Micaela Maco, a junior secondary English education major of Centralia, Illinois, is a first-generation Peruvian immigrant. Her parents first came to America before she was born, and the experience of being a child to Peruvian immigrants has shaped her culture and life.
She wishes that people knew what that experience is like.
“I wish people knew that I am a first-generation immigrant child. I’m bilingual. That, in itself, presents language barriers at times,” Maco said.
Being bilingual and Peruvian has presented challenges for Maco, especially when she tries to express both American culture and her Peruvian heritage.
“It builds a different community, and it causes almost a split identity within oneself, I feel. Part of you is with the society and community of your American culture that you’re surrounded in, and then another part is with your family, your ancestors, your ethnicity and more of your racial and ethnic culture apart from American,” Maco said.
Maco has never tried to hide her heritage, and, in fact, wears it proudly.
“I think, you know, there’s always that racial portion [to me]. Anywhere I walk, people are going to think that I’m not white or not totally ‘American.’ They can tell by looking at me,” Maco said. Other than that, I wear a lanyard that says Peru on it, which is where my parents are from. I have a Peruvian flag on my car hanging from the front. So, it’s not like I try to hide my culture.”
Maco gets to express her heritage with the Hispanic Student Union and she gets to speak Spanish frequently with friends.
“I think I do get to talk about my heritage a lot. I’m in the Hispanic Student Union here on campus, so, with that, I do get more people that I can talk to in Spanish. So, I do get to keep that part of it here while I’m at SIUE,” Maco said.
The Peruvian community is relatively small around this area, which presents challenges with representation.
“A lot of the times, being Peruvian specifically can be pretty hard because there’s not much representation, if any, besides me and a couple other people who are Peruvian on campus, compared to other ethnicities and cultures that have restaurants around the area or have bigger communities in the area,” Maco said. “The Peruvian community is, relatively, really small. So, it is more difficult to relate to Peruvian specifically, but there is a larger Latin culture that I can relate to and talk to with my friend and such.”
Maco, with the Hispanic Student Union, gets to participate in fundraisers, get-togethers and volunteer work to spread heritage.
“[The Hispanic Student Union] does a lot of get-togethers. We’ll all hang out with each other, share experiences. We also do little cultural fundraisers here and there and we’ll sell traditional foods that are traditional Latino or Mexican or whatnot. We also do volunteer work around the St. Louis area that is Latino-centered,” Maco said.