Reform the Narrative

Andrea Garcia

Interviewed by Linh Nguyen

Andrea Garcia
Andrea Garcia is a 17-year-old Colombian teen who lives in Maine. She is a part of her school’s competitive cheer team, and her hobbies include playing the piano. She enjoys traveling and learning about different cultures because she appreciates the unique ways in which people live. Outside of school, Andrea works at a Colombian street food restaurant. In college, she plans on studying Psychology and Political Science, and after she hopes to go on to Law School in order to focus her career on helping undocumented immigrants and families.

How did growing up in the United States impact your sense of identity as a Latina woman? What role did race play out in your life?

I've had both positive and negative experiences being a Latina in the United States because, on one hand, it has helped me be immersed in a diverse environment with different religions and races. Being exposed to different cultures has given me different perspectives and really helped me become who I am today. However, it's also been kind of difficult living in Maine because there isn't a lot of Latin representation. There are some Central American people, but it's been really hard for me to identify with one certain group because I've always felt like an outsider within the Latino community and the white community. Now, I really appreciate not fitting in with either, but during my childhood, it was really difficult because I grew up in a community that was not diverse. I went to a catholic school in California when I was younger, so I was mainly surrounded by white students, which was a different environment when I would come back home. I never really appreciated my Colombian culture when I was little because I didn't really know much about it. My Colombian roots weren't a part of my everyday life; rather, it was just something I'd go home to. Once I moved to Maine, it was sort of the same issue except there was more diversity. Still, there wasn't the Latin representation that I wanted to be a part of. I felt like I was too white for my family and the Latino community, but was also too Colombian for the white community. It wasn’t until later that I felt like I was truly Colombian.

In addition, I think there are issues with how Latinos are represented in the United States. I think that especially within the Colombian community and in the media with people like Shakira and Sofía Vergara, we are conditioned to view Colombians in a certain mold: fair-skinned, dark hair, dark eyes, and lots of curves. However, it really doesn't take into account the amount of diversity that there is in Colombia and in different parts of South America as well. These places include indigenous people, white Latinos, and a lot of Afro Colombians are in Colombia throughout the coast as well, but often we don't see that representation in the media. Personally, it hasn't affected me too much because I have fair skin and I look white to other people, but I think for other Colombians, I imagine it must be difficult when they scroll through the media where Colombians are portrayed in the same way. In a sense, it is saying "oh you're not Colombian or you don't look Colombian because you don't fit the standard of what a Colombian is supposed to look like."

Have you always felt connected to your culture and were there any experiences where you felt disconnected?

Throughout my childhood, I definitely felt very disconnected from my culture. I didn't realize it because I was a child, but once I got to middle school I was embarrassed by it. I mean people thought that it was cool that I spoke Spanish but I had a big family and they would always come to these events and I would just feel embarrassed to show my culture in general because I wanted to be white and look like my peers. It was difficult for me to accept and cherish my culture but at the same time, I felt guilty because I was lucky enough to be immersed in such a diverse and beautiful community where people's cultures are celebrated. Since there wasn’t much Latina representation on TV shows and in different media, I definitely tried to avoid my Colombian heritage and fit within Eurocentric standards.

I think one experience that definitely just changed my perspective was this party that we had when I was about 12 years old. Around the time, I didn't like dancing and I didn't like Spanish music. At this Christmas party, I was really shy and I really wanted to dance but I wasn't completely comfortable with it because I was insecure. My aunt's family was there and they started teaching me how to dance and I think, for the first time, I saw my Colombian culture in a different light. I saw the beauties within the culture and the stories that were told through the food, the dancing style, and just the music. After that, I started to listen to reggaeton and more Spanish music; I started to dance in my room to practice my salsa and bachata. I'm glad that dancing to Spanish music, which was something I once found embarrassing, became the defining part of my cultural identity and it connects me back to my heritage.

Why do you appreciate your Colombian culture?

There are many people in Colombia who have suffered so much, but people still find a way to be happy. Although they do share their tragedies and sufferings with each other, I think it is really beautiful that they express their love and happiness through music and through gatherings. Despite hard times, they are still humble for what they have. They always try to look on the positive side even through economic hardships. A lot of the issues in Colombia revolve around socioeconomic issues and there's a lot of poverty in Colombia. There's a lot of socioeconomic disparities within groups where on one hand, there's one side that's really poor, and, the other hand, there's the wealthy side. It's very difficult to become successful when you live in a community in an area that is so poverty-stricken and where it's almost impossible to even receive elementary education. There is also the issue of drugs and violence within impoverished communities. When I reflect back on my knowledge of Colombia, I have definitely opened my eyes up to the privileges I do have in the states. I think that being aware of global issues can help you become more grateful for your environment and the opportunities you have that oftentimes students do not have in other countries.

You work at a Colombian restaurant. How has working at the restaurant helped appreciate your culture and shape how you perceive your cultural identity?

Before I worked at the restaurant, I still had a lot of cultural disconnect with my Colombian roots. Now, I think I definitely appreciate my culture more since I am surrounded by such a supportive environment. At the restaurant, I get to see Colombians come in, wanting to remember and taste the food of their country, and I have also seen a lot of people from different ethnicities come into the restaurant as well to get their feet wet in Colombian street food. It's really great to see people from different backgrounds appreciate the Colombian culture. I think that food is often the first step to learning about a culture and sharing the culture with one another. Working at the restaurant really gives customers and employees a sense of warmth and just reminds them of their country, especially for me. I feel like I'm in Colombia when, when I'm at work because I can smell the food, I see Colombian people, and I hear the music--it just feels like home. Before COVID, we'd have dance parties every Friday where people would come in and there would be a DJ who would play salsa music and reggaeton. It just felt like a typical Colombian gathering where you'd stay up very late where people would come in whenever and there would be lots of typical authentic Colombian recipes. Those times really helped me connect to my Colombian culture and made me feel proud of my roots.

What are some stereotypes that you face being a Latina?

I think one of the stereotypes that motivate me to work harder and not fall into this image painted by others is the idea that Latinx people are lazy and they don't work hard and they can't be successful. I think these stereotypes have really motivated me to push hard in school. Mostly because I want to make my culture proud and I want it to be a message to other young Latinas that they can prosper even if we are labeled to be "lazy." I want to show that you can be successful as a Latina woman, especially when there are so many obstacles that we have to overcome.

What are the stereotypes and challenges that the Latinx community has faced in general?

I think the harmful racial stereotypes that exist within the Latinx community, specifically Latina women is that often we are portrayed in a very sexual manner where we are seen as objects that are used to please men. Often our intelligence and our minds are overlooked by these things. There's the whole image of Latinas being cleaning people or that we can only work on farms. These stereotypical jobs make us seem like we don't have the intelligence and the ability to become a professional in something. In addition, the media chooses to represent Latinas in a certain way as well. There are a lot of stereotypical things said about the Latina community--that we are sassy, that we are verbally aggressive, and that we get mad easily. These stereotypes really stigmatize the Latina community, and in a sense, it pushes us into subordinate roles because we are condemned when we speak up and we are expected to be in jobs where we are obedient. With Latinos, a lot of people think of us as criminals and illegals undocumented people. When I tell people about Colombia or when I mentioned that I'm Colombian, a lot of people go straight to the topic of drugs and drug trafficking, and that's not very representative of the Colombian community and the Latino community as a whole. I think that those stereotypes are very harmful to Latinas because it prevents them from going up out of their comfort zone, seeking more knowledge and more experience because they believe "oh, these people already think of me in this manner" or that "if all society thinks this way then it must be true and I'm not capable of accomplishing this goal."

There is also the issue of Latinos being denied jobs because of their names or their looks. Companies are more likely to hire a white person than a person of color because of certain racial stereotypes that are presented. I think it deters the Latinx community from pushing themselves to reach higher positions and pushes down their confidence that they can be successful. In addition, communities of color tend to live in impoverished areas where there aren't a lot of opportunities, so it's really hard to get out of you know this cycle--especially since wealth is often passed on generationally. This is why we see the economic disparities between communities of color and their white counterparts. Sometimes, there is the argument where if you just work harder you’ll get out of these situations, but it's difficult to get yourself out of situations where all the cards are stacked against you. These factors combined with the stereotypes that black and brown communities are lazy and not intelligent sets up a situation where these communities cannot get out of their living conditions. Someone living in poverty won't have the same resources and education level as someone who has been given these resources.

What are your views on the representation of Latinas in pop culture?

I think there should be way more diversity within Latin representation in pop culture.First, I think there is an issue with cultural appropriation within TV shows and movies. Oftentimes, movies and TV shows would not cast a Latino actor for a Latino role. Often they cast a "Latino-passing" actor who's actually white, so they'll choose an Italian descendant to play a Latino to give the "Latino look." There are many Latinx actors/actresses out there who are great, but they don't get cast for Latinx roles. I feel like there's not a lot of diversity within pop culture for Latino people because there should be way more Afro Latinos and indigenous Latinos who are represented because there's so much diversity within the Latinx community. Especially within the United States, there's so much diversity within our country, and it is important that we represent ethnic groups with actors who are within those groups.

What is your hope for the future of young Latinx people?

I personally hope to motivate more Latinas and Latinos to focus on school because education is the stepping stone to success. I also hope to see more representation within TV shows, movies, the music industry and positions of power like politicians and I hope to see more diversity within that group to level out our current socioeconomic disparities. For a lot of Latinos, there is a certain perception of what you should be. If they see their idols being mostly white, it is difficult for them to see themselves in those positions. If we have more representation within higher positions, I think we will have more motivated young people strive for those positions because they believe they can do it too.

You can reach out to Andrea on Instagram @andrea.garcia2