Race and Location

Understanding my identity

Idoia Solano and Covadonga Solares

IDOIA: I’ve always been inspired to travel; to meet new people, places and cultures. After visiting several countries all across Europe, my continent, I decided to take it a step further, pack all my stuff and begin what has become the most remarkable adventure in my life so far. I was determined to live and study for a year in Chicago, as a Spanish international student at Northeastern Illinois University.

Just talking about it would make me excited. I knew I was ready, and I was finally going to make it after dreaming about it my entire life. However, just the idea of leaving my country, my family, my comfort zone and having to face a totally different society with different rules and culture overnight was the scariest thing I could imagine.

In the end, my passion for traveling was stronger than my fear. I landed in Chicago at O’Hare airport on Aug. 20, with a suitcase full of dreams, doubts and a strong determination to grow and learn.

And that’s exactly what I have been doing since. By the time I left Spain, I knew few things about Latino culture and what it means.

Until I lived in Chicago, I never realized that it is something that all the Spanish speakers share in a sense, regardless of the ocean that keeps us apart.

As a Spaniard I always thought of myself and my compatriots more as Europeans than as Latinos or as what we understand as Hispanic. The majority of Spaniards identify Latino and Latina with the South American immigrants that live in our country. In a wider perspective, with all the American countries that have Spanish as their language. However, this is a quite narrow perspective, as the concept of “American Countries” is way too broad to put it altogether under the same name.

When it comes to culture, every country has its own identity.

Nevertheless, a few weeks living within the culturally diverse Windy City were enough to make me realize one thing: all of the Spanish speakers are much more alike than we might think, no matter our country of origin. Our rich language is not the only thing we share, but also sets of values, characters and a sense of community that makes us all more related and closer.

This sense of community is what ties us closer to one another.


COVA: Being another one of the Spanish international students that landed in Chicago almost six months ago, I never considered my identity anything else than a white European. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

NEIU gave me a pleasant surprise when I discovered that it was such a culturally diverse institution, full of students that came from unique and various backgrounds. Each of them had a rich culture to share and different points of view that helped broaden my own, and get to know things that I couldn’t have imagined. A reconsideration of my own identity was also something that I found at Northeastern.

When people first get to know me, they all realize I have an accent (regardless of my efforts to get rid of it) and can’t help but ask me where I am from. The word Spanish coming out of my mouth almost always leads them to associate me with Latin America, and they categorize me as a Latina, something that I had never related to before.

All of this confusion made me reconsider my own nature. Could I be identified as a Latina even though I was white and born in Europe?

After all the time that I’ve spent here getting closer and closer to the Latino community with people whose background ranges from Puerto Rico to Colombia, I think I am pretty sure of what my answer would be now: Yes.

For me, being a Latina is not related to the geographic location where you were born in but the set of values and culture you feel identified with, the lifestyle that describes you as a person.

As a Spaniard I feel incredibly close to the Latin American culture, not just because we share a common language but because we have a similar understanding of life that creates a natural bond regardless of the ocean that separates us.