I have always been proud of my Central American heritage because of the resilience and strength demonstrated in my family’s journey to the United States. When my maternal grandma made the decision to immigrate to America she left a piece of her heart and soul back in El Salvador. My mom, uncle, and great-grandmother remained in their town unsure if they would ever see my grandma again. The stories she tells me are heart-pounding and heartbreaking as I learn of how she crossed three borders to reach America. (The three borders include El Salvador to Guatemala, then to Mexico, and finally the U.S. border.)
My grandma’s tenacity and willpower is one example of why I am proud to call myself Salvadorian American. My dad and paternal's grandma journey also inspires me, as they survived life on a crowded boat as they too tried to escape a civil war. My dad in particular is my role model as he went from dreams of being a mechanic in El Salvador to graduating from both UC Berkeley and UC Riverside with an MBA and then becoming a CEO of his own company. I don't have to look far for inspiration, my family and our spirit of survival is why I'm proud to be Salvadorian.
This Latinx Heritage month is different from what I’ve seen across social media and news outlets. It has meant the world to me to witness Central America being represented and celebrated more than ever during this 2020 Latinx Heritage month period. I feel that my culture is seen, I feel heard from others, and I feel that my fellow Latinx community is ready to welcome Central America into the discourse of representation.
2020 Latinx Heritage Month: Celebrating Being Salvadorian
I grew up in Southern California, in a predominately Mexican community, which led to my culture often being scrutinized. In grade school, I vividly remember the first time I ever heard a jab at my Latinx culture. It was this same time, almost two decades ago, and my classroom was invited to bring in foods that represented our cultures. The savory scent of tacos and tamales filled up my first-grade classroom. But when I went to unwrap my pupusas (a traditional dish from El Salvador, best described as a thick griddlecake stuffed typically with cheese, beans, or meat) my classmates looked at me in disgust.
“That’s serote food. Maybe that’s why it smells funny,” one very-smart-kid quipped. I didn’t know what serote meant until I got home. In a flurry of rage, my mom called the principal and my dad pulled me aside to let me know that when used between Salvadorians it was slang, but when used by other people it’s a slur that means, “piece of shit.” Instead of calling the kid out, my parents plead that I hold my piece.
Serote was far from the worst thing my grandma and parents were called growing up in predominantly Mexican communities. My parents also went through grade school in America, and they were bullied for their Central American heritage. But I don’t share these grievances as an attack or criticism of other Latinx cultures. No. I share this to actually urge my fellow Latinx communities to understand that this month is about celebrating the other cultures that contribute to Latin America’s cultural wealth.
Because I was asked to hold my piece, I went most of my life speaking sparingly about my Central American heritage. My friends only learned of my Salvadorian heritage when they visited my house and saw a small flag in our dining room. Most didn’t even know my family was from El Salvador because my family scrubbed the voz (the second-person singular pronoun used instead of tu in some Spanish speaking countries like across Central America)out of their dialect. To a degree, I was conditioned to know I was Latino, but not know what kind I was.
College was my catalyst for self-discovery for many aspects of my identity. From my professional interests in entertainment to my sexuality, and my cultural identity, the last 4 years of my life were my period to explore who I am. Learning more about El Salvador, beyond how delicious pupusas, became a prerogative. I asked for the music that my parents liked and I asked my grandma to teach me the hymns she learned from her abuela. I wanted to do everything I could then and now to celebrate being Salvadorian.
This last week, I’ve saved, shared, and reposted more posts than ever for Latinx Heritage Month. Again, I’ve always been upfront about embracing my Latino identity, and especially as being a young Latino working in the entertainment industry. The reason that I’ve been activated to do more, post more, and even write this, is because of how much it means to me to see major media outlets, influencers, and brands speaking up for Central America.
What being Salvadorian American means to me
I will always be proud of being a Salvadorian American. While I eat fewer pupusas now than before, my appetite for knowledge of my family’s heritage has grown. To me, being Salvadorian means my spirit is that of a survivor. From my grandma surviving crossing three borders by foot to my mom surviving witnessing carnage as a child through a civil war, my Salvodrian heritage means the power to survive is within me.
In my own journey of moving from being thirty-minutes away to three-thousand miles away from Hollywood (for college in Upstate NY) to breaking back in and sashaying on the Oscars red carpet, my spirit burned with hope like my Salvadorian ancestors. I’m glad I put pen to paper, or should I say clicks to my keyboard because I’m proud to have written this post in honor of the 2020 Latinx Heritage Month. Here's to a month of celebration, empowerment, and representation.
Author William Samayoa
Marketer by profession and storyteller by passion. L.A. raised, proud Latino, and pop culture enthusiast.