Our Latino Heritage: Born In Cuba, Raised In Puerto Rico, Now in L.A.

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By Esther J. Cepeda

This is part of our Hispanic Heritage Month series, "Our Latino Heritage," where we are profiling a U.S. Hispanic from each of our Spanish-speaking Latin American and Caribbean homelands.

As he maneuvers his Hollywood, California neighborhood, Raul Perez is often mistaken for something other than he is.

“Well, for one, people ask me if I’m an actor and I say yes, I’m an actor and in my free time, I’m an electrical engineer,” Perez jokes. Then he gets to the heart of the reality of living in such an ethnically diverse town: “I’ve actually been asked if I was Armenian, even Ukrainian but mostly people assume I’m Mexican until I speak and that’s really fine with me, it doesn’t bother me – Mexico’s really nice!”

Raul Perez was born in Havana, Cuba, grew up in Puerto Rico and now lives on the west coast. As he maneuvers his Hollywood, California neighborhood, Raul Perez is often mistaken for something other than he is.Raul Perez

Perez, confounds both anglos and Latinos with his Spanish, prompting people to guess that he’s from Spain, Argentina or the Dominican Republic. But no, the secret to the puzzle of Perez’ specific speech patterns is his unique upbringing.

“I was born in Havana, Cuba, but I was raised in Puerto Rico my whole life and so, really, I call Puerto Rico home,” Perez said.

But even there, he was steeped in his Cuban culture.

“I went to a military school founded by a Cuban general so there were some Cubans in my school. But the differences between the few Cubans and the majority Puerto Ricans was clear – Cubans are way louder and expressive than Puerto Ricans and at school that didn’t play well,” Perez recalled. “I got in trouble in school a lot. I was the class clown and I had really good grades but I was raucous, and the Cuban teachers were always telling me ‘I know we’re different, but you have to tone it down.’”

After arriving stateside in July of 2014, Perez specifically looked for a place to settle down outside of the Miami and Florida scene. He spent some time in Washington, DC before settling in Los Angeles.

As a young single guy with a diverse background of cultural experiences, Perez says he’s not looking for any particular ethnicity in a future mate. Though she’ll have to be able to blend in with a very loud party culture and have the same openness as Perez.

“I feel like everyone should be proud of who they are, they should embrace their identity whatever it is,” Perez said, noting that he wouldn’t mind marrying a fellow Latino – or not.

“If a Cuban woman comes along and love finds me, that’s great but I’m not going out to look for that, necessarily. In some ways I would prefer marrying someone from another background because I like to learn about different cultures so much. Either way, my kids will be open minded and exposed to lots of different life experiences.”

As Perez observes how the Hispanic/Latino community is rapidly changing in the U.S., he is very optimistic about an America where Hispanics are well educated and upwardly mobile.

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“The Hispanic community is not falling behind and just taking the janitor jobs and the dirty jobs; there’s some of that now but I don’t see us staying back there,” Raul said. “And it’s all because of the Latin mothers. When mom is beating you with the chancleta you will study more and do what you need to do because you know the Latin mothers will take 2-3 jobs to make sure their kids get a great education.”

“Each of us has the responsibility to portray the best of us through education and in social settings,” Raul concluded. “Yes, there are differences among us, but let’s try to focus on the good things, let’s help each other. The worst thing you can do is limit yourself or limit others.”

Esther J. Cepeda is a Chicago-based nationally syndicated columnist and an NBC News Latino contributor. Follow her on Twitter, @estherjcepeda.

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