This post is part of a series of interviews with families like ours, who are ‘mixed’ and Latino. Read more interviews here: MixedFam Q&A
Angélica Pérez-Litwin, PhD is best known as the creative force, Publisher and CEO, of NEW LATINA, a bicultural lifestyle online destination for today’s ambitious Latina. Angélica’s career as a Clinical Psychologist and certified Life Coach, has been anchored by a driven desire to empower others, especially women and her Latino community.
What is your individual and/or relationship mix? (culture, ethnicity, language, religion, etc.)
I was born and raised in New York City. My parents are Dominican immigrants who came to the United States in 1965. I consider myself Dominican-American, and feel very much “bicultural.”
My husband is Japanese and White/Caucasian. So our kids are an interesting and beautiful mix of Dominican, Japanese and White/Caucasian. I love it. At the same time, I wish I could do more to help them feel closer and more connected to each of their ethnic/racial backgrounds. We’ve been considering Japanese immersion school on the weekend. We already try to speak in Spanish at home, but with a non-Spanish speaking husband, it is hard to speak in Spanish all the time. So, yes, raising bilingual children is a huge challenge for us.
What attracted you to each other? What things do you and your husband share in common?
I met my husband at a Public Health conference in Atlanta, where I was delivering a presentation on a research study I had completed. At the end of the presentation, he came up to me and told me how much he enjoyed the presentation, and mentioned that he was interested in learning more about the qualitative research I had done. The one thing I clearly recall was the slightly wrinkled shirt he was wearing that evening — he came across as a very humbled guy. His admiration for the work I presented was very real and that was really touching. As we walked out of the conference room, I learned that he was also a researcher and a physician, who had also presented his study that day. Furthermore, we found out that we had both worked/trained at NYU School of Medicine, and that we both lived in NY. I also learned that his clinic was in the South Bronx, and that he treated a predominantly Latino and African American population. For some reason, I felt we had a lot of things in common. Still to this day, we love, love engaging in high level conversations on education, research, psychology, business (even blogging!). We are head and heart soul mates. The best part? His a gringo that truly believes he is Latino. Go figure…
How have the communities that you’ve lived in, impacted your personal and family identities?
I was raised in Washington Heights, a Dominican enclave in New York City. Oh, I can share some really good stories of my years there – the Dominican beauty parlor; the bodega on the corner; the young drug-dealers hanging out on the street; the loud merengue music; economic poverty mixed in with cultural richness. Growing up in Washington Heights marked my cultural identity because it was a small microcosm of Dominican Republic.
Are your in-laws understanding of your relationship? If not, how do you manage those difficulties?
My in-laws are very understanding and supportive of our relationship because they, too, are from different racial backgrounds. It’s a great plus!!
Have you or your children dealt with the “What are you?” question? If so, how do you handle intrusive comments and questions from family, friends and strangers?
First and foremost, I always teach the kids that they are “Latinos.” Yes, my bias, but the reality is that I feel obliged to protect their Latino/Dominican identity. They’re in school all day, with White/Caucasian children and teachers. They hardly see abuela or any of our extended family members, so I want to make sure they know our Latino heritage and culture – and feel identified with it.
When strangers ask about my kid’s racial/ethnic background/identity, I say: “They are Dominican, AND Japanese AND White.” No “half” or “third” this or that.
What are your fondest childhood memories related to your cultural heritage? What was your family like when you were growing up?
My fondest childhood memories were the large get-togethers at my grandmother’s apartment. She was a very inviting and giving person, and she was always home (she was wheelchair-bound, suffered from Multiple Sclerosis). They used to call her apartment the “Welcome home,” because the doors were always open, warm café Bustelo was always on the stove, and people loved hanging out there. I remember friends and extended family members would drop by, chat, mingle and leave. It was this way all day, and it was so much fun.
I also remember my mother’s Hora Santa, which is a hour-full of praying at home, among a group of family and friends. She would normally do these Hora Santas as a promise for something good that she had hoped would happen. At the end, there is coffee, bread, food and lots of incense. Just the other day she made an Hora Santa, in memory of my grandmother’s life. This time, however, she cooked pernil! Too bad I couldn’t make it ;)
How do you combine your American identity and Latino identity? Do you feel that the two come together naturally in your life or that there is some conflict between them?
I don’t know how to be, other than being “bicultural” – Americana and Dominicana. It is not something in my head that needs to be rationalized – it is my soul. I think, feel and live like as a bicultural woman. In my 20’s, I did experience some cultural conflict, based on conflicting cultural values. But over the years, I’ve been able to figure out what is “right” for me, and how I want to live “my” life. There comes a point in your life where you need to write your own bible – live according to your own dogma, not by what mami, papi, your boss or society wants you to live by.
A special thanks to Angélica for sharing her story with us and letting us in on her unique family experience! :)