(Ellie Aw-nah) (ha-so-vee)
23 / Ecuadorian American
“I feel like [growing up/living in Iowa as a WOC] was challenging and uncomfortable, but overall a good learning experience. When I was born, my mom stayed at home while my dad worked. For four years, I had uninterrupted time with my mother where I would spend my days eating Ecuadorian food, learning Spanish, and dancing to Selena in our tiny little apartment living room. When I first went to preschool at age 4, I could barely speak English. It’s interesting to look back and see how not only me, but my mom, slowly put our cultural identities to the side to try our best to fit in. With her at jobs and college, and me going through school in a rural Iowa town. I was never ashamed of who I was, what I looked like, or where my parents came from until I went to grade school. That’s where I got made fun of for having darker skin, being hairier, not having pretty colored eyes, a weird name, “an alien” for a mom, etc. It made me want to be white, act white, dress white, look white. It was also kind of odd for me that my siblings were more “white-passing” than I was. They never got asked about their race or made fun of in school for how they looked and that was a little difficult because then I didn’t really have anyone to comiserate with within my home. I also think, since I am half Ecuadorian and half white, I gave myself the choice when I was younger of which side I wanted to lean into more, and I chose the white side. ”
I still have so much to learn [about my cultural identity]. When I was growing up, I had this logic: because I am half Ecuadorian and half white and live in America, I thought it made sense to lean into my “American” (white) side. I think it was important for me to separate the term white and American. American does not mean white. Americans come in so many different forms. I had spent all this time neglecting half of my identity. So now, I’ve been spending time getting comfortable with it again.
I think the biggest things others can get out of this project is the ability to feel more rooted, confident, and proud in who they are. I also think it opens the door and allows them the opportunity to find a way to connect to their parents, siblings, grandparents, etc. more than they were able to before by asking them questions, learning stories.
[My advice for someone trying to understand/figure out their cultural identity is] talk to your parents, talk to your grandparents. Ask them everything about their childhood, traditions, food, their journey to America, what they miss about their country, etc. These are people who part of your cultural identity are tied to and they will not be here forever. Don’t regret not asking them more questions. Visit the country your family came from! It’s a weird/cool sense of belonging to participate in the culture you’re used to within your home but now in larger public settings.”
Eliana and I grew up I predominantly homogenous schools. We also have “hard to pronounce names”, apparently. Elaina, Eli-Anna. Means, Me-Anz, etc. and so on. From teachers I’ve gotten “this next one I can’t pronounce”, Ms. Chan, or just plain Chan, and I’m sure a variety of others, but I’m done keep track. I’m proud of my weird name. It’s not that weird, and it’s not that hard to ask for a pronunciation or at least try to say it and learn. We shouldn’t need to dumb down our names for people that can’t comprehend something as simple as our goddamn identity. I’m tired of just “letting it go”. If you pronounce it wrong, we’re probably not friends.
Our friendship started at our day jobs, but after recognizing that we have a lot of similar interests and things in common, we sparked a friendship that feels like it will be lifelong. She’s one of the catalysts that allowed me to start a project like this. We’ve spent a lot of time together, professionally and personally and she’s just a friend I never knew I needed. A creative, badass WOC. We’ve had conversations about our cultural identity for over a year now, and I feel like we have both learned so much and will continue to grow together!
We have had these conversations in many spaces including in my living room at my house, in Beaverdale, Iowa.
WOC Iowa is a passion project I’m working on to showcase, focus and center on WOC in Iowa. I want to reach out and have an open, honest and deep conversation about cultural identity and to draw parallels from our experiences while understanding the differences.