By Jessika Harkay |

Growing up in a small town in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, I was primarily exposed to only two different types of people— Caucasian and Mexican.

The meaning of diversity in my valley was being a different type of Hispanic other than Mexican.

When I was choosing a college, I wanted a change of scenery and of people, so I ended up coming to a private university out-of-state.

I was cultured shocked being exposed to so many different ethnicities, which says a lot when your university is over a 60 percent white majority.

Friends that I made would tell me how this is one of the most isolated and divided communities they’ve been exposed to. When I compared it to my town, however, this looked like the essence of the great American melting pot we all learn about in elementary school.

The great divide is something that’s been known, but also something that’s been ignored.

Growing up, it was normal to hang out with your designated friend group. When there were two parties after prom, you chose the one you aligned more with. And if you remotely found yourself intertwined with the other group, you’d either be called “white-washed” or “a-wanna-be Mexican”.

So if you’re like me — half of one and (kinda) half of the other — you’re left in a middle ground people never seem to talk about. A middle ground where you’re not enough of one thing and equally not enough of the other.

I struggled with my inability to effectively communicate in Spanish and how it automatically eliminated me from being a “true Latina”. I understood a good amount, but growing up in a household where only my mom could speak the language limited how much I would hear and respond to it.

This meant that I couldn’t be friends with the Hispanic girls because I didn’t understand the culture enough. I couldn’t always understand the inside jokes. I couldn’t giggle about things in another language and flip back and forth.

I wasn’t “Mexican enough” — even though I’m Peruvian.

On the other hand, my skin color eliminated any chance of fitting in with the Caucasian kids. I’ve been asked “what are you?” more times than I can count, and a lot of the time I just like to settle with a simple answer.

“Human?”

I grew up being torn between what seemed to be two opposing sides.

I thought it was normal to struggle finding your true cultural identity but I quickly realized that being entirely engulfed in and exposed to one culture was easier to classify yourself in.  

The hardest part about being a mixed kid is not knowing where you fit in. Not knowing what culture you’re supposed to lean toward more. Not knowing who you should be more of.

But even as I struggled with this, I learned to embrace how I got the best of two different worlds.

I struggled and still continue to struggle with who I want to become and be known as.

But one thing I can’t take for granted is that being intertwined with two entirely different worlds allowed me to have a better understanding of each side.

I understand more about others, their dividing factors and their underlying similarities. Being able to stand in a middle ground allows me to explain things some people may have never been exposed to or are incapable of truly understanding due to their background or upbringing.

I may not know entirely who I am, where I stand or where I truly belong.

Yet there’s one thing I know for sure — I am someone who is able to be a link between cultures. I am someone who is blessed to have personally learned from different ethnic perspectives. And lastly, I am someone who can empathize.