When I think about what lead me to alternative/goth culture, I frequently cannot separate it from my Latinx identity. I was born in Miami. My mother is an immigrant from Nicaragua. My dad is Puerto Rican, a first-generation child of immigrants. Culturally, I engaged in not just Puerto Rican and Nicaraguan culture but also Cuban and Mexican culture from my extended family culture. I moved from Miami at a young age to Naples, Florida in the 3rd grade. My move meant a lot of things… but mostly, it defined the beginning of how I felt like an outsider.
Up until that point, I remained pretty isolated from non-familial socialization. I really just had my abuelá, who knew how to speak English but preferred to talk to all of her grandchildren in Spanish. I had my cousins who I would see on weekends where Celia Cruz was being played outside, action films in Spanish were on the TV for us, and the smell of arróz, tostones, and carne asada coming from the kitchen.
Being in Naples, all of a sudden, those things were few and far between. I didn’t have many classmates that were also Latinx or spoke Spanish. I knew the same kind of pop culture things but there was a distinct “I am different from these kids” feeling I, then, didn’t even realize. When in school in Miami, I had friends. I wasn’t so different from everyone else. Where I went to school, we all had Spanish class where even non-Spanish speaking kids learned how to speak it. This stark 180 was difficult for me.
I remember always feeling sad that I never felt like I belonged to any group of friends up until 5th grade. Kids can be cruel and when they are children of predominately affluent white parents, it’s easy to understand why my brown skin and quiet reservation towards them were used as a tool to bully me. I was made fun of for looking “different” than my peers. However, even amongst the other Latinx kids, I could mingle with at lunchtime or during electives, I seemingly wasn’t Latinx enough for them either.
All of a sudden, I was too “Spanish” for the white kids but, also, too “white” for the Latinx kids. This was something that followed me around well into middle and high school. I never brought up these issues with my parents. I think, even then, I knew that might have hurt them to hear. I was so anxious and scared of everyone and everything that I did not want to burden them. Also, I have a white-passing sister who, was always popular and never seemed to experience these things.
With all that being said, I started to recognize social hierarchies more and more in middle school. It was then that I meant other kids who felt like they also didn’t belong. I think we all know about the supposed “weird” kid table every school had. It was in middle school, where what saved me from being bullied so relentlessly were those kids with multiple chains on their jeans, the ones with fingerless gloves, the ones super into alternative rock.
My new-found friends didn’t care that I was too “white” of a Latinx or too brown for the white kids. Many of them were also minorities. It was them who introduced me to the blessing of the local library and helped point me to Twilight, Anne Rice, and Edgar Allen Poe. It was the scene kids of my middle school who thought it was cool that I wasn’t sure what I liked and were willing to show me what Myspace was and how I could formulate my own taste in music and fandom.
I remember that this was the first time I felt free of Latinx identity as a kid in a predominately rich and white place. I was Cidnya who discovered screamo and emo bands on Myspace who wanted to tell my cool new friends. I was a kid who had really restrictive parents who wouldn’t let me shop at Hot Topic like all my friends. I was someone who discovered I really liked vampire and horror books (shoutout to me for not understanding The Shining and reading it at 14 and having nightmares about it).
This persisted throughout high school where the differences between the affluent and non-affluent kids were more prominent. I may have been in advanced placement classes but those friendships weren’t authentic. I hated being in classes and my angst only grew for feeling lonely and different from my peers. The few friends I did have were also into alternative culture and liked the same post-hardcore bands as I did.
There was a shift in high school where all of a sudden where the lack of friends didn’t bother me, thanks to the rise of Tumblr.com. The blogging site allowed me to mask myself from my detached Latinx identity further because I curated my blog to horror books, band culture, and fandom indulgences. It’s interesting to notice how my teenage years were defined by being a broody, emo kid with no sense of really thinking about cultural identity. Being in Naples for so long white-washed me socially. I remember being embarrassed about having a quinceanera. I stopped trying to speak Spanish around the house with my parents.
Eventually, I wouldn’t even hold full conversations with my abuelá. I was detached from my parents and started to exhibit mental health issues. In retrospect, it’s because I still felt inadequate to all those rich, white kids I went to school with. Sure, I was friends with all the emo and goth kids who I could see during the lunch period. However, that wasn’t enough for me.
I wanted to be like them because I kept being so rejected by them. I stopped tanning and wanting to go to the beach (it should be noted that even amongst my family if I got to “tan” I was called racial slurs) because I wanted to be lighter. I hoarded birthday money so that if I was invited to do something with the rich kids, I could pretend I was like them too and not worry about being able to pay for things. I was really caught up in trying to fit in with the in-crowd and it was always alternative culture that soothed me, even when I wasn’t nice to it.
The rock band The Smiths continuously saved my life in high school. I would listen to the album The Queen is Dead on repeat until I fell asleep. I became heavily distracted by Tumblr culture as a form of escapism, curating a pseudo-goth blog. I got really into film culture because of Tumblr and discovered movies like The Craft and Ginger Snaps.
It was The Craft that made me realize that chasing after trying to be a Sarah Bailey was not what I wanted. I wanted to be more of a Nancy Downs with my own group of cool, goth witches. It was about my junior year of High School where I finally rejected the idea that I could be a rich, white kid because… well, I wasn’t one at all. I fully embraced the idea that once I would move out, I would be able to finally be the weirdo, goth kid I always wanted to be. It wasn’t a dramatic, 180 shift but it was something I could look forward to.
Once I embraced that I was just a strange, alternative kid, it recontextualized why I felt so deeply about characters like Lydia Deetz and Wednesday Adams, they may not have looked like me but they, also, didn’t fit in and didn’t want to fit in.
By the time I got to college and present-day me, I realized it always alternative culture that embraced me and allowed me to exist outside of ethnic and racial identity for the first time. Alternative music was one of the healthiest coping mechanisms that showcased that my teenage angst and my feeling of loneliness was not isolated. I soon found friends who expressed themselves with body modifications and tattoos who also seemed to be into the same music and pop culture consumption. I felt a sense of home amongst these people and eventually found family amongst them.
Now, I am finally starting to embrace my Latinx identity more and reclaiming it for myself. Having gone to college and moving away from Naples, I have come to realize how far removed from my cultural identity I became. Being Latinx lead me to alternative culture but alternative culture allowed me the space to grow as my own person.