Growing up Latina in the suburbs of Manhattan was amazing at times a lonely experience for me. I didn’t feel Latina enough for my Puerto Rican family on the island and I never feel American enough for the mainstream culture I grew up in – Westchester County, NY. I never shared how I felt with anyone and sincerely believed this narrative was all my own.
When I was 26 I experienced an “aha moment” where I realized that indeed I was not alone. I was belonged to a group of 16 million Latinos who were born here in the US but who had parents from Spanish speaking countries. (I later found out we were referred to as “e ñye’s”.) I had an idea that night that I believed could change the way that Latinos saw themselves in the world and I knew it was powerful because of how it changed me. I felt connected and part of something in a way I’d never known. I belonged to a group. I wasn’t alone!
Twenty years ago at that bar in Miami, I had an idea to make a film about American born Latinos that felt “ni de aqui, ni de alla.” I wanted to make a film that would address the cultural nuances between two worlds and in the process make them feel less alone, more empowered and in the process give them a place to belong.
I have always aspired to be a person of great consequence. I wanted to have a life that mattered to others and made a difference in the world and I saw this as my opportunity to do that.
During the course of making the film, I experienced great challenges. Some financial and some emotional. In order to focus 100% on making to film, my husband and I sold our wedding rings, my treasured Mercedes (that I worked my butt off to earn) was repossessed and we had to move to a home half the size of the one we lived in.
But perhaps the greatest challenge of all was overcoming my own self-doubt and belief in myself that I could handle everything that comes with changing careers, staying happily married, and being a great mom despite all of my personal sacrifices.Although I’ve always been a risk taker, nothing could compare to how difficult this was for me. I’ve never leaped so high, never stretched more fully for anything I’ve ever done. I played my own version of safe as a way of avoiding the depths of my insecurities. I had no idea how dark and naked I could feel and how pushing the limit on our work would trigger this feeling time and time again.
I’m proud to say that I’ve mastered the ability to be scared and feel fear, and do it anyway – although I have to admit that I’m an expert at taking deep breaths, meditating and staring down my invisible opponent in the eye and saying “I own you!”
This journey has pointed me solidly in a direction of radical self-love for which I am eternally grateful.
I’ve learned that there’s an answer to every problem, and that just because one thing gets solved doesn’t mean the whole journey is easy. There’s always a new challenge and a brand new call to grow as a leader. That sometimes what you avoid doing is exactly what you need to be doing and oftentimes the hardest thing. I did not want the film to be about my life and was very concerned about being able to deal with going public with the personal pain and grief that I left in the past. I was so afraid that people might see me differently if they knew how much I’d been through. As an adult, my biggest strategy against pity was never revealing my pain so you can imagine how terrified I was to reveal the truth about my past.
I grappled so much with questioning if I was making the right decision. Am I crazy for putting myself and my family through this? Is this going to work out?
At times I didn’t know if this film and my sacrifice would make the difference that I’d hoped it would make but at one point I dug my heels in and decided to believe in this on behalf of the 16 million people and stories I was representing.
It turned out to be the best decision that I’ve ever made and although I’m self-conscious before every screening (#truth), I now understand the value of being unapologetically and authentically me.
After two years of hard work, many, many late nights and a few emotional breakdowns, we released the film “being eñye” to enthusiastic audiences all over the country. I’ve personally attended just under 80 live screenings from Cambridge, MA to mostly Harvard educators, to college students at Yale and Wellesley to 1500 Latino middle school kids in the South side of Chicago. I’ve screened it to an entire high school in their cafeteria in the South Bronx, to PG&E’s beautiful historic theater in downtown San Fransisco. I’ve screened (nervously) to a mostly non-Latino audience at Iowa State, to an all-boys private school outside of DC and realized that indeed this is a universal story! I’ve been the featured speaker and screened at all women’s organizations and to Fortune 500 companies in Silicon Valley like Facebook, LinkedIn, The Gap, Neilson, Genentech, KPMG and countless others.
An inspiring video made with Denise Soler Cox just for Eñyes who experience the internal struggle of living in two worlds. This moving video reflects the cultural differences that sometimes contribute to feelings of guilt.