What’s your ethnic background?
My mom is Peruvian and my dad is Chinese, I was born here.
Does it bother you when people ask about your ethnic background?
No, it doesn’t bother me at all. People just get confused with why I speak Spanish, then I just let them know. I usually make it simple and say I was born here, I’m American, but if they ask where my parents are from I just tell them my mom is from Peru and my dad is Chinese.
Do you visit each country often?
Not as often as I’d like to, but I was just in Peru a couple years ago. China, I need to go visit; I haven’t been to China since I was 15. I don’t really have any direct family in China. In Peru, I have a lot of family. Both my mom’s side and my dad’s side I have a lot of family down in Peru.
Did your parents meet in Peru?
My dad met my mom in Peru when he was 20 or 22, he went to Peru when he was 17 or 18 and was raised by his grandmother. Then they moved here and he was always working, particularly the upper west side [NYC] and decided to open this restaurant.
Do you identify with one side more than the other?
Not really. I just say that I’m mixed, I grew up with a lot of Asian-American kids, all or most of my friends are Chinese-American. Since I grew up with them, they’ll just consider me Chinese-American, they don’t really see the other side of me where I have to speak Spanish, that’s just mainly for work, I don’t really have to speak it outside of work, except in my home. At home, my mother spoke to me in Spanish growing up.
Do you feel that one of your communities outcasted you?
Growing up in Queens there weren’t too many Peruvians. Naturally, I just stuck with whatever was more comfortable to be around, since I look Chinese/Asian I kind of just naturally wanted to hang out around other people that looked just like me. I think that’s just natural human reaction, but being outcasted, no, I never felt that way even towards the hispanic culture.
Did you ever feel like you had an identity crisis?
Do you think there’s a struggle growing up mixed race?
Yea, because it wasn’t that common [around the 90’s], it was looked weird upon. But, its something very common nowadays. Growing up in the 90’s in Queens, it wasn’t that nice, I grew up in the very hispanic neighborhood. It was my family and another two Asian families on that block and we were just treated a little bit more differently because we didn’t look hispanic. So just growing up in that neighborhood was a little bit tough, for me, but we just adjusted and adapted. I mean, until I was 10 I grew up with hispanic kids and they weren’t that nice to me. They were kind of like, “What are you doing here on my block, you’re Chinese.” I didn’t have a nice childhood, but I adapted.
This is Umberto, he works at Patris with his friend. Umberto makes lamps out of olive wood while his friend makes utensils and other cool trinkets. One of them works at the store, while the other stays at the workshop, and they switch spots every day. Umberto has been woodworking for 20 years and was a designer in NYC prior.
What are your parent’s ethnic backgrounds?
My mother is Mexican and my father is Italian.
Can you speak any of these languages?
Did you have any struggles growing up mixed race, such as any internal or external issues?
Never had any serious struggles internally or externally. Though my mother grew up very poor and struggled most of her life until she went into the military because she thought that was the only way to get out of financial struggles.
Do you identify as mixed race or by one race?
Mixed. If people tried to identify my race, they would only see either my Italian or Mexican, not both.
Do you feel, or have you felt, like you didn’t belong to either one of your ethnic groups?
I feel like I missed out on my Mexican heritage growing up. I personally love the culture but when my mothers grandparents moved to America they didn’t want anything to do with their culture, so they learned English and cancelled out speaking Spanish. My fathers side of the family was always very Italian when it came to food, music, culture, etc.
Translated by me.
Edited by Marta Russoniello.
Place of Origin: Milan, Italy
When and why did you come to America?
I’m from Milan, Italy. I came to America for the first time on October 2011 thanks to an internship for educators with a J1 VISA. I was in Minnesota for three months working as a youth counselor in a juvenile center and three months in Massachusetts in a center for disability services. Then I moved to New Jersey, indefinitely, in 2012 thanks to my husband’s job.
What is your favorite thing about America?
I always dreamed of living in America, it has always been “fascinating” to me, different, I mean everything is good; I admire the politeness of people, the courtesy, because in Italy no one greets you while walking down the street, but here they do! The feeling of community, the civic feeling, and the patience when dealing with respecting the rules or the lines at the post office!
America is a cross-cultural country, there’s a heavy gathering of cultures, I’m part of it and I find it great, it makes you feel like you’re part of something that looks towards progression, towards the future.
What is something you dislike about America?
The first thing that comes to mind is the healthcare system but I’ve come to live with it. Other than this, up to now I don’t really know of something that I actually dislike about America, but I believe that coming from another place you tend to make comparisons often with the country of origin and you find things that you preferred before and other things that you now prefer.
Did you face any challenges while living here? If so, what were they?
Yes, learning English was a challenge; I consider the knowledge of the local language as the first step towards integration, therefore the sooner you learn it, the better. Because the feeling you get when people around you don’t speak your language and you don’t speak theirs is horrible, but obviously it’s the key to learning it. It’s exhausting not being able to communicate; your emotions are especially tested. Your true personality struggles to come out. I seemed shy, when in fact I wasn’t really at all! When one immigrates to a foreign country the link with the previous place is nonexistent and loneliness is inevitable. But, if you make the first step towards integration, every door opens and you’re embraced well. But building a new network of friendships, getting to know people takes time and willpower and yet nothing would be able to replace the relationships that you left back home.
Do you consider yourself ‘American’? If so, why?
I consider myself Italian more than anything else, but part of me also feels American, especially since my daughter was born here and it ties me even closer to this place.