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Multiracial teens embrace multiple cultures, languages, customs

December 7, 2018

Nicholas Ottersberg-Enriquez, a junior at the New Mexico School for the Arts, has a foot in two worlds.

His mother grew up in Hermosillo, Sonora, Mexico, and taught Ottersberg-Enriquez and his two siblings Spanish as their first language. His father is Anglo, from Lincoln, Neb.

As a multiracial teenager, Ottersberg-Enriquez is part of a quickly growing demographic that the Pew Research Center describes as “at the cutting edge of social and demographic change in the U.S.”

A Pew survey from 2015 found that the majority of multiracial Americans they interviewed were “young, proud, tolerant … and feel their racial heritage has made them more open to other cultures.”

Santa Fe teenagers from biracial — and bilingual — backgrounds interviewed by Generation Next echoed this sentiment.

“I feel that living life with two languages and cultures has opened a lot of amazing doors for me,” Ottersberg-Enriquez said . “It has given me the opportunity to see the world from two sets of eyes.”

Naya Anllo-Valdo, senior at Santa Fe High, agrees. She comes from a line of Spaniards on her mother’s side, and her father is Native American from Acoma Pueblo.

“My family’s collective identity has really made me value and appreciate every aspect of both their struggle and pride in being part of that certain culture,” Valdo said. “I’ve learned from my family how valuable it is to hold on to the teachings and values of our elders because we don’t want those things to be lost forever.”

Holding on to two sets of values and traditions also is important to Lilliana Sena-Gersh, a junior at Santa Fe Prep.

Sena-Gersh is proud to celebrate Hanukkah and Christmas, and said she and her sister follow a lineage of strong independent women on her mom’s side, who grew up in Taos celebrating Jewish traditions. Sena-Gersh said she has learned the importance of family from her father, who tells her stories of growing up in Chacaltianguis, Veracruz, Mexico, in a household with five children.

“He would tell me all about his town, and how he would pretend to be professional soccer players with his brothers after they would watch the World Cup. He told me how they would climb up trees to pick mangoes,” Sena-Gersh said. “His upbringing was a lot about hard work.”

Anllo-Valdo also feels connected to the tradition of passing on stories from generation to generation. She said, “In raising my kids, it is most important to me that I teach them both of my cultures, especially my Native American heritage, since it can be difficult to remain involved, and the language is often referred to as a ‘lost language.’ ” Anllo-Valdo said she sees an increasing value in being able to speak two languages, as does Sena-Gersh, who hopes to raise her children speaking both Spanish and English.

“I think one of the most important things for me when I raise my children is that they speak Spanish,” she said. “I have missed out on a lot because I’m too shy to speak, so all I do is listen. In the future, I want my kids to be able to communicate with me and my family in Spanish.”

Sena-Gersh admits that she used to be confused about who she was, but now realizes the value of having experienced two cultures and languages growing up.

“I really struggled as to where I fit in because I wasn’t accepted by the Spanish-speaking population nor the English-speaking community,” she said. “My mom has helped me grow so much as a person and was there for me when I was confused about my racial background. My parents are very hardworking people, so it means a lot to me to know that all the things they have done for me and my sister.”

Ottersberg-Enriquez and Sena-Gersh agree that their parents have worked hard and sacrificed a lot for their families. Sena-Gersh remembers how her father learned English after her sister was born. “He had to work really hard to get where he is today, and I watched him as I grew up,” she said. “I know that my dad misses his hometown a lot and he wants to go back and visit.”

Said Ottersberg-Enriquez: “My parents worked hard and didn’t sleep at times to get us through school. They did a lot, and I’m forever thankful.”

Emma Lawrence is a junior at Santa Fe Prep. Contact her at elawrence@sfprep.org

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