By Ryan O'Connell Arts & Features Editor
The Center for Inclusive Excellence (CIE) hosted two film screenings and discussions of Project Eñye’s production, “Being ñ,” in conjunction with Residence Life and Latinos Unidos En Acción Oct. 3 and 6.
Eric Nguyen, director of the CIE, said the film was part of a series of events constructed for Hispanic and Latinx Heritage Month. Nguyen prefaced the film with a summary of a previous event - a discussion on the different terms and labels used to describe Hispanic Heritage Month.
“How did these terms arise? How do we use them? Who uses them?” he asked. “And then taking that step back - to say ‘What are the opportunities, but also what are the limitations when we begin to apply labels to different groups?’”
“Being ñ” is a film about the experiences of people born in the United States to parents both born out of the United States and in Spanish speaking countries, Nguyen said.
He added the film explores the struggles of people who don’t feel deeply enough ingrained in either of their cultures, and that many people who do not have heritage from Spanish-speaking countries might also relate to its message.
He then shared his own experience. “I really relate to this, as someone who's Vietnamese. My parents were born in Vietnam and immigrated here, and I was born in the United States, so I’ve spent my entire life navigating those two different cultures, as well.
“I think even for those of us who don’t identify as Eñye, there’s a lot here we can take away from it,” Nguyen said.
“Being ñ” was written and directed in part by Denise Soler Cox, who stars in the film as well. Throughout the production, Cox shares her experience growing up with Hispanic culture, the struggle she felt in trying to belong to two different identities, and the experiences of other Hispanic people - some of them celebrities like Luis Guzmán.
Cox explained she was born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx alongside her brothers David and Danny. Her father was born in New York City too, to Cuban and Puerto Rican parents, and her mother moved from Puerto Rico to New York when she was only 13 years old.
“All the neighbors in the Bronx that I can remember spoke Spanish - that was the predominant language. My experience in the Bronx felt very, very Puerto Rican,” she said.
When she was 4, her parents moved the family to a house in Westchester County, Cox said, leaving behind the sounds, smells, and surroundings of their old neighborhood. She said the longer she spent in Westchester, the less connected she felt to the other person she was.
She said while some of her experiences were good, like spending time with her brother’s friends Omar and Auggie or feeling welcomed by an older couple down the street, she began to experience racism as a child in a predominantly white area.
Cox said she suffered verbal abuse from other students every day, and she would even receive non-stop calls to her home phone, harassing her and calling her ethnic slurs.
The calls only stopped after her father made it clear to the kids on the other end they should never contact them again, she said. Cox said shortly after that, her father suddenly died from illness, and a few years later, her brother David died too.
Cox continued, and said she never felt like she had recovered from her losses until she moved to Miami, where the idea for Project Eñye was born.
“I was sitting around a table, hearing all these peoples’ stories and laughing and crying, and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m totally not alone. All of these people have had my same life, they all had to deal with the same stuff I did,’” she said.
While the documentary was in production, she added, there were extreme strains placed on her and her husband’s financial situations. She said after Project Eñye began, she stopped getting paid. They even sold their wedding rings to cover a rent payment.
Cox continued, sharing the success the project later found, and their goal of mapping 100,000 Eñyes on a map of the United States. She also shared an experience the project had participating in a parade, and the testimonials of several celebrity guests on their identity struggles.
She clarified that she didn’t blame the move from the Bronx, or her parents for the struggles she faced, and that she knew now tens of thousands of other Eñyes had similar experiences growing up.
“It took a long time to figure out who I was,” she said. “I am an Eñye.”