You’re 8 years old, you’re in 3rd grade and your mom visits Chapel District Elementary School during Field Day. You are so excited to see your mom in school. She’s your hero.
But apparently other kids don’t think she’s so cool. They laugh at her and mimic her accent. You don’t want to be Latino anymore.
You’re 9 years old. You attend the County Fair at the Cordova Fire Department for the first time. Someone tells you that another boy hates you. He thinks your family speaks weird English, your hair is weird, and so he begins to call you Curly Sue.
You don’t have the vocabulary to describe why that’s hurtful. But now, you hate your distinctly Latino features. You don’t want to be Latino anymore.
You’re 16 years old. After never playing rec or little league sports, you finally venture into team sports and play high school soccer. One of your teammates begins to call you The Mexican, a nickname that sticks with you all throughout high school, despite the fact that your family is from El Salvador. To this point in your life, you’ve actually never met a single Mexican.
When a friend asks if you find the nickname offensive, you laugh it off and say no. You don’t want people thinking you’re uptight. You laugh along with everyone else. You don’t want to be Latino anymore.
You’re 17 years old. You’re off to college and you meet Latinos from a dozen other countries. They’re all bicultural and bilingual like you; they all switch seamlessly between perfect English and perfect Spanish like you; for the most part they are all the first in their generations to go to college, like you….and they have a pride about it that you never had.
You meet a girl and she wonders why you don’t speak your family’s tongue. Why your favorite food is ‘barbeque’ and not pupusas revueltas. You say your family doesn’t eat that stuff, even though you know how much you love pupusas, and nuegados, and yuca con chicharron.
But you know you rejected your culture a long time ago. You know you refused to speak Spanish for twelve years in school and you remember calling your mother’s food “disgusting.”
It’s so messed up…and then it clicks.
Suddenly, it’s a race to reclaim everything you’ve hated about yourself and discover who you are.
For the first time, you want to be Latino.
You’re 22 years old. You move to New York City and you spend the next several years repatriating yourself. You absorb every book and article that reveals your cultural history, which you didn’t get to learn about in high school.
You’re 28 years old and you get a Salvadoran artist’s design tattooed on your forearm to represent the culture that you’ve spend the last several years eagerly discovering. That ink is there forever as a reminder to you and to everyone that your heritage is beautiful, and after a few sets of questions it becomes obvious to everyone who wonders that biculturalism is in fact your superpower.
You won’t ever let anyone make you feel the way you did all those years ago.
You love being Latino.
You’re 30 years old. You move back to your hometown and suddenly see dozens of Latino children and families walking up and down Aurora Street. You remember distinctly what it was like to be the only one and now you can barely believe your eyes. You never imagined seeing so many people who look like you in your hometown and you think to yourself, “Everyone is beautiful”.
You’re so happy you’re Latino.
Gerson Martinez is the executive director of Talbot Mentors. He was born and raised in Talbot County and graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in economics and statistical mathematics. Shortly thereafter, he began a career with the investment firm of Morgan Stanley in New York.
After five years, he realized he needed to entirely change the direction of his career and use his vocation to directly impact the lives of those most disadvantaged in society. He left Wall Street and became a founding member of a startup charter school in the South Bronx.
Gerson and his wife, Samantha Martinez, decided in 2016 to relocate with their daughter Olivia to the Shore and seek new opportunities to work with children in the local community. He joined Talbot Mentors as its director last year.