Lennin Antunish is a year one at Bard High School Early College Queens. He helped establish BHSECQ's Dream Team and continues to contribute to the team as one of our dedicated leaders.
Where is your family from?
My family is from Ecuador, my father being from the Shuar tribe. My mom's traditional language is Kichwa, and she and my grandma talk in it, and make fun of me in it.
Did you immigrate here?
No, I was born here, but I’m from a mixed status family. So my parents came here illegally, and they took my eldest brother with them, who I think was 6 months old. My dad came here by himself for like a year to establish a foothold in the country and he worked odd jobs until he could find a place to call home. And then, after he settled here, I think originally he worked in Georgia and North Carolina, he told my mom to come over with my oldest brother and then they started living in Georgia.
How would you describe living in a mixed status family?
It’s interesting because part of my family dynamic is that we don’t talk about immigration and things like that. My parents are very closed off about that. So I didn’t really know that immigration was an issue until a couple of years ago when I found out that I was a part of a mixed status family because that topic was never talked about. It’s weird because my oldest brother, who’s one of my inspirations and one of my idols in my life, he’s a really intelligent guy and he got scholarships to colleges, but he couldn’t attend the colleges because of his immigration status. And so realizing how much of an influence immigration status had on them influenced me. My parents work tremendously hard, my dad works easily 12-16 hour days, and so does my mom, and they work consistently every week, even on the weekends. They’re sacrificing a lot of their time and money for our wellbeing, and that motivates me to pursue things that help their community and my community.
Do you feel like you relate more to the American experience or the Ecuadorian experience?
So when it comes to Ecuadorian cultural influence and American cultural influence, I’ve definitely been more influenced by American culture because my parents didn’t have a big emphasis on cultural traditions. All the traditions they followed by themselves, and that didn’t always translate into my family, and part of that is because they were always working so hard, so to build that cultural influence into our family environment was hard on them. So most of the time I’ll learn about our culture through watching them pray and do certain traditions that my dad has from the Shuar tribe and my mom has from being very religious. And also part of that is the food and the dances they have. My mom traditionally eats Ecuadorian food and makes Ecuadorian food. Like guinea pig for example, which is something that everyone is scared of, like everyone doesn’t like the idea of eating guinea pig. But my mom and dad always used to do that, and they still do it. And I saw that, but I saw it through a lens of American culture because most of my life has been in American school environments, and having American friends, and watching American TV and all of that. And I’ll see a glimpse of Ecuadorian culture if my parents will watch a certain TV show or do a certain practice.
Would you ever want to go back and visit Ecuador?
Yeah, definitely. My grandma recently started visiting New York City, a year ago. And she’d come over and she’d bring a whole new traditional idea system from Ecuador I wasn’t really used to, and she would talk in Kichwa, and I’d be like “what?” And she’d tell me stories about growing up in Ecuador and things like that. And part of relating to my cultural experience is that there’s a language barrier. I mostly speak English, and I learned Spanish through context, but having conversations about politics and race and growing up in Ecuador has always been hard because I’ve lacked the expertise in Spanish to have those conversations. So they tell me some really simple stories. She invited me to come to Ecuador and live like them, for example. So she was like, she has a farm, and she told me you’re gonna come and, you know, farm things, and eat handmade food. I’ve been thinking about it recently. She told me to come down during the summer, but I’m stuck at a crossroads because I’m working during the summer and I also have plans during the summer to go to Egypt, and Europe, and Paris. So it’s like what do I do? Do I go back and retrace my cultural roots, or go follow this American dream of doing things and being successful. You know? I think that’s always been the crossroads for me. Because, so many people look at their identity through their cultural lens, you know? I’m Ecuadorian and I’m American, but I’ve never looked at my identity through my cultural roots because it’s never been explained to me, it’s never been taught to me, and it’s never been a part of my life. And it’s kind of sad to say that because that’s coming from being in a mixed status family whose identity is Ecuadorian, and that’s their identity, but growing up in American culture, it’s a weird environment.
What do you think the differences are between your parents and your brother’s experience with American culture are versus your experience with American culture?
My brother definitely carries many of the practices and ideals of being from Ecuador, because there were four years of solely him and my parents, and they spent a lot of time giving that cultural life to him. And so he has a lot of those ideas from my parents inside him. For me, a lot of those practices disappeared because as much as they tried to teach me that, having two other brothers to worry about and also a sister, the line gets blurred from there. So he’s been more affected by Ecuadorian culture than I have.
What do you think it means to be bicultural?
I don’t know. I guess its having two different ideologies at a constant struggle. I guess that’s what it means to be bicultural, because you think about your life in America and you have these American idea instilled in you, but then you also have these ideas instilled by your parents, and part of growing up is learning how to find a balance between the two. I think that’s what it means to be bicultural, to find a balance between those cultures.
Do you see it as both an advantage and a disadvantage?
Definitely. Because if I were solely to grow up in American culture, then that’s the only perspective I have of the world, but growing up in this bicultural environment, I also see the world through my parents' experience, you know, to have a different perspective of things in the media. I guess it’s having two different ideologies at a constant struggle.
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