I started living a double life on my very first day of kindergarten. I remember crying even before I walked into the classroom. Sitting on the carpet surrounded by kids I didn't know, my teacher took attendance. "Sheila Blandon," she called out. I raised my hand and said "here."
At home my family called me Chay-La Blandon, spoke in Spanish and ate Nicaraguan food, but for the next 13 years I hid Chay-la.
Throughout the '90s, there was an increase in immigration to the U.S., which led to tensions at my elementary school. About half of the students were native Spanish speakers, and during recess Latinos were a target for bullies. The words "beaner," "wetback" and "immigrant" were everyday taunts. Even kids who were born here were told to go back where they came from.
But I was an exception, I didn't have a common Latina name like "Ana" or "Maria." When my teacher first called me Sheel-ah, I didn't correct her because I didn't want to make things complicated. And soon it became convenient. Changing the pronunciation of my name allowed me to fit in. It was a way of hiding my cultural identity. I felt neither American nor Latina.
By the time I got to high school, I thought of myself more as Sheelah than the name that I was actually given at birth. But that started to change when I got to college and met fellow students who were powerful, smart, and Latino. There was Eddie who was big in the Chicano movement, and Kim who wore a bracelet with the word "Chapina" on it -- which means Guatemalan girl. They weren't ashamed of who they were or where they came from, so why was I?