Belonging neither here nor there

My family’s story reads a lot like many Americans whose families emigrated over from other countries. In the ‘50s and ‘60s they came on the boats legally to America from the Azores—Portuguese islands—and have been in America ever since. 

My father and all his siblings grew up in California. My mother and some of her siblings were technically born in a little town called Moss Landing, but they did go back to the Azores for nine years before officially becoming American citizens.

Then there’s me, the second generation child, forever stuck in the middle ground of considering myself either more American or Portuguese. 

I grew up in an area of California with a huge Portuguese/Azorean population. My culture has been a huge part of my life; a majority of my relatives are Portuguese, most of my family friends are Portuguese and for the first eight years of my life I went to a Catholic school that was a majority Portuguese. 

Embarrassingly enough, there are still words in Portuguese I have a hard time translating to English. Even more embarrassing is the fact that I can’t speak fluent Portuguese…or much at all.  

Then I came to Sonoma and I guess I took my culture that I was fully immersed in back home for granted, because being in college has made me cultureless. 

There’s no community here for me to fall back on. There’s nobody to relate to about going to festas—Portuguese festivals—or to ask if they ever visited the islands. 

People look at me and they can never place where I’m from. Even when I do tell them, all I get are confused looks that divide my heart further. 

I am forced more and more to turn myself completely American to fit in. Having a culture is a hard situation to be in when there’s hate on immigration, when there’s the people who say English should be the national language, or when everyone else is obsessed about dividing their peers into categories. 

We are told on a lot of  government official forms such as standardized tests that we either need to fall in the categories White, African American, Hispanic/Latino, or Asian/Pacific Islander. 

What if I don’t see myself as any of those vague categories? What am I supposed to put then, “other”? 

My nationalism is incredibly blurred because of how split down the middle I am between two cultures. I will never be fully a part of one side or the other and it hurts. Why can’t I ever simply be both without being tugged to assimilate to one side or the other?

There’s a Portuguese word that cannot ever be fully translated into English, but it describes my situation perfectly. “Saudade” roughly translated means an absence or longing for something or someone that is either lost or simply gone that one once loved or got pleasure from. 

I am in a constant state of saudade for my culture. I know what it means to belong, but I am losing it. There’s no clear definition of what it means to be me…and it is tearing me apart.