by Luna Olavarria Gallegos, Committee on U.S. – Latin American Relations (CUSLAR)
Migration is a core part of my identity, just like my ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. The migration that my family has gone through impacts every aspect of my life. Yet the effects of migration are less visual, and the only way they manifest are in where I am at any given time. My ambiguous features allow a motherland to be a far-off vague space in time, leaving me without a definite place or origin, which has always been something I have struggled with, always wanting to know where I came from.
The easiest way for me to understand my full identity has always been to examine land and my ancestors’ relationship with that land. I have found that the extent to which I can learn about certain parts of my family shows the difference of privilege within my mixed background.
On my father’s side, I am a descendent of slaves. I know little about how my ancestors lived prior to being put on boats and brought to the Americas. The way Africans interacted with their world prior to slavery is vague, over generalized, and by and large, a broad hypothesis based on certain aspects of slave culture. Once turned into chattel, my ancestors were forced to interact with the land in a negative way. This is a trend throughout my family history: constantly having to exist for someone else’s means: working, reproducing, even down to the act of eating for the economic benefit of someone else.
I can see this in my mother’s lineage as a descendent of Aztlán, the area of the southwestern United States that has been occupied by two different countries, inhabited by a mix of people for centuries. The people there are mestiza, a loose word implying mixing of indigenous and Spanish ancestry. All throughout my education, I learned about the details of the Spanish Inquisition, including religion, lifestyle, and agricultural, which was relevant to my life, as I still saw some of their cultural practices, including the food that they ate, in my heritage.
However, I did not learn about way that the Pueblo or Taos people (two native people of the area) interacted with the land until I actively chose to learn about it.
Throughout my education, I have had to seek out information about their way of life and the oppression they faced after the violent imposition of Catholicism. The Spanish were able to move from one land to the next and keep their interactions with the land the same, yet the very fact that I know so little about the Pueblo proves how much harder it was for them after colonization to interact with their own land in the way they desired.
The same goes for my ancestors from the Caribbean, the Taínos, who, despite popular belief are not an extinct people, as there still exist people with Taíno ancestry like myself, and even people who are more in touch with traditional Taíno culture. They interacted with the land in a very peaceful way, making it easy for the Spanish to quickly take advantage of them and the land they inhabited, extracting resources and lives. Unlike in many other areas, the indigenous group of Puerto Rico resisted slavery, many committing suicide to maintain some kind of dignity. The same desire for dignity was true later the times of great migration when many of my family members moved to the U.S. in search of better opportunities.
Through migration, my different identities have merged into one place. Some of my ancestors have been able to migrate fluidly without issues, adapting to the land, while others have had to interact with foreign land out of force or in a negative way. The land I live on and the space I occupy at any given moment is a mixture of home and foreignness. I am here because my ancestors migrated here, but the circumstances in which they did are those of slavery, trafficking, and desire to explore. When I reflect on my family tree and the circumstances in which each individual interacted with the land, I realize how lucky I am to be where I am, connecting to the land in a curious way that leads me to migrate freely.