I identify as a Puerto Rican male. Before coming to Azerbaijan, I had never been very aware of myself. As an ethnically ambiguous male outside of the United States, many people here find my nationality confusing. To most people, all Americans are white and have blonde hair and blue eyes. So when they meet someone like me, brown, black haired, and hazel eyed, they don’t know how to classify me. To them how could I possibly be an American?
I am asked on a daily basis if I am Iraqi, Iranian, or Syrian before I am even thought of as an American. Even then people remain skeptical and are awkward in their proceedings. Being a Puerto Rican-American has always been the identity that I have held close. From a young age, speaking two languages interchangeably was something that was normal to me.
When many Puerto Rican families come to the US they make the decision to only speak English to their children and unintentionally strip a piece of their identity away. I was lucky that my parents decided to speak both languages to me, because they knew it would be advantageous in the future.
Growing up in Florida, in a community where there were not many Spanish speakers, I had to seek out language and cultural resources on my own in order to remain intact with that part of my identity.
Whenever people here ask me where I from. I have to give an explanation of how I am a Puerto Rican American and tell them where my ancestors are from, because to them everyone comes from somewhere. Everyone is an immigrant.
It makes sense why they think this way considering the history of Azerbaijan and the many countries that have occupied this country, and Azerbaijan’s own ethnic groups. To live in most of the regions of Azerbaijan, Azeris have to be able to speak Azeri, Russian, and Turkish to get around. In some regions here there are local languages as well.
For Azeris their identity is very important and they are still searching for it, I think. Having been separated from the Soviet Union only 25 years, they have not had much time to figure things out.