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Tales of a Latina at Berkeley

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OCTOBER 13, 2022

“Grandma, esta canción me gusta. Sube el volumen.”

The car was immediately filled with Gilberto Santa Rosa’s Enamorate Bailando and I couldn’t help the way the fast paced music moved me to its melody. Though I was sitting, my arms began to move side to side, then my hips, and my hands didn’t miss out on the fun. 

I grew up immersed in my Hispanic heritage. Colombian and Guatemalan, my roots were engraved into me the day I swayed along to the salsa music while in my mami’s belly. Raised in Los Angeles for the entirety of my life, I was always accustomed to being a part of the majority. 

You walk down the street and shout a quick “buenos días!” to the neighbor next door and expect a greeting back. Going to panaderías after school was always a treat. “Pick one pan dulce for later,” my mom would say to me, which was especially hard when smelling the sweet scent of freshly baked goodies. Later in the evening that same day, I ate my concha while drinking cafecito as if it were a ritual. This was life as I had known it. And although I had no piece of paper that verified I owned the city of North Hollywood, this was mi barrio. 

Coming to Berkeley, I was scared of losing something as essential to my identity as my heritage. And to be quite frank, at times I feel like I have lost parts of it. Yet, I also know that the love I have for my raíces has never been stronger. 

I remember having my first ever culture shock the first day I arrived on campus for move-in day. In a sea of faces, I saw no one that looked like me, heard no trace of Spanish, and in turn felt somewhat ostracized and isolated. Was I leaving home for this — for a universe where I was essentially colorblind? 

It took a few days but I found it — a community that I could cultivate a sense of belonging in. I found those who understood me on a level only we could relate to coming from similar backgrounds. I surrounded myself among other Latina women and felt a sense of reassurance knowing my heritage was alive and thriving. I was not forfeiting anything, more so creating my own barrio in Berkeley. 

Yes, there are so many things I miss about home. I miss the way people were friendlier in the mornings. I miss eating real cultural dishes and not the Americanized versions of them. I miss connecting with more people over my nationality. I miss the music. Extraño muchas cosas … but the dualities of the worlds that live within me know I could not have one without the other. They make me, me. Latina and American. 

Being a Latina feels like being exposed to a multitude of bright colors all at once. Recognizing the blaring of trumpets and tamboras as the music of your soul. Being so proud to speak Spanish you can’t help but smile when you meet someone who speaks it too. Living in the minority at times yet not letting that take away from who you are. So be proud of being a part of a community so culturally rich and lively. Happy Hispanic Heritage month to all of my Latine community. ¡Qué mes tan bacano!

Contact Heidy Paniagua at 


OCTOBER 13, 2022