10/05/2016 11:52 EDT | Updated 10/05/2016 11:52 EDT

I Didn't Know My Spanish Roots Until I Grew Up. It Was Worth The Wait.

Jesse Ferreras

born and raised

Throughout my life, I have found myself having to assert my cultural identity.

From a single look, you'd probably have me pegged for a white male, and all the privilege that comes with it.

The latter part is true. As someone who half-identifies as white, I never have to worry about being asked where I'm from; being targeted by police; or having Long Duk Dong represent me in pop culture.

But "White" is nevertheless a small part of who I am.

My full name is Jesse Ramon Ferreras. I'm the son of a Windsor, Ont.-born mother descended from Irish immigrants, and a Puerto Rican father who arrived in Canada by way of San Juan, Chicago, Detroit and Caracas.

My family has never kept my heritage a secret. But maintaining it in a place like Vancouver has been difficult.

My father spoke to me in Spanish from an early age, but it didn't catch on.

My father spoke to me in Spanish from an early age, but it didn't catch on. I called him "Papi" in my younger years. But a kid mocked me for it once, and I didn't want to feel different. So I started calling him "Dad," and it stuck.

Growing up, I never felt very Hispanic. But there were hints at it in my personality.

I've never learned how to speak Spanish fluently, but give me a phrase and I can pronounce it almost perfectly, even if I don't understand what it means.

I've played piano, cello, guitar and saxophone. I sometimes played too loudly in high school band, but a Latino's sense of rhythm always kept me in time.

I've never learned how to speak Spanish fluently, but give me a phrase and I can pronounce it almost perfectly.

My family was never surrounded by many Hispanics in Vancouver. Indeed, Spanish-speaking Jehovah's Witnesses trying to recruit us are among the few memories I still carry today.

It wasn't until I became an adult that I became better acquainted with my culture. In 2010, when I was 26, my aunt sent me a family history as a Christmas present. She had traced my family's history back to the mid-1800s in Spain.

I found out that Mariano Ferreras y Boladeres emigrated from a Catalonian town called Cervera, about 100 kilometres outside Barcelona, to the Puerto Rican town of Mayaguez sometime between 1860 and 1868.

It's unclear precisely why he left, but his departure came at a time of turmoil in Spain. Queen Isabella II was reaching the end of her reign following a pair of revolutions: The Vicálvaro Revolution in 1854, and then the Glorious Revolution of 1868.


Cervera, Lleida, Catalonia, Spain. (Photo: Jesse Ferreras)

My father and I visited Spain in 2011. We started in Barcelona, and the city made an immediate impression. The people there were proud nationalists who flew their own flags, spoke their own language and sprayed graffiti that said, "Catalonia is not Spain."

They had a national identity that found its greatest expression in soccer team FC Barcelona. "Barca" had once jeered the Spanish national anthem in a gesture of defiance against Primo de Rivera, the dictator at the time.

Players fought on the republican side against Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Josep Suñol, the team's president, was assassinated by forces loyal to Franco in 1936.

Franco's regime would crack down on the club following the war, saying that it could not be used as an outlet for anti-Spanish agitation.

After a lifetime of following the Vancouver Canucks, a team for whom tickets are too expensive to even see games, I felt a sense of pride at seeing that a sports franchise could be "Més que un club" -- or "More than a club," FC Barcelona's motto.


The author, in Cervera, the town where his family originates. (Photo: Jesse Ferreras)

"El Clasico" matches between this club and rival Real Madrid isn't just football -- they are a nationalist struggle against the monarchy, a fight for superiority between an upstart nation and "Spain," less a unified country than a concept. It's a lot like Canada that way.

My father seemed so at home in a place where everyone looked and talked like him. He was as content exploring the Fundació Joan Miró as he was just strolling past the fountains of the Plaça d'Espanya.

We stopped in Cervera on our way to the Basque country. Its old stone walkways reminded relatives of old San Juan.

We didn't reunite with any long-lost family members. But we did stop in a bar, where my father spoke to some residents and learned that there were, to this day, people with the surname Boladeres still living in the town.

Spain is a part of me, even if it doesn't look like it

Catalonian nationalism doesn't play much of a role in my life, except to give an extra emphasis when watching Barca play Madrid. But it filled me with a sense of pride to immerse myself inside a significant part of my heritage, even if I'm a couple of generations removed.

It's a part of me, even if it doesn't look like that on the surface.

You may look at me and see a white guy. But my skin is only a fragment of who I am.

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at


Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook