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Reflections on Belonging

 photo credit: Rebecca Bustamante

photo credit: Rebecca Bustamante

My heart is heavy for my country, the place I call home.
I’ve often wondered, where do I fit in?
Am I wanted here?
Do I even belong?

I’ve been plagued by these questions for most of my life. Though, it was only recently that I decided to engage them. As a Hispanic-American woman, the answers rarely seem straightforward, yet I feel a growing tension that I really need to get them right.  

Just the other day, for example, I went to make a payment on my credit card. I received a pop-up message that I had never seen before.  

“We need to verify your information,” it said. “Are you a U.S. citizen?” 

A yes or no checkbox was located beside the question. I browsed the screen, looking for a way to opt-out, when I saw the notice: failure to answer this question could lead to my account being limited.

A flood of emotions consumed me — sadness, anger, frustration. 
Was this question legal?
Why now after being a cardmember for so many years?
Are they asking every cardmember for this information, or just those with Hispanic sounding names?
Are they asking me because my last name is Lopez?

Experiences like this often send me spinning. But I’m learning to take comfort in the knowledge that my identity is in Christ.

You see, I was born in Chicago, on the Southwest side to be exact. My father is Mexican/Puerto Rican, and my mother is Puerto Rican. I’m proud of my heritage. The more I learn about my familial history the more grateful I become. My ancestors made so many sacrifices so I can live the life I have today. 

My paternal grandmother’s entire family crossed the border together when she was just a toddler. As a kid, she had a knack for making things and finding items to sell. My dad once told me he was really inspired by the way his mother could figure out creative ways to make money for the family. He said I reminded him of her because I own a small, creative business. I had always wondered where my creative business skillset came from, and now I know.

My maternal grandparents moved to the United States in their adulthood, in pursuit of a better life just after my grandfather served in the war. I’m still not sure whether he served in WWII or the Korean War. He was too traumatized to ever talk about it. But I do know that Puerto Rico has a long history of serving in the U.S. military. WWII and the Korean War each saw around 60,000 Puerto Ricans fighting alongside the American military, my grandfather being one of them. 

He had dreams of working in the chemistry field, and my grandmother dreamed of being a model. Both ended up working in factories, as did my mom. I am the first daughter in the family to graduate from college. I have the freedom to be my own boss, something my maternal grandparents never had the opportunity to do.  

I sit in the tension of my privilege as a 3rd generation Latina whose first language is English. I struggle to speak Spanish fluently, which leaves me feeling isolated in some Latino circles. I’ve longed to connect with the parts of me that feel so foreign. Assimilation is real, and the pressure to fit into American culture often results in denying one’s cultural heritage. 

Finding freedom in my cultural identity, in its totality, has been a journey. It’s been filled with therapy, processing with my close friends and partnering with Jesus to discover the truth of who I am. I heard once at a conference that your culture isn’t a curse, it’s a blessing. Who I am and where I belong isn’t dictated by what others say about me or who they say I am. I am a child of God, and my cultural identity matters to Him. My skin matters to Him, and my native tongue matters to Him. I belong here, and my voice matters.

I think, at our core, we all long to belong. Yet fear tends to divide us. It draws lines and forces us to pick sides. It’s “us versus them”, and those of us with a multicultural identity get caught in the crossfire. Am I Mexican? Am I Puerto Rican? Or am I American? The answer is I am all of it. I am proud of who I am and I am proud of where I came from.  I’m proud of this country where I live and I am grateful to call it home.

I have high hopes for our nation and the place we can become. I see a nation that moves forward in love rather than fear, that celebrates diversity rather than denies it. I want our country to be a place of belonging, where people can thrive — people who look like me and people who don’t.

Jasmine Lopez is the founder of The Firehouse Dream, a creative arts healing center located in Maywood, IL. She is passionate about being rooted in our God-given identities and believes everyone’s story matters. She is a mental health advocate and shares her story in hopes of inspiring and encouraging others. Jasmine has been married to her high school sweetheart for 13 years and they have 3 girls: Dakota, Savannah and Emery. Together, they love dance parties, having fun and going to theme parks.

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