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
Tara Villanueva is of Puerto-Rican, Hawaiian, and Filipina heritage. She is a singer-songwriter, polynesian dancer and graphic designer in Washington, D.C., where she lives with her partner, Dan, and son, Kai. Learn more about Tara at TaraTrinity.com.
What is your individual and/or relationship mix? (culture, ethnicity, language, religion, etc.)
I was born and raised in South Jersey. My mother is Puerto Rican; father is Hawaiian and Filipino. We spoke English at home and Spanish at church – I was raised Pentecostal. My partner was also born and raised in South Jersey. His mother and father are both Irish-German Americans, with a long lineage in the States. He refers to his Christianity as a “Chreaster”, only attending during the Christmas and Easter holidays as a child.
How have the communities that you’ve lived in, impacted your personal and family identities?
My personal identity was always more difficult because I am multi-racial. I was never fully accepted for who I was because I grew up in heavily white-American populated Jersey suburbs. People were usually Irish-American, Polish-American, Italian-American, or Jewish-American. The religions were normally Catholic or Lutheran and if you were a minority, you were either Black, Puerto Rican, or Dominican. To be multi-racial, the norms were black/white or black/latino.
Until we moved to DC when our son was born, my partner never experienced racism or just being in a neighborhood with a lot of color. It has changed my entire experience because I don’t stick out like a sore thumb anymore. When I am asked the “What are you” question, it’s because people are generally interested, not because I look like an illegal immigrant. My partner now understands more or less what I have experienced my entire life.
Is your multicultural/multiracial family more or less accepted by the Latino community than by other communities? Why or why not?
Less accepted I believe because most Latinos I have grown up with wonder why I didn’t end up with a Latino. However, after knowing my partner for years they have accepted him. Racism goes both ways.
How do you maintain your Latino heritage and mixed identity? How do you instill these identities to your children? Why is instilling a combined identity important for your children?
Many white-Americans do not know their true culture or what is in their bloodline. They have lost it throughout the generations. I don’t want my son’s grandchildren to one day say, “My great-grandmother was Latina and something else.” I want them to know their blood and to know who I was and the family we continued. I maintain my heritage by surrounding my son with the Spanish language, Latin music, and Latin/Polynesian food. I am a Polynesian dancer and I surround him with the music and bring him to shows where I am able.
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?
Puerto Ricans have it much easier, especially if you’re raised in the suburbs. You know the language and are more Americanized than most of the other Latinos. We were one of the first Latino immigrants to arrive in this country. Over the past century, we have rightfully claimed this our land and have generations to show for it. I am 100% American, but still stay true to my roots. I can thank my mother for that.
You thank your mother for your strong cultural roots. How did she impact your multicultural identity and/or the importance of culture and diversity in your life?
Puerto Ricans have a community with pride in every step of their culture. My mother fits the bill to a tee. Every chance she’s able to verbally state her background–she does. Even though I, personally, have never lived in any of the places my parents are both from – I feel as though I have. Being the mother she is, she not only introduced me to my Puerto Rican side, but also to my Hawaiian side (father).
At the age of 4, my mother entered me into Hula Dance class. It was $4 a week and I learned every kind of Polynesian dance over the next 12 years. I have danced with five different Polynesian dance companies. It has been a way for me to connect with other Polynesians here on the East Coast and also to be in touch with my ancestors.
I am blessed to have a family who has not lost their traditions, but instead continue to pass them along to the next generations. Yes, I am 100% American, and I have learned American traditions throughout the years (like eating turkey on Thanksgiving and not pernil) and my partner is very Americanized. However, I will continue to follow in my mother’s footsteps and be a proud Puerto Rican regardless of how American I am. Even though Puerto Ricans are technically American – we very much are a race in our own.
For those who are in a relationship or family like yours, what would be your best advice for making a bicultural/multicultural family work? What advice would you give to other mixed couples/families?
If you think racism or judgment will disappear because you want to ignore it, you’re wrong. It’s very difficult and sometimes can be stressful and straining. But no relationship is easy. Family and friends can make it a bit harder.
What are your fondest childhood memories related to your cultural heritage? What was your family like when you were growing up?