Johnston teen reflects on assimilation: 'When you lose the language, you lose a part of yourself'

Amy Perez is overwhelmed with emotion in the living room of her parent's house looking through pictures. The 18-year-old is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. She sifts through the box of love containing dozens of pictures depicting her mother's final moments in Mexico before moving to North Carolina.

"They make me happy because I know she took a big step," said Perez.

Her parents met in the United States, got married and had her. Growing up as an only child to Spanish speaking parents, she was their interpreter.

North Carolina's Latino population grows by 40 percent in 10 years
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The Hispanic population in North Carolina grew by 40 percent from 2010-2020, according to the US Census Bureau.



"Important phone calls, meetings. When it came to guidance counselors, doctor's appointments, I was there," she said. "When you lose the language, you lose a part of yourself and where you come from."

Children translating for their parents is not uncommon in the Hispanic community. The Johnston County teen says Spanish was spoken at home with family. She learned English at school and taught it to her parents. By middle school, she noticed her responsibilities at home were a bit different from her peers.

"I realized like 'wow, I'm doing grown up stuff.' You know how you pay house bills? I would write the checks and go with them to talk to lawyers," Perez said.

She quickly learned the difference between wants and needs as she knew the family's weekly budget.

Immigrants make up eight percent of North Carolina's population. In search of better opportunities, living conditions or wanting to be with family, they significantly enhance our culture. With assimilation comes the risk of losing theirs.

Perez's parents took steps to preserve their native language and even maintaining cultural traditions at home through holidays and food.

"Sometimes she has people she knows bring food from Mexico, frozen. So we have frozen cheese to keep. As well as flautas, tortas, tostadas, ceviche," she said. "You know how we have Mother's Day? We also have a day for the children. So even though I'm 18, I still get presents. That's a day it's all about me."

Today, the 18-year-old is an early college student at Johnston Community College working toward getting her medical Spanish interpreter certification. One day, she hopes to be a wife and mother who is determined to continue preserving and celebrating her culture and teaching her children what it means to proudly be Mexican American.

"It is something that shows that who we are and where we come from. I know kids today lose that," said Perez.
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