Julie Early Sifuentes
About This Peace Corps Kid
My mother was born and raised in Lima, Peru; my father, in a small town in Oregon. They met in the late 1960's when my mother was working in the Peace Corps Office in Lima and my father was serving in the Peace Corps. After several years, they moved to the States, got married and settled in Roseburg, Oregon where I was raised.
Lima and Roseburg could not be more different, and in the 70's and 80's they were even more distant than they are now. No social media, no Skype, no e-mail; long distance calls were very costly. My mom was the only one in her immediate family that migrated to the US. I visited our family in Lima several times as a child, but it wasn't until after college, when I really explored and connected with my Peruvian ancestry and identity. At that time, I spent a year in Peru to get to know my family and the country.
That year was transformative for me. I spent time with relatives, learned about my family history, took classes at the university, made friends, read about Peruvian history and politics, traveled around the country and became fluent in Spanish. By the end of the year, I felt more connected to myself and what, for me, the *Peruvian* in Peruvian-American meant.
It was also the year that the seed for this project was planted. I was on a very long train ride in the Andes mountains, when I ran into a young woman whose mother was also Peruvian and her father, also a Peace Corps volunteer. Like me, she was in Perú to better connect with her Peruvian roots. We had so much in common, we talked for hours. We both had studied anthropology and talked big ideas like starting a study abroad program for college students to spend time in rural Perú.
Since then I worked in community-based participatory research, got married, had kids, and established a career in public service. I live with my husband and two boys in Portland, Oregon, while my parents and brother live in Peru. I continue to grapple with the tension and the pull from the two parts of the world that I consider home. It’s not that either of these places in themselves are home; rather, staying connected to both places helps me to feel at home in myself and the world.
The experience of having roots in two very different parts of the world is challenging and rich. Living in the US as a person with multiple ethnic or racial identities is equally challenging and rich especially during a time when racial and ethnic identity is highly politicized. As conversations about identity have evolved, there is an emerging acknowledgement and dialogue about mixed racial and multicultural identities. I have to admit as an anthropologist I find it all fascinating, but more importantly, I believe our lived experiences as mixed folks with immigrant parents equip us to make the world more inclusive, just and peaceful. This is what it means to me to be a Peace Corps kid.
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