When I was in my teens in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I had that feeling that most teens struggle with: I don’t feel like I quite fit in.
When I was sixteen, my family had only been in the U.S. for ten years. Ten years! That’s nothing (well, except maybe in dog years, but that’s not important right now). And at that point, my cultural Cuban identity was much more imprinted on me than my (relatively new) Americanism.
In spite of all the ways I tried to fit in, I knew I was different.
My hair was out-of-control curly. At that time the fashion was stick-straight-parted-down-the-middle in a “hippy-ish” fashion. So I straightened and ironed it. I slept on giant, uncomfortable curlers. I suffered in order to conform.
My body-type was what you might call “voluptuous.” I was not fat, just umm… developed. Of course, in comparison to the willowy, blond American girls, I called myself fat. (I was not.)
I still had a slight accent and there were words I had never known or used before. We spoke Spanish at home; we never used words like “awkward” or “sibling” at the dinner table.
But I learned. Obviously, I learned. I assimilated. I grew up.
One of the things I learned was that all teenagers struggle with these things. (Shut up. Who knew?) The cultural component just made me feel more glaringly different at times.
I think that having profoundly struggled with those issues of identity makes me a better mother, a better person, a better and more compassionate friend today. I am able to give my daughters advice and comfort based on my own life experiences with great confidence.
How I wish I could go back in time and tell the 16-year-old me a few things, very specifically, those things that I finally did learn over time:
1) Everybody else is just as insecure as you are.
2) Personality is so much more important than looks.
3) It’s okay to be proud of both your cultures. You can be 100% Cuban and 100% American.
Now let me ask you this:
If you could travel back in time, what 3 pieces of advice would you give to the teenage you?
Maybe, just maybe, she needs to hear those things today.