Growing up, I was always known as Nayeli. It wasn’t until preschool that people started calling me Juana. I was shy at times, but even then, I expressed myself. I liked to dance. My teachers would always put me in the front because I was one of the best dancers in my class. When kindergarten started, immediately I became more shy. I didn’t speak any English so I couldn’t really communicate with everyone. Perhaps it was then when I began associating the name Juana with being shy. I still remember my first day of school. My hair was slicked back into a ponytail and I remember being in the hallway nearest to my classroom. There were other kids, but they were crying. I remember understanding that they didn’t know that their parents were going to pick them up later and that they didn’t need to cry.
The years passed and I was known as Juana since then. No one really ever pronounced my name correctly. I was always “Wuana.” In fact, in 5th grade we had this exercise in which would write letters to the student of the week. When it was my turn to be student of the week, I remember that this one girl spelled my name “Wanna.” There was only one boy that pronounced my name “Huana.” People thought he pronounced it wrong, but I told them that he was the only one pronouncing it correctly. I feel like someone’s name is a big part of their identity, especially when it’s from their culture. I don’t know why, but this reminds me of four instances.
One was in first grade. I remember cutting my hair a certain way because I wanted to look like my friend. I should probably give some background so this makes sense. I’d been going to a school that was predominantly Asian since kindergarten, so being Mexican never really seemed to be a big part of my identity. In middle school, there was a girl that used to say that if someone talked to my mom in English she would just say Sí, or “C” as she pronounced it. Later on, in middle school, this other girl said that my first name should be Mary so my middle name could be Juana and that way my name could be Mary Juana. I didn’t really appreciate her comment.
This actually reminds me of an incident in high school when I was talking with a girl about not wanting to hang out with wrong crowd because they smoked pot and to that she replied, “You don’t have to be the stereotypical Mexican.” I guess these were a few instances where people misunderstood my culture in a setting in which I was called Juana. People would always ask me if I was Spanish because of my skin complexion, but also because I spoke Spanish. This one girl even asked me why I spoke Spanish, not Mexican if I was Mexican. Then I asked her why she spoke English and not American, if she’s American. She said that it was different, but I still don’t see how.
The reason for writing about Juana is because I’m not sure if I still want to be called Juana or not; I thought writing about it would help me decide. You can click here to listen to a song that has the name Juana in it. I used to always make a joke about the lyrics and for the part that says “Juana la Cubana” I used to sing “Juana la Mexicana” since I’m Mexican. It might put you in the mood for Nayeli, because it’s more upbeat.