For many young Latinxs, our identities are split between the United States and the homeland of our parents. This disconnect forces us to ask: “who are we really?”
This question is also what connects us on social media and within our community around the world. As we grow, we get better at learning to embrace our varied identities together.
Armando ‘Tito’ Tam — a Chinese-Nicaraguan born in Rivas, Nicaragua and raised in California — has experienced this firsthand.
“I grew up Latino when we came to the U.S. I’m proud of my Chinese blood and even prouder of my Nicaraguan blood,” Tam says.
Tam’s grandparents relocated to Nicaragua as a means of escaping communist China. His parents were both born in Nicaragua.
“My family raised me con los costumbres Nicaraguenses but always sharing with me Chinese culture,” Tam says. His parents left Nicaragua in the 1980s during the overthrow of the government, arriving in the U.S. in search of an opportunity for a better life.
Once in the United States, Tam discovered his identity each time his family cooked traditional foods. “While they didn’t speak Cantonese, I remember Mama Ana my abuelita or Mama Tia making Chinese dishes they grew up while my Papa Tam cooked.”
“I never had an identity issue, however I do remember some Asian kids treating me differently,” Tam continues. “[They looked] down at me for not speaking the language. We had so much love growing up en la casa that it didn’t bother me.”
This experience of not fitting in propelled Tam into the world of food and cooking. Tam created “Cielo By Tito” a “Chino Latino” pop up dinner comprised of 3 course meals, each melding Asian and Latinx ingredients.
Notable dishes from this pop-up include ceviche with shrimp, pineapple, red onion, habanero and coconut water, and the “JibaChino,” which has grilled chicken, mojo, and bok choy.
This idea has taken Tam to multiple cities, selling out every event. “It’s a progression of my travels, and my culture,” Tam says.
But cooking alone was not enough for this savvy Latinx entrepreneur. “Why stick to one thing?” Tam adds. “Mañana is not promised, so [...] quit talking and just do it.”
This year, Tam decided to launch “Tito’s Mundo,” an apparel brand promoting positivity and culture. The line features Spanglish phrases; an homage to Tam’s mixed upbringing.
“I chose the phrases because it’s the language or communication of the Latino of today. I won’t use Nuevo Latino because we have always been here. I won’t use the term Hispanic for my own reasons of being labeled,” Tam says. “As more interracial races are forming families, it’s forming its own communication.”
Tam also wants to hit a market where most apparel made with Spanish sayings are made by mostly corporate companies with no Latinx input; something he feels that won’t inspire anyone in our community.
“I tackled clothing because I felt there wasn't any apparel or gear that expressed positivity. The majority of my friends communicate in Spanglish and I just wanted to put it out there,” Tam says. “Some of society tries to define what language we speak; we are even better because we speak both!”
Tam’s T-shirts boast some amazing Spanglish phrases like: ‘I can become lo que yo deseo.’
“If we believed this or start to think this way, it’s inspiring and makes us think of what we want, it changes our behavior,” Tam says. “This is a way we take care of ourselves, we know that society is already challenging.”
Other designs read: ‘Bendecida and Bendecido.’
‘“To wake up everyday and live for what our parents came over to this country is a blessing. They wanted us to have a better quality of life. I wanted to take a saying that our abuelitas used and turn it into a mindset.”
Of the design ‘Dale Sabor,’ Tam explains: “We Latinos are some sexy people [...] It’s the sabor that we have that others aren’t as fortunate to have. This was tribute to my passion for cooking however, when we listen to music, we cry we laugh, when things get tough [...] we move forward. So dale sabor!”
And last but not least, a simple word: “Latinidad.”
“I asked my friends to give me a greeting, saying or positive gesture from their country and made it into #inspiragear. We are a melting pot for ALL of Latin America and there isn’t anything that has us all in one.”
Tam says this gear will also help Americans understand that the existence of mixed people is more common now than ever before.
“People here have what I call ‘cultural misguidance,’” Tam begins. “People aren’t used to mixed people like me.”
“To this day, some people find it hard to believe I can be Asian and Latino. They are not used to seeing mixed kids. This way of thinking has to change”
Latinx mixed children have their own set of identity finding while growing up in America. Tam admits he never really had an identity crisis as he was always only connected to his Nicaraguan side. “One day I really do want to visit my grandfather's town in China. I really want to explore that.”
Tam says being a modern Latinx is a big blessing; and we should use it to our advantage. “Latinx is sought out because we are the fastest growing and youngest demographic. We spend more as we are the most integrated in today’s culture.”
“Any industry today; culinary, social media, and home buyers, we are the fastest growing. Plus [we are] much younger,” Tam says. “It gives us so much potential, we just have to stay focused and keep it together and [we] will see huge change for the positive.”
It’s clear Tam is at the forefront of the Latinx entrepreneurial movement. He is not ashamed of his mixed heritage; he is not here to teach everyone what he “is.” Rather, Tam wants only to be present; to speak while cooking, feeding and clothing our community.
“Latinidad — it’s what we are and what connects us,” Tam says. “We are the future [and] these messages will never go out of style.