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Dwayne Zapata

Latin American/Latino/Ecuador/Guatemala


Dwayne: My ethnic heritage is Ecuadorian and Guatemalan. I've been in the U.S. my whole life.


Etta: And how do you identify?


Dwayne: I identify as Ecuadorian American.


In first grade, I went to an after-school program called Arriba Nino's. It was a program specifically for Latino students at a church. Every Monday night, we would ride buses to go and have dinner there. They would help us with our homework and read books with us. That’s where I found out I was different from everybody else. 


I think it was because there weren't any White students there. I guess I saw White students as more privileged than I was. They didn't need much help because they had parents who could give them all the help they needed. For many Latinos like me, not all our parents can speak English very well and can't help us with our homework.


Etta: So your parents didn't really speak English?


Dwayne: Yeah, they didn't speak English. 


Etta: What was it like growing up in a bilingual household? Your parents speak English and you had to go to school where people did speak English. What was that like?


Dwayne: It was kind of challenging because I had to explain to my mom everything that was going on at school. I'm not very fluent in Spanish although most people think I am. My first language is English. So I had to understand everything my mom was saying and just show her the paperwork to let her know what I was doing in school. As I got older, I understood a little more Spanish, so my mom would say things to me in Spanish and I would respond in English.


If there's someone knocking at the door who is American and they want to speak to my parents, I would have to be the one translating for them, "They are trying to sell you this or they are trying to talk to you about this." I mean, I didn't mind it. I was helping them out. But yeah, I helped when they were making phone calls with Americans to explain what was going on. I was just always there when they needed me.


Etta: Were you embarrassed to have friends over because your parents couldn't speak English?


Dwayne: Yeah, I guess sometimes I was embarrassed. 'Cause sometimes they would make jokes. I don't really like the jokes.


Etta: What kind of jokes?


Dwayne: Like, "illegal immigrants" and all that stuff. "Your parents crossed the border, they shouldn't be here, they should go back where they belong."


Etta: And how does that make you feel?


Dwayne: I didn't enjoy them making those type of jokes especially when I was a kid. It made me uncomfortable because I didn't really know how to respond. I just stayed quiet and felt kind of sad.


I like sharing about Ecuador and Guatemala. I've been to both, and I love sharing about my experiences there. I was 13 years old when I went to Ecuador for the first time. That's when I first saw my grandparents and my other family members. Before that, America was all I knew because it was the only place I'd ever lived.


Etta: What was that experience like? 


Dwayne: Oh, Ecuador is very different from here. There is a lot more poverty over there. I had to try hard to understand what they were saying. It was just different because, over there, I didn't feel like a minority. I felt like I was part of them. 


Etta:  What does being Latino, Ecuadorian-Guatemalan-American mean to you?


Dwayne: I'm very diverse and I know a lot. I know a lot about many cultures, and I get to talk about it with many people. It's kind of a blessing.


When checking off boxes, though, I would prefer "American" to be an option. I'm fine with where my mom's from, but every time, I think it would be easier if I could just fill in the American box instead of "Other" because I act just like Americans do. 


Etta: When you say you act the way Americans do, what do you mean?


Dwayne: I use the language that they use, I use common phrases that they use. I eat the food that they eat. I usually watch American movies. I go to a lot of American events. 


I feel like I'm living the American life everyday. And I don't really-


Etta: So you should be able to fill in the American-


Dwayne: Well, I can't because I'm not White.


Etta: Is there anything else that you would like people to know about your experience?


Dwayne: I had to work hard for most everything I got. It was a long and difficult journey. But through hard work and the grace of God I was able to overcome many obstacles and help my mother out.


Etta: Last question- if you could get one message out there, what would it be?


Dwayne: Never forget where you come from. And you should be happy with the different cultures that you come from.

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