect. If we disagree, we talk about it but don’t let it cloud our judgment because my mom has learned first-hand what anger and disagreement can do to a society.

We hope for what everything could be; that in a few years, the heated social pressure of politics dies down. Regardless of beliefs, everybody’s opinions should be respected because they come from different experiences.

The way my parents grew up is different to how I’m growing up in the United States, and I feel lucky to get to see both worlds. Although my parents came to the States for college, they stayed because they saw newer, better, and different possibilities to raise a family, to build a home, and to excel here.

“The United States is a lot bigger and there are a lot more opportunities…There is a lot of industry, a lot of hospitals, a lot of other types of jobs that you could do. And plus you have the flexibility of geography… You see different parts of the United States that are so different, almost subcultures within the United States,” says my dad.

Growing up with parents who lived much different lives to the one I’m living made me realize that I need to put an extra spin on mine: Always knowing where I come from. Why I believe what I believe. Respecting without exception. Endlessly hoping.

Lilian is a high school student at Inglemoor High School. She was a fellow in the 2023 pilot Story Gathering Workshop, a program that gave twelve students the opportunity to write and publish an article for our news outlet, Voices.

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