I’m of Puerto Rican and Thai descent and I speak neither language. My mother was born in Ayutthaya, Thailand, in a rural and poor part of Southeast Asia that’s difficult to describe to friends and co-workers without sounding completely disingenuous. My father was born in New York during times reminiscent of the 1957 street gang musical, West Side Story.
Aside from the occasional story and old photograph, I don’t fully understand either parent’s upbringing, and it’s tough to even find another person who can connect with me on this feeling of cultural isolation.
As identity continues to move toward the forefront of today's social and political issues, there’s a yearning for an influx of new personalities to push forth the unheard, isolated voices of America.
But, of course, there’s the internet. And where’s there’s a will, there’s a Google search. After hours of research into the wonderful, ever-expanding world of podcasting, I came across a podcast that introduced a concept that aptly worded my identity gripes: “ni de aquí ni de alla,” which translates to “neither here, nor there.” It’s a phrase that can be used to describe a phenomenon of Latin-American people who feel they’re not quite Latin, and not quite American.
They exist in a sort of limbo caught between two cultures: not feeling Latin enough for their Latin contemporaries, or American enough for American acquaintances. Or maybe, as in my case, they could be partially Puerto Rican, unable to speak Spanish, and estranged from that entire culture by way of a stoic father.
Grappling With Identity in America’s Melting Pot
My introduction to the concept of feeling “ni de aquí ni de alla” came to me by way of The Brujaja Podcast, a show hosted by three LA-based comedians with varied perspectives of living that very experience. The trio includes Cindy Aravena, who is fully Mexican, raised with Argentinian influence, Vanessa Gritton, a Guatemalan, Salvadorian, and Syrian Jew, and Anna Valenzuela, who is half Mexican.
“I’m half Mexican, but I’m pretty sure my dad was trying to raise a white child,” Anna says on the show’s first episode, titled “Bienvenidos!” “I’m the indoor cat of Latinas,” she jokes. “Like, I’m still a cat, but I’m not going to survive out here in these streets.”
Brujaja was birthed out of LA’s open mic scene. After Vanessa’s boyfriend, comedian Kevin Anderson, pointed out the fact that all three women were dating white men, the trio decided to start podcasting about their Latina experiences in America––a culture podcast on identity that is still, surprisingly, lacking on the iTunes store.
As identity continues to move toward the forefront of today’s social and political issues, there’s a yearning for an influx of new personalities to push forth the unheard, isolated voices of America, filling the void for those who can’t quite connect with themselves through others. Brujaja exists “to encourage other Latinx kids out there to get in touch with their roots,” the hosts explain over email, “and relate to others who have gone through similar cultural identity crises. It’s also for non-Latinx to learn about what we go through and relate.”
Themes of diaspora, dissociation, or the simple feeling of being “ni de aquí ni de alla” are fluent throughout each episode of Brujaja, as told by their hosts and the stories they share. Topics that delve into unofficial Latinx rites of passage categories come up on occasion, as well as candid moments of culture embracing. Bruaja’s past topics of conversation (but are definitely not limited to) include: that “sana, sana, colita de rana” nursery rhyme every Latinx person seems to know, Selena (on multiple occasions), Jennifer Lopez, Guillermo del Toro, Lin Manual Miranda, Dolores Huerta, Shakira, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, comedy, and lots (and lots) of food.
Brujaja also introduces a Word of the Day, in which one of the hosts nominate a word surrounding the episode’s theme and uses it in a sentence as a simple primer for those looking to expand their Spanish. As someone who doesn’t know how to roll their r’s, this moment is always welcomed with open ears, a pause of iTunes, an enunciation, and a tap back to play.
Cannabis for Energy and Creativity
The Bruaja Podcast, which celebrated its one-year anniversary this January, displays all three hosts organically building off one another’s chemistry, undoubtedly a skill from all three comedians’ knack for improv and quick-humor.
“It’s been amazing to learn more about each other on this deep of a level,” they tell Leafly on doing the show. “We’re all very goal-oriented individuals, so it hasn’t been too difficult for this to be part of our routines. We’re all really good about working with each other’s schedules, picking up slack for each other when needed. We hope to do it until it becomes something even bigger, but we’re also being patient and not trying to rush into anything.”
And on the topic of productivity, Vanessa says she prefers it alongside a nice energizing strain, “I love Jack Herer.” Cindy also prefers a boost in her cannabis, “I need to be productive but focused instead of frazzled. I try to avoid getting high if I have a busy day ahead, but will often use it as a ‘reward’ for getting shit done. I like strains that taste like citrus, but you can’t go wrong with a classic like Jack Herer.” Despite her frequent, jovial singing on occasion, Anna doesn’t partake in cannabis (and is happily 16 years sober) but enjoys using CBD.
“As different as each of our upbringings were, we’re often pleasantly surprised by how easily we’re able to empathize with each other’s experiences,” they wrote Leafly. “It’s a way to feel like we’re not alone in our weird thoughts and ideas.”
As a minority who feels too brown for his co-workers, but not quite brown enough for his family, Brujaja thankfully fills that cultural emptiness many ethnic Americans might feel today, be it through conversations about Selena, Dragon Ball Z, or just hearing someone going down a list of all of the Spanish words that exist for “pig.”