Ever since I was a little girl, I have been captivated by the stories my Aunt Glenda would tell me about my family history. From my grandfather, Anastacio "Pete" Orrantia, being born and raised on the orange groves in Somis, California to my great-grandparents losing their land to Pancho Villa in Chihuahua, Mexico.
I absolutely loved hearing about the way of life of my ancestors and how they made their way here to America. Even though my blood also includes a mix of Irish, English and French, I was always most proud of my Mexican heritage. Every document I had to sign in school that asked of our ethnicity, I checked the "Hispanic" box. I was extremely proud of my difficult-to-pronounce last name. Every chance I got I would tell people that I was Hispanic.
The surname, Orrantia, supposedly means "mountain pass" in Spanish. I've never met anyone with the last name who isn't a descendent of my great-grandparents. However, that doesn't stop the herd of Orrantias on Facebook who add me immediately because "we must be related somehow."
My favorite story to hear my great-uncle Sal tell is about how lucky my great-grandfather, Jesus, was to survive the reign of Pancho Villa. As the story goes, my great-grandparents lived on a hot springs resort in San Diego de Alcala, Chihuahua, Mexico during the revolution. Poncho Villa had made his way to their town and had lined up all of the men from each household in the street.
Villa pointed down the line from one man to the other, deciding their fate. "Tú. No Tú. Tú. No Tú." My great-grandfather was one of the few who had his life spared, allowing my family to escape, leaving their wealth and land behind for the U.S.
As proud as I am to discuss my heritage, I was constantly put down in school for claiming to be "something I'm not." My light olive-colored skin is all that people needed to know to slap a label on me and call me white.
I hated this! I wanted so badly to represent the culture I held so close to my heart in a physical way, but I couldn't. Not to mention, I wasn't raised in a Spanish-speaking household, so I had nothing to back me up but the spelling of my last name.
As I got older, I saw other women in the industry step forward as proud Latina women who looked like me and only spoke English. This gave me the confidence to stop trying to prove myself to others and be happy just knowing that I can represent the Hispanic community in my own way and strive to make these other Latina women proud.
I believe Spanish is the most beautiful language in the world. I was so happy when I was able to translate my original song, "Until Then," into the Spanish version, "Hasta Verte." I was so nervous playing it for my friends who speak fluently. I was afraid I would be judged and ridiculed for not sounding Spanish enough, but to my surprise it brought them to tears. The song is about a friend of mine who had passed away from cancer. The moment I saw Spanish-speaking people appreciating the lyrics and emotion behind my song, I was satisfied. I finally felt like I had the support and approval I had been searching for within the Spanish community.
Today, I push myself to learn more Spanish because I truly want to speak fluently. I am proud to say, "I'm sorry. This dress won't fit me. I've got Latina hips." I boldly highlight my brown, almond shaped eyes every morning. I live for every Christmas spent with my grandparents where we make our traditional tamales. I cherish my uniquely complicated last name and I will continue to check the box "Hispanic."
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, The Huffington Post asked celebrated figures in the community to write about Hispanic heroes who have shaped their lives and/or how their heritage has made an impact on their lives and careers. We will be sharing their stories throughout the month. But we know they're not alone. If you'd like to share your own story, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.