Meet Erika With a “K”
Erika Latines is always uncomfortable. Born in the United States to Mexican parents, Erika grew up feeling chronically out of place. With light skin, light hair, and green eyes, Erika didn’t look like her family and she didn't look like an immigrant. But she didn’t feel white, either. As the daughter of immigrant parents, Erika took on responsibilities that white non-immigrants don’t need to shoulder. Erika acted as her parents’ translator and interpreter from the time she was old enough to talk. When people ask about Erika’s business experience, she jokes that she’s been an “administrator, interpreter, and ambassador” her whole life.
There's a keen sense of perpetual “un-belonging” for Erika that's endemic to those who are part of the Latin American diaspora. The term “Latino” is broad in scope and includes multiple racial and ethnic identities. There is no monolithic “Latino” culture, no singular or universal experience that all people who identify as Latino go through. But without identity markers for Erika to hang her hat on, she felt unmoored.
From Bilingual to Bicultural
After Erika graduated high school, she moved to Mexico. Suffice it to say, this was a much bigger shock to the system than she'd anticipated. Having always considered herself bilingual she thought that would be enough. It wasn't – – in Mexico, Erika realized that while she spoke the language, she wasn’t bicultural. Mexican culture felt foreign to her, and the learning curve was steep and unforgiving. Soon, though, she fell into business administration. Mexican businesses needed bilingual people like Erika to help them mediate their American relationships. The job was tough—She had to learn corporate jargon in two languages—But the work was rewarding. Her favorite part was talking to Mexican workers on the manufacturing floor. Most of them didn’t have a formal education, but Erika says they were still some of the smartest people she’s met. She hated to think that their employers saw them as assets rather than human beings.
Empathy and the Immigrant Experience
Erika experienced being an undocumented person (immigrant) while working in Canada. The experience was, quite honestly, terrifying. There was a constant fear that an immigration official would come for her as she walked to work every day. The fear that, in the blink of an eye, her life could be taken away from her. But Erika found a silver lining: For the first time, she felt with acuity what her parents felt in America. This knowledge emboldened her and she used it as a strength to help others.
Approach everything from the “immigrant perspective”
Immigrants are uniquely positioned to feel empathy. Erika, like immigrants, lives in a world where belonging isn’t a guarantee, which can lead to a sense of vulnerability. For Erika, those feelings guided her towards softer, more compassionate roles. She connects with people through her poetry, which she writes in both English and Spanish. Whenever she can, she volunteers as an interpreter and translator. In every Spanish-speaking woman struggling to check out at the grocery store, Erika says, she sees her mother, her aunt. “Every person is my person,” she says. “Every person is my family. Anyone who needs help, I’m there.”
Connect with Erika
Erika Latines is a self-described queer, Latina, immigrant. She invites you to connect on Instagram where she highlights stories about living, traveling, and growing up in places around the world. You might catch her off the cuff poetry, beautiful artwork, or just the refreshing breeze of a person whose only objective in life is to leave a legacy of love.