Azul Zapata

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Azul Zapata is a junior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She studies Global Studies and Journalism and is originally from Bariloche, Argentina. Zapata and her parents moved to the United States in 1996, eventually settling in Statesville, North Carolina. Zapata became a U.S. citizen in January 2012 and was the last of her immediate family to be naturalized. She provides insight into what the naturalization process entails and the barriers her own family experienced. She describes the perspectives she had growing up, especially regarding her perceived identity. She describes language as “how I self-identify.” Zapata described the naturalization ceremony with excitement and reflected on what it means to finally complete the last step in the process; however, she noted that everyone's citizenship experience is different and that her family has been very “lucky” to have a relatively smooth process. She mentioned that financial and informational resources often make the pathway to becoming a citizen difficult for some individuals. Zapata discussed the perceptions of others, within and outside of the Latino community on her new citizenship, specifically citing that Argentinians tend to be “arrogant” and that the older generation she knows personally would prefer to stay in their home country. However, she discusses her own family's decision to pursue citizenship, stating that they “did not come to America with that goal,” but since they have built a life here, it makes sense. Zapata talked extensively about how her physical appearance often causes confusion among U.S.-born Americans and Latinos and she is often seen as European. She talked about how these conversations and interactions have ultimately helped shape her perception of her place among Latinos and Americans and shared that she feels she has a hybrid identity.



Elizabeth Byrum: This is Elizabeth Byrum interviewing Azul Zapata. This interview is conducted on April 6, 2013 at 3:00 in the afternoon. We are in her living room and kitchen in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Azul, can you start off telling me about where you and your family are from?
Azul Zapata: Um, my family, my mother and my father and I, we're all from Argentina. Both of my parents were born in Córdoba, I was born in Bariloche, which is in the southern part of Argentina.
EB: How long have you been living in the United States and specifically in North Carolina?
AZ: In the U.S., um, let's see I'm 20 years old...I just turned three when we moved here, so about 17 years. We started, we moved around a lot at the beginning. Um, we were six months in North Carolina, then we went to Kansas, I think, for a very small amount of time. My dad's a, a doctor, so we were following him and the residency that he wanted to do. But then we went to Virginia Beach, and we lived there, I think four years. I'm worried that the math won't make sense, but I'm trying to remember it. Yeah, Virgina Beach. Virginia Beach, Virginia and then we moved to Franklin, Virginia for two years , and then we moved back to North Carolina and we've been here for, I'm going to say nine.
EB: And where in North Carolina are you from, I guess?
AZ: Um, Statesville, North Carolina, which is about two, two and a half hours east, no west.
EB: Can you talk a little about the experience when you first came to the U.S.? I know you were only like three years old, but whatever you remember growing up and how did that shape what you knew?
AZ: I actually remember quite a lot. Obviously not direct things, but things that come back to me in flashbacks or um, I don't know if this is pertinent to your research, but I have very vivid dreams. Then I'll ask my mom about it, 'Hey, did this ever happen?' because you know, memories can come up in your dreams. And she's like, “Actually, yeah, this did happen.” And so, I just remember being very little and not being able to communicate with anyone and being very frustrated all the time. Um, as a little kid, I realized, even though I looked like what an American society looked like back then--um, cause it's changed a lot and like Latinos weren't as strong, especially not Argentinians, more people nowadays know where Argentina is and you can have a conversation about it. But it was always having to explain yourself, 'Oh, why does your mom have an accent?,' 'I thought you guys were American, I thought you guys were from Europe,' I'm like 'No...' It's just kind of growing up knowing you are a little bit different, but at the same time, I grew up being proud of it. I never complained that my food that I took to school was a little different than everyone else's. Um, I never really cared, but at the same time, it was kind of lonely because I didn't have anyone to share it with. Even my little brother now, I mean he grew up in a hybrid household--we only speak Spanish at home-- but you were surrounded by American culture all the time. It was just a little bit lonely because no one really understood and we lived in very small towns and not a lot of South Americans were there yet. There was plenty of people from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, that kind of area. But not South America, where our cultures are a little more similar. Or, I don't think I--unless our family came to visit, I wouldn't hear 'my Spanish' being spoken, um, so it was just a little bit lonely and people not understanding, that kind of shaped--
EB: Would you say that in school there were stereotypes, I guess, about you being a Spanish-speaker, but that still being very different and them saying well 'Oh, well these people too, they must be like you...'
AZ: Yeah, well you know, in any kind of environment, people try to put you in a category, people try to put you in a box, and I realized at a very early age, I didn't really count, or I didn't really fit into what people wanted. Like I said, things have changed a lot over time. Even on forms, they will ask you what you are and then, 'Do you have any Hispanic-Latina origin?' and I'm like 'Okay.' But in school, if I did something different, or if I did something someone didn't like, they'd be like, 'Oh, she's foreign.' And I was like, 'I've lived here for a while, and yes I do things a little differently, but that doesn't make me,'--the bad things about me because I'm foreign. And all the good things aren't because I was raised here. I remember one time, I was I think in second grade or something. I was always a very good reader, I mean because when you don't have a whole lot of really good friends, you read a lot [laughter]. So, I was always a really good reader and I overheard a conversation of my one my teachers saying, 'Oh, wow, I'm so glad that Azul has such a higher reading level because um, compared to the other Latino students, she is overachieving' and they would hold me up as an example. And like, all the Latino kids in the class didn't like me, like they didn't recognize or accept me. And the Americans didn't like me because I wasn't just like them. So it was just a little bit different, and it's a little complicated to explain, but I guess that's why you're doing what you're doing.
EB: [laughter] What was learning English like? You said you only speak Spanish at home, so what was that experience?
AZ: Um, I have to say, and as I joke with my parents a lot, I think people will never stop learning English. I swear to you, all the time, there are so many exceptions, so many rules and it was frustrating. But I remember just, I remember just one day, like the first time you realize you can read something, but for me it happened in two languages. As I was learning to read in English, my mom was teaching me how to read in Spanish. Um, and I think that was really helpful because I kind of applied--without you know, purposely doing it, kids just do things at the same time without thinking about it. It helped me a lot, but there's still things I don't get right [laughter]. I'm a very phonetic speller, obviously from Spanish, so there's just things in English I can't spell unless I have a dictionary or I have to look it up. But learning to speak English, I think, again, helped from the fact I read a lot, and then that capacity for reading improved my vocabulary and then got to the point where my vocabulary was at the level of native speaking English adults. That helped me a lot, but it isolated me even more from the kids around me cause they go, 'Oh, she talks funny.' And then I would go to Spanish class and they would be like, 'Oh, she talks really funny.' Um, so, yeah, that's what learning English was like. And I, I still help my mom with stuff even though she is a translator and an interpreter. There's a lot -- the cookies are in the oven, I don't want them to burn (pauses to check on alfajores) -- um [pause] I won't put anymore in right now. But yeah it's a constant thing. But learning English, I think was easier for me because my parents, they are both professionals and they, even though my mom didn't speak very much English at all when she first came here, she was educated in Argentina and she has a very high capacity for learning things quickly, you know, and just going forward, and adapting. I think that is what the essential need for that, is being able to adapt really quickly. So, yeah.
EB: And, I guess that's part of the process of becoming a citizen, because they have the English exam, but besides that can you talk a little bit about that process and when it began --
AZ: Citizenship?
EB -- and kind of the details of that.
AZ: Well we had to be residents, we had to be legal residents for seven years and hold a green card, even though its not called a green card anymore. Um, well that's kind of like the beginnings of the process. Being residents and from having those conversations, conversations with my parents, of always thinking, 'Well maybe. Maybe we will become citizens one day,' and just kind of talking about what that means. Um, and the process, I actually, I did it over one summer. I filled out all of my parents' forms for them, while they were--that was my summer project, that was like my little summer job that I had. At the end of--I think it was before I got into college, I think--yeah. I started their process because we wanted to do it before I turned 18, so I could just automatically. But the forms took a little too long to get through, um and I had turned 18 by the time they got everything processed, and so. And they were really smooth, in, out. It's expensive, they, they--it is expensive. And, yeah, they were really easy. Mine came with a little bit of complications because the first time around, there was something wrong with the check that we sent and um, we had to send another one so that got delayed. Then I had to schedule, then they gave me my date for one of my, for one of things you have to do, to go do your thumbs, like during the holidays, or near the holidays and we were leaving to go to Argentina, so I wasn't able to go to do that. And then, the day that I was supposed to go in, okay, the day before I was supposed to go and for the ceremony and swearing in, everything had gone through, I got a traffic ticket and you're not allowed to have anything, on any of your records, um, when you go in to do your ceremony. Like you have to be super clean cut to go to that ceremony. When I talked to the officer, I was like, 'I got a traffic ticket yesterday,' and she said, 'I'm sorry, you can't take the oath today.' And for us to drive all the way to Charlotte, which is about an hour and a half away from where we live, and then say 'No, you can't do it,' and um, our close family friends from Colombia, they were there with us, and it was exciting, because they want to be, they're considering the process themselves. They wanted to see me sworn in. So, I got delayed for my citizenship for six months, because I had to get everything cleared up and find a date that worked. It was a little bit, um, disappointing, when I couldn't take it the first time. But I did it now, and yeah. There's some mixed emotions that come with it, but it's something I talk about with my parents, it's like, 'what is our identity now?' When we go to Argentina, they kind of make fun of us, not make fun of us, but they are like, 'Oh, you're American now.' To them, it's like why would you--Argentinians are arrogant--so they're like, 'why would you want to be anything but an Argentinian?' [laughter] So, um, yeah things like that. It was a choice for us, since we've lived here so long, we've made our life here. Um, and yeah, it makes a lot of things easier for us, living here. Schooling, paperwork. Now, instead of bringing a small briefcase of papers, now we can just say 'Oh, here's our American passport. Goodbye!' It's not as complicated. Nor do we have to do the complicated lines at airports, going in and out. No, we're American, we can come home.
EB: So you would say that one of the main reasons your family decided to do this is because you decided that you want to live your life here in the United States and that was kind of a big...
AZ: Mmhmm.
EB: You talked about some the mixed reviews when you go back, but was any of that from family members, or friends?
AZ: Yeah, a lot. Well, from both. Uh, my parents, because my dad worked here for so many years and my mom loved her own work here, just being able to say, 'I'm an American now,' it opens, it makes things a lot easier. I don't know if I would continue living here for the rest of my life, but I think it is a stable enough place. Argentina is a beautiful place, it's a lovely place, it's a full place, but it's not always the most stable of places. And I think with the teasing that we get in Argentina, I think a part of them understands, but their pride won't let them say, 'Yeah, we understand why you did that.' Because as many problems as America has, as the U.S. has, it's never as bad as Argentina. Yeah, but. And, and the stuff that we get from our families, it's light teasing, um only with kind of like my college aged friends now, they're speaking out, they're like, 'Oh, why do you want to be American? Americans ruin the world, blah blah blah.' I'm just like, 'You would come here if you could, or if you wanted to. You would. And don't say you wouldn't want to come study here because it's recognized, it's held up.' And, um, but some days, just depending on how you want to talk, some days, 'Oh, I'm an Argentinian, I hate all American things,' and some days it's just like, 'Thank God I am not there and I am here,' because, yeah it would be a lot harder.
EB: Have any of them expressed maybe, not very clearly or overtly, that they want to come to the United States and do the same thing?
AZ: Ah, yes. From a lot of my--there's like two houses of thought. There's the older, like my older relatives, 'I would never my country. This is where the family is, this is where my tradition is,' all that. Then there's the younger generation that sees opportunity by coming here and see kind of like, in their minds--they watch of movies and TV--the glamor of living in the U.S. So it's like a generational thing that divides them. But then, there's the idealists who don't like the U.S. because of how it is viewed around the world. But yeah, they've expressed that. I've had a lot of friends, soccer players, that want to come and play for colleges here. Um, a lot of friends--Argentina is not very diverse, it's kind of, it's kind of, we all kind of look European--there are some native descendants, like the indigenous, but not in heavily populated areas. Um, so, they want to see the world a little bit more and that's how they view America, the U.S. as one of those places of seeing the world. So yeah, I don't know if that answers the question.
EB: No, that's great. And for you personally, you talked about this mix of identity, and what, if someone were to ask you and you had to give them an answer, would you tell them you identity more as of now, as American or as Argentinian? It can be a combination, or whatever...
AZ: Um, well as I sit here making my Argentinian cookies with my great-grandmother's recipe, I would say, on a day-to-day, I see myself as a hybrid, and then I have my moments where I am very much Argentinian. That's what I feel. If I'm angry, I speak in Spanish, if I'm upset, I speak in Spanish. My first instinct is to speak my first language. And I feel that's, language has always been very important to me, and that's kind of how I first self-identify, is the language I speak. Um, and at the same, I feel like Americans have this, to feel really American, I would have to identify with an area of America. And Southern culture, as much as I appreciate a lot of aspects of it. I don't understand all of it, nor have I ever really felt part of it. And I don't know, I haven't found my perfect niche in American culture yet, so I would have to say, I still identify as Argentinian, generally. My friends make fun of me, because they say I bring out the fact that I am Argentinian all the time. Because it's kind of a big deal to me. That's where I was born, I feel like not in my country, but in my country. It's weird. But it's not something, it's not something I only think about when I am doing things like this. It's something that you experience all the time. Just in the you're thinking, in the way you talk and interact with other people, yeah, it's just, you either feel like you fit in, or you feel like you don't. You feel like you sometimes fit in, or you sometimes don't. Um, and, yeah, even when it's like something in the Latino community, that's when I feel really Argentinian. Because I realize, 'I'm an American,' because I can have community with these people, but at the same time, I'm very Argentinian, because there are just distinctions in our culture that makes us very different. But it's a good thing, it's a good difference, I enjoy it a lot. I love learning from other Latin cultures. That wasn't the question.
EB: From your experience, or from other, maybe just talking to other people, do you think citizenship, kind of that formal 'I am a citizen of this country or that country,' does that play a lot into identity, either for you or from talking to other people, or not as much?
AZ: Um, as of late, okay, I used to think, 'Yes,' citizenship, there's kind of like a home country, my country kind of thing, that's who I am affiliated, that's who my loyalty is to. But in talking with friends in Europe and people have dual citizenships and stuff like that...I was talking to my Italian roommate, she was like, 'Oh you have Italian blood, right?' and I was like, 'Yeah.' She was like, 'You can apply for Italian citizenship.' Oh. It doesn't have the weight that it used to because it's about what you feel on the inside, to be as Hallmark as possible [laughter]. It really is about how you are on the inside. I mean so many, I think so many people who come from immigrants--a lot of America comes from immigrants--and they still say, 'yes, we're from Slovakia, we're Polish, we're this, this, this and this' you know. Just the citizenship thing I think comes down to paperwork. And initially it means a lot and then kind of the newness of it wears off and you just go back to feeling how you were before, which is for me Argentinian.
EB: So do you remember the specific day you became a citizen of the U.S. or is it just kind of...
AZ: January 15 [laughter]
EB: of 20—
AZ: 2011, oh wait, no, 2012.
EB: 2012.
AZ: I forgot what year it was, I was like, 'wait that doesn't make sense.'
EB: Is that something you think you're always going to have in your head?
AZ: I probably will. It's like an anniversary. My friends threw me a 'Welcome to America' party. I was like, 'I've been here for most of my life.' They were like, 'No, we need to have hamburgers and barbecue and French fries.' And I said, 'Okay, whatever.' But, yeah, I do remember the epic picture I took of myself. I was like smiling, wearing red, white, and blue, because I'm extremely cheesy when it comes to these things and I'm holding up a flag. It got 108 'likes' on Facebook [laughter]. It was a good day.
EB: What was the ceremony like? I like to hear people's experiences about going to the ceremony and kind of this whole entire presentation and the swearing in...
AZ: Well, walking in there's a lot of people, and being extremely nosy and extremely curious, I'm just staring around, 'What other countries are here?' [laughter]. 'Any Argentinians in the house? No, okay.' So just looking around, seeing the different ages of people, that surprised me a lot just in the waiting room. Um, and then you walk in, you're processed, in this little line, and then you give away the thing that has held you in the country for the last, I don't know how many years, seven, 10, years. You give away your green card and they cut it! In front of you! For someone who almost lost their green card once, while moving in different countries and thankfully found it, to see someone cut it, it's just like 'Uh!' I caught my breath for a second, the woman, she was like, 'I know.' So I kept walking and after that initial shock, my parents were in the back watching me and Obama gave a presentation and he spoke to me directly. And we have to say some things that you kind of have to look at the fine print, which is 'You will serve this country, you will hold its honor, you will be loyal to the country, you will bear arms blah blah blah for the country if called to.' I was like, 'Okay.' I never had to do that for Argentina, that wasn't like even in my mind that I would called to serve for something. But here kind of made it more realistic. There was this little old man sitting next to me. He was from Nigeria and his son was helping him swear in. He was basically blind, he couldn't see anything, what was going on, and he kept talking to his son to like translate. I assumed he was saying, 'What's going on? Because I can't see anything.' I talked to him, and yeah, he was supposed to sign in with his wife, but his wife passed away so he missed his first naturalization ceremony. I was like, 'So did I!' but for different reasons. I don't know, it was fun to experience that with so many different kinds of people. And they did this thing where they called out the countries that were there and you stand up, um, and so I stood up, I think I was the only Argentinian there, and you would think I would be used to people being confused when I stand up and I'm not from like Sweden or Austria or Germany or something not South American, and they see me, and are like, 'Stereotypical.' I can hear the Latinos in the back, 'Oh, I thought she was from Europe. Oh, okay.' Yeah, no [laughter]. It was just funny to me that that still came up. Like I'm in the same room with you, I'm obviously--yeah, but it was, it was a great experience. I still have like the booklets. My favorite one, they give all this information about the Americas and about the U.S. They gave me this book of 'Famous Foreign-Born Americans.' They give you like this whole list of people who were born in other countries but then naturalized. They've got Henry Kissinger, I mean a ton of founding--I don't know if it's appropriate to say founding fathers, like from the time of the American Revolution period, people who were born in England or other places and came to the U.S., or the Americas. Yeah, so I like that, and I still read it from time to time, just to see some perspective.
EB: Do you think besides the green card being cut up in front of you, have you given up anything with becoming an American citizen, either physically, or emotionally, or in any way?
AZ: Um, hm [pause]. No, because I still do things pretty much the same way. I use my Argentinian passport when I go to Argentina. But no, I don't think I've lost anything, only gained.
EB: And so you are a dual citizen? That's tricky, because the U.S. doesn't recognize--
AZ: --the U.S. doesn't recognize it. But if my own country says I can come in and use my passport, then I will come in and use my passport. I also have a national ID card for Argentina, um, yeah. But it is tricky. I'm technically American when I'm in here--
EB: --but a technically a dual citizen when elsewhere outside...
AZ: [pauses to check on the alfajores]
EB: What do you think, looking back on this conversation and maybe overall the entire process, what is the main reason, or there can be multiple main reasons, why you really decided to become naturalized for whatever--
AZ: Um--
EB: Access, or you felt it inside of you, or whatever
AZ: I think it was a natural kind of procession for my parents and I. I don't think this was ever the goal, 'Come to America, become an American citizen,' no. I think it's just something that felt natural. We felt that we had contributed, we had gained a lot from this country and to say that we were really part of it I guess was just the next step. Um, and in talking about it with my parents -- I talk to my parents a lot, typical Latina kid -- um, yeah, it was just kind of the natural order of things, just go ahead and become a citizen.
EB: If you had to do the process again, or looking back on the process, now that we have comprehensive immigration reform on the table, what are some of the biggest flaws you saw that applied to you or other people you knew who had gone through the same process?
AZ: I think I'm lucky because I come from a country that is not considered a threat. Um, and I don't know the specifics and I'm not an expert, but I know of people who have struggled because maybe their background, or the country of origin is not as positively seen, or something along those lines. Or because maybe they have one little snafu in their immigration history that they are completely barred from ever doing anything ever again. I don't know, I don't think that's fair. We, I think it takes a huge amount of work to be able to stay in this country, legally. I think it takes a lot of planning and a lot of luck. When we entered the country, it was 'who you know and how you know them' kind of thing, especially if you're coming in with a family, which is what we did. I just wish it wasn't so expensive, because I feel that bars so many people. I mean, again, we're extremely lucky, we're extremely blessed to have been able to take on the costs, but for some people, it's not even an option. It's like paying for college for some people. So, yeah, that's my two cents on it [laughter].
EB: And did your family use, I guess, immigration lawyers through the process?
AZ: Um, to start, when we first came into the country, yes and no. Um, from what my parents told me, they said they got their money taken away from people, and given in exchange, information they could have found out themselves. And um, I'm pretty sure that that kind of process still exists, where people are so desperate to get the information, that they'll listen to anyone, that they'll pay anyone anything, to be told what they want to hear or what they should do. Um, and for a while, they were on that end. But to filing for citizenship, I downloaded all the forms, I did all the research, it was like my little summer project. Um, I took in all my information, I went to my parents and said, 'Today, I need all of these records. Where can I find them? Where are they in the house? Where are they, if they are in a safety deposit or something, where can I find them?' And so, it was just that kind of thing and it took a lot of work. Um, and then I did it on my own, I found it all, but that's because I had the time. I mean, I grew up here, I knew who to ask if I had any, if I needed help. And I feel like a lot of kids are able to, if they are kids like me, if they are like second-generation helping their parents, they're a good resource. But then again, not everyone has that, the time or the money to do that.
EB: No, it's interesting that you mentioned that it's still, it's very common for people to lose money to kind of people who they think are trying to help them. I was talking to someone who said online there's websites that will be like, '$35 to download the forms.'
AZ: They're free! They're free. You have to know what you're doing, what you're looking for, and kind of have an awareness that there are people that are just trying to take your money because they know that you're vulnerable. And I think that's the biggest problem, is that when you are trying to do something legally--and you can be coming from an illegal situation or even be coming from a completely legal situation, um, you step into this area of vulnerability because you need help and it can seem really daunting, really complicated, really frustrating if you don't--I think they've done a better job of making it easier, but it's still pretty daunting for people who don't have that capacity.
EB: Because the government hasn't really played a hand in kind of, in streamlining the instructions for the process. Would you agree with that, that a lot of people--there's community classes for citizenship for example you can go to, but unless you know someone knows someone who goes to that class, there's not any information--
AZ: Exactly.
EB:--So maybe that's something the government needs to work on too?
AZ: If they want to.
EB: If they want to...the reach of information...
AZ: The reach of information also has to hit so many different kinds of people because they can't just be like Spanish, English. It has to be Spanish, Arabic, Spanish, in India, Hindi, Urdu whatever, um it has to hit all these different parties, I don't know. I wish it was easier but, for me, it was something I did. I took on the project, and it took me, to fill out the forms, to get everything straight, to kind of start that official process after doing all that stuff, about a month and a half of working on it. Of just me, everyday sitting at my computer, or going around, fishing through records. Because they want a lot of information on every single thing you've done in the U.S. or so yeah. They require a lot of information. And you can't mess up, you can't put something wrong or kind of estimate something, because you run a risk.
EB: Is your experience something you share with other people and do you also know people who are currently going through the process or went through the process with you and had a similar--how does everything compare with that?
AZ: Um I think I have like a spectrum. Um, I don't know a whole lot of adults, like my parents age, that have um, that have taken on the process. I also have friends, who--how do I put this? It's been a bumpy road for their past residencies and citizenship. Every one has their way of looking at things and accomplishing things, and their's just wasn't the same way we did ours. Maybe they had less opportunity than we did. Again, a lot of it comes from luck and stuff. Um, I don't, um, I'm trying to say this--I have a recent friend, who just got his citizenship. He's graduating in May from here, um and he's Palestinian. He started his process and I think he was in and out in about three months, which is really good. And he was really happy about it. But I think we kind of share the same mentality that we haven't lost anything, we've just gained that kind of square, that little box, um of 'naturalized citizen.' You can now check American or U.S. citizen and then not have to fill out the rest of the form. So, we've actually, probably gained a year of our lives not having to check that box anymore. Um, yeah, yeah. There's a range of people I know that have done it [pauses to check cookies in the oven].
EB: [pause] Now that you've become a citizen, do you still face anyone who kind of is like, “Oh, that's nice, you're still Argentinian in my mind”?
AZ: Um.
EB: Does it change anything? I've talked to people who have become naturalized or who maybe who are naturalized who still have a hard time, I guess, like proving it, or being looked at in a new light?
AZ: Yeah. I think I have it easier because I physically blend in with people, so I'm not as questioned. But still, I talk about it with other friends who kind of entered this from a more vulnerable point, um and it's, sometimes you feel like, 'Yes, you're naturalized,' but because you weren't born here and it's not absolute, if they wanted to, they could take it away. And it's kind of an irrational fear, but, and I don't want to say, 'But you're a second class thing, because you came out of this a different way,' but you don't feel like when you are doing the ceremony, you feel like, 'Oh, I belong! We're all a big melting pot, salad bowl, whatever the term is these days. U.S. yay yay yay!' But then you step out into the real world and see that people see you and treat you a little differently. Um, even the last time I was coming into the country, some guy noticed, 'Oh, your passport is so new.' And then they look at my origin and they are like, 'Oh, okay.' And some people will congratulate, 'Congratulations on your citizenship,' and you get a lot of that. But then some people will be like, 'Oh, okay.' I don't know, it's like a weird, it's like a weird interaction. But no, I haven't faced too much of that, not me personally. Like I said, I've had friends who've it's just, we secretly talk about it in whispers, 'They can't take it away. We're set, we're solid.' But, yeah.
EB: And then, you mentioned this a little bit earlier, but I guess, among other Latinos and your identity with that, and now that you're a citizen, maybe people who are a mixed-status group of people, how does that affect how you are perceived, um as Latina?
AZ: It depends on if we are speaking in Spanish or we are speaking in English. I don't think I have that much of an accent when I speak English. I don't have a Southern accent. I don't have a northern accent. Maybe sometimes a little bit of a 'za' will slip in when to when I'm just talking, but for speaking in Spanish, people don't hesitate, 'Oh, she's Argentinian, because she speaks like an Argentinian in her Spanish.' And then when I speak English, at kind of you know, college level English, you know, it's a little bit different they hold you a little differently. 'Why don't you have an accent? Oh that means you've been in the U.S. longer than we have.' Or I don't know, there's just that whole kind of cultural power play, I don't know. It's weird to find out what the actual values are, if it is 'we value the fact you are true to your culture' or 'we value the fact that you have adapted to a new life.' It's just, I just wish people wouldn't make such a big deal about it and we could just play soccer [laughter]. Actually, the dancing thing, so anything with salsa or tango or anything like that, or any kind of Latin festival thing, and then playing soccer. They see me, girl, they see 'white girl,' they think 'gringa, like, 'oh she's American.' Then I start talking to them, chatting them, cursing in Spanish, it's like 'Oh, okay' and they kind of have to shift their mentality and they treat you a little bit differently, but...And then like, in, in places where it's predominantly either Mexican, Colo— not that many Colombians, just people from Central America instead of South America, they don't see me as, I'm not initially recognized as Latina. 'Oh, well she may not be that American. She's probably a Spanish major or something,' you know. And then I start talking, and they are like 'Okay, makes sense, got it.' Yeah, so there's a distinction. I don't let it, I used to let it bother me a lot more, because um, I didn't see what they were seeing, I was just feeling what I was feeling. And um, yeah, so. The hurt goes away. But it's still funny to overhear conversations in Spanish, um, that people don't think I can understand. That's always, I've got great stories about that [laughter].
EB: Any that you care to share?
AZ: [laughter] I guess this would be the place to share. The one I tell all the time is, um, I was at a Mexican restaurant and then at late night it turns into like a salsa club. And I stayed there, had dinner and I was with my friends, 'Oh yeah, let's just stay and like dance. It will be really fun.' I was in the bathroom and these two, I don't know, Hispanic ladies walked after me and they started talking really loud about the table of American girls. 'They were being so dumb on the dance floor' and 'They don't know how to move' and they were talking about the way we dress, basically cutting us down, gossiping in the bathroom. And I walked out of the bathroom and I was like, 'Ahm, could you pass me that?' in perfect, in my Spanish, 'Me pase esa por favor?' Like asking them to pass me the soap dispenser thing and they were like, 'Uhhhhhhh' [laughter]. And I was like, 'Yeah.' And I was like, 'Don't you think it's nice, you know, that an Argentinian just blends in. See you guys later.' And then um, I was just hanging out with my friends and like talking, and we saw them like shuffle by us. I'm like, 'That's the girls that were talking smack about us in the bathroom' [laughter]. But, yeah, there's things like that, I mean with Latin men, they'll like yell things or talk with each other, saying things like, 'I like that skirt that she's wearing,' people cat calling and stuff. I wasn't having a good day once and I turned around and I said, again in Spanish, 'Would you talk to your grandmother that way? Would you talk to your mother that way?' Kind of like throwing in some slang in there, to show them that I'm not just a girl who understands Spanish. Um, and they were like, 'Oh, okay. Perdón señora' [laughter]. I was like, 'Yeah, you're right, goodbye.' So, things like that.
EB: So, it's interesting to hear too these stories, because a lot of times we talk about that it's Americans, you know, born and bred here who make all of those stereotypes, like 'all of those people who speak Spanish are Mexicans,' but at the same time--
AZ: Oh yeah, it happens on the other end
EB: -- in the Latino culture, there's still assumptions if you're not, if you don't look like what they're perceiving you or someone from their country, or anyone who looks similar to them, you're not considered to be the same, or in the same position...
AZ: Yeah, definitely, definitely. I mean I feel like, it hurts me less when someone, like an American assumes that or asks me those questions because you don't know. And then maybe my expectations shouldn't be higher I guess for Latin people or people from Spanish-speaking countries. I don't know, maybe I should change that and not get as offended. But, yeah. It's always interesting to go through that. But, I go through it.
EB: Great, well those are all the questions I have.
AZ: Oh cool!
EB: Yeah, thank you so much the interview. Yeah, I look forward to transcribing it.