For a quick and surefire way to rankle a Puerto Rican, ask: “But Puerto Ricans aren’t Americans, are they?” Heart rates quicken. Lips tighten to a thin line. Eyebrows rise above the hairline, and fingers are waved every which way as a Puerto Rican clarifies that we are very much American.
This question and its implications have followed me throughout my life, ever since I moved from Puerto Rico to Georgia at the age of 10. Learning to adjust to a school in which I was one of two Hispanics in my 5th grade class proved challenging.
Throughout my journeys now, I try to empty my mind of any assumptions. What I learn and the diverse people I encounter continue to surprise me. Similarly, I have also come to recognize my own influence in shaping others’ impressions and conceptions of what it means to be American. This consciousness, along with my commitment to service, drew me to apply to the State Department-funded Charles B. Rangel Graduate Fellowship Program, which promotes greater diversity in the State Department by attracting and preparing members of minority groups historically underrepresented in the Foreign Service and those with financial need.
As a Rangel Fellow and diplomat, I am one of the diverse threads that make up the tapestry of American society. When I tell people I’m American, eyes still regularly narrow suspiciously as the person counters, “But where are you actually from?” After telling people I grew up in Puerto Rico, people still sigh with knowing relief and say, “I could tell you weren’t a real American.”
Rather than dwelling on these rare moments, I meditate on the greater narrative of my life, which has been blessed with a loving and supportive family, great friends, and exciting adventures. I also consider the person’s intentions, and approach the experience as a teaching moment and part of my mission. And I proudly proclaim that I am Puerto Rican and American.
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