What is it like to be a Colombian in the United States? The real question for any Colombian in the US is, are you ready to get your Colombian on?
French author Amin Maalouf argues that an individual’s identity is made of many different components, and that we all tend to defend and express the components that we feel most threatened.
As a Colombian student in the United States, often in places where there are no other Colombians, it is not my gender, or my race, or my religious affiliation, which I feel most threatened; rather it is my “Colombianness”.
Think about it! When asked, who are you? What is the first thing you would respond?
While in the United States, for me, the answer is simple: I am Colombian.
I am Colombian, with all that comes along with it. And sometimes, I am the only Colombian, and by default, the sole representation of all the good, the bad, and the ugly that each and every one of my compatriots represents,
Nonetheless, as my Colombianness is threatened I struggle to find ways to defend and continue expressing it.
The measures, sometimes extreme, seem awfully necessary: hanging humongous Colombian flags all around the apartment, having Colombian fridge magnets, wearing the famous Colombian-colored bracelets, or even doing things that I would never actually do while being in Colombia, like wearing a traditional sombrero voltiao at a fancy multicultural dinner.
In my latest attempt to preserve the illusion that I am as Colombian as while I lived in Colombia, I became determined to satisfy my craving for tamales. Appalled by my lack of ability to find actual Colombian tamales in Upstate New York, I had to resort, once again, to extreme measures.
I started considering trying to make tamales myself. Could I possibly pull it off?
I headed to the grocery story to find the ingredients. Then, suddenly, as if signaled by the heavens, in the frozen section I found a box of tamales.
Granted, by the looks of it, the tamales seemed more Mexican than Colombian, but I was willing to compromise. I bought them, and put them in my freezer, waiting for the perfect moment. When far away from home, one must cherish such things as eating frozen tamales.
Finally, the tamale day had arrived. I pulled out the box, opened it, and was awestruck by the look of this orange-like frozen matter that I was holding in my hands. Hoping that it would eventually look more like an actual tamale, I defrosted it and put it in the oven.
As I stared at the end result, which was far from what I expected, it dawn upon me that the more I am far from Colombia, the less Colombian I feel, and the more I try to hold on to that which I feel represents my Colombianness.
Yet, as with the tamales, sometimes no matter how hard one tries, nothing quite looks or feels like it used to be. That may just be the curse of all of those whose lives are defined by the crossing of national borders.
Author Felipe Estefan is Colombian and studies media and international relations at Syracuse University in New York.