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I Miss My Latino Neighborhood

Photograph by Twenty20

My parents each came to the United in search of a better life, which they found. They raised me in Latino neighborhoods where my identity was constantly reinforced by my surroundings. Shopkeepers greeted us in Spanish. People used the mother tongue when they prayed to la Virgin de Guadalupe at the local church. Most people in our working class neighborhood were Latino. Many were recent immigrants, who, like my parents, looked back with longing and nostalgia for what had been left behind.

One generation and a few degrees later, I live in a small town in Southern California known for its colleges and relative affluence. Everyone here says this is great place to raise a family. And it's true. The schools are great. The people are friendly. The tree-lined streets are charming. And I love this town, but it simply isn't a Latino neighborhood.

Sometimes I forget. My daughter and I walk hand in hand to her ballet class. I go to yoga and buy fresh produce at the farmers market. I skim over titles at the little Buddhist bookshop. I have a quick breakfast at the bagel shop. We go to movies in the park. I'm living my life.

Then it hits me: there's no panadería here.

My childhood was wonderfully complex and lives vividly in my memories. But what about my daughter? Do I have a duty to immerse her in Latinidad?

Suddenly, I'm sad. How could I raise my daughter in a place where nobody bakes conchas? There's a great bakery here, yes. But I have to go to another city to get the pan dulce from my childhood. That's not all—there's no good taquería here. There's a hipster taco place, but their tacos taste like broken promises. There's no Latino market. There's no paletero. I repeat: there's no paletero. My daughter will never know the same joy I experienced as a child, hearing his bells jingle as he walked down the street.

Yet I know no one can demand a plethora of Latino businesses in a place that isn't markedly Latino.

Mostly, I miss Latino people. I miss watching people haggle in Spanish. I miss overhearing children being scolded in Spanish. I miss our warmth and humor—there's nothing else like it. Growing up in a community that reflects your culture is more a feeling than anything else. Culture never has to be pointed out; it just is. Like my parents before me, I find myself missing something I left behind.

My childhood was wonderfully complex and lives vividly in my memories. But what about my daughter? Do I have a duty to immerse her in Latinidad? We practice our culture at home, but we're also a mixed-culture household. Our daughter has books in Spanish and French alongside her favorites in English. Perhaps this is simply a coming to terms with the fact that we will simply have different upbringings. I'm not my mother and she's not me.

While she's not growing up in a Latino neighborhood, she still represents everything her Latino grandparents ever worked toward. If some day in the distant future she looks back contemplates her place within that legacy, then I will have done something right.

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