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Latina in Italy

My name is Natalie Salazar, and I am Puerto Rican- Mexican- American. Currently I am in Pavia, Italy where I’m studying for the next year.

In the last couple weeks, I have been interacting with students from all over the world, admittedly most from Europe. Conversations have normally begun with “What’s your name?” quickly followed by “What country are you from?” Once I say I’m from the United States I normally hear some form of “Wow, so far! Why did you want to come here?” but the thing that gets me is at one point I heard “but you don’t look American.(What is an American supposed to look like?)

Obviously, they didn’t mean it maliciously, but with the political climate in the U.S., I felt the need to explain myself. Since the comment I have always immediately answered "where are you from" with “I'm from the U.S. but my mom is from Puerto Rico, and my Dad is from Mexico, and I was born in the U.S.” Being Latina in the U.S. is hard enough, I’m not American enough, but I’m not Latina enough. It just threw me for a bit of a loop. My Spanish isn’t perfect, sometimes Spanish words mix into my English, sometimes I don’t know how to translate things properly and depending who I’m around, it’s just straight up Spanglish. Although I love speaking to the people from Spain, if they have any issues I just switch to Spanish with them. “You speak Spanish, but you’re American?!” and I go over my explanation if I haven’t already. There is a sense of pride to that, the ability to make a conversation bilingual. (I’m a linguistics major so I’m a bit of a dork about this.)

Through this and other things I’ve come to realize some things about the U.S. In the U.S. -from what I’ve experienced- we tend to self-segregate. The easiest way to show that is on our very own campus. For example, we have white frats, latinx frats, asian frats, and black frats. When people abroad ask about American colleges they ask is it “like the movies?” and I explain some of what goes on they find this self-segregation thing bizarre. I understand that to an extent. If you’re from Spain you’re more than likely Spanish, if from Portugal Portuguese and so on and so forth. In America that isn’t the case, we have Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Polish-Americans and so on, their countries' histories aren’t similar to the U.S. there. Not taking political and socio-economic factors into consideration, the way we are raised, the language we speak at home and our cultural norms. We get along with those that are similar to us, that similarity being a byproduct of our heritage. Then when you look at the political and socio-economic factors there's a whole other issue, which will be discussed further in part two.

It is just so interesting to look at Americans from the eyes of people around the world.

This is at a Vineyard, one of the trips UIUC set up with Università di Pavia.

Left to Right: Brinda Nagaraj, Moustapha Mouhammadoul, & Natalie Salazar
The 3 UIUC students, we went on a trip to a small town called Varzi.

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