Vanessa Acosta


When did your family immigrate to the US and where exactly did they move? What made them come?

My family first immigrated to the east coast in Virginia from Bolivia. Then shortly after I was born we moved to California. I think my parents saw a brighter future in the US. My dad always dreamed of more and my mother always liked western culture. Bolivia is a third world country so even though their families were all there, the status of the country wasn't a promising future for their family they were beginning to build. I think after having their first kid they realized they wanted more for us. So they attempted to immigrate to the US. My dad didn't have issues but my mother and older sister were deported back to Bolivia and after several attempts made it in. After settling in the states my parents and older sister finally became American Citizens when I was in high school.

What is the first language you learned? Do you speak any other languages?

I learned English and Spanish at the same time. English at school and Spanish at home.

What language do you primarily speak when with your family?

I speak only Spanish with my parents and English with my siblings.

Have you ever visited or been back to your family's native country? If so, how often do you visit and for how long? What is that experience like? Do you have relatives there?

There was a moment in my childhood where I lived in Bolivia. My parents got cold feet and missed their homeland so we went back. At that point my parents now had three children and the three of us moved back with my mother while my father settled last minute business in the states. After living there for a bit my mother realized why they left the country. There were riots on the streets, tear gas being thrown. I remember having to hide in my aunts store after school because of a street riot that was happening outside the boutique. All I could see was smoke and hear yells and screams. After that we moved back to the states and would go back every other year to visit family but as we grew older we went less and less. It had been 10 years since I had been back to South America and recently went back this past September for a full month to see my family. Bolivia is still a third world country, and there are still civil protests against the government. A lot of the trip was spent having to maneuver around week long riots and marches. But the Bolivian people are proud and full of culture with deep rooted traditions that haven't died off with newer generations. It is a poor country but rich in people and culture.

Describe your experience growing up in America as someone who is so closely tied to another culture. How did you feel? What things were easy? What did you find difficult?

Growing up in the US with South American parents was a juggle. Latino parents are all about family so I spent more time with my family growing up than with my friends and as I got older and made a mind of my own I slowly began to learn about American culture. I didn't try meatloaf for the first time until my senior year in high school and thats such a "classic" American meal. I didn't know how to properly pronounce certain things because those terms were only used in Spanish in my home and I didn't know the English equivalent. Internet wasn't so easy to come by to simply google an English translation. My parents wouldn't know the answer either with their broken english and I would just get teased when I mispronounced something from my peers. From cuisine, to words, to music. My dosage of American culture only came into my life in my teen years. Before that it was mainly Bolivian/Argentinean culture and Bolivia is a small country so there aren't many of us in the U.S. so I had no one to relate to on this level. So that was also another reason family was close and a sort of comfort and familiarity for me when it came to cultural stuff. I think for that reason, I grew up listening to oldies music rather than current pop music. I was exposed to current stuff from my older sister or friends at school. I wouldn't say I was sheltered but I definitely didn't have American culture around me 100% of the time. I guess just juggling a balance of two cultures was hard. There were times where I felt like I didn't fully belong in either culture. My Spanish wasn't always the best, but I also didn't feel like an American growing up, people always referred to me as the "brown quiet girl" or the "mexican." When you grow up like that you feel lost and try so hard to find your identity in other places. But as I grew older I really embraced my South American culture than my American culture because I was more enthralled in it growing up. It's an ongoing battle of self identification but I think that's normal for kids of immigrants.

What type of food do you eat at home? What are some of your favorite dishes?

Growing up with Bolivian food meant always being embarrassed inviting friends over to eat it. I offered a friend ONCE to try my favorite Bolivian dish in high school and she said "ew". My favorite dish is Sacta de Pollo. It is a pasta dish with chicken. It's gonna sound like a weird mix but I love it. It is fettuccine pasta with bell peppers, hard boiled eggs, onions AND raisins topped with Bolivian cheese. Cooked in the oven and then combined with a breaded chicken that is drenched in red ahi sauce, you pour that over the pasta and voila. Quinoa is also native in Bolivia so that's a very common thing to eat as well. Honestly growing up with Bolivian cuisine, all of it is my favorite but the spices and cheese are hard to come by so when my mother cooks it, it's a real treat and special occasion.

Describe your experience making friends as a kid growing up in the UNITED STATES.

My experience making friends in the US has been a rollercoaster. I grew up in Orange County so my options for diversity were not a lot. I went to a private school so the majority of my friends were white and I was the brown girl. I was the only one with a different culture. Everyone else was very first class rich white America. Even though I went to a private school my family was bottom tier. We were not on the wealthy spectrum at this school so I was exposed to a pretty bourgeois lifestyle in OC from the friends that I had. But once I graduated and got out into the real world, I somehow managed to create a small but close group of all brown girlfriends. We weren't "woke" or anything but I finally had a group of friends that laughed along with me when telling stories about "the chancla". That felt good. It was so refreshing and just so NEW to have found friends that had a similar upbringing as me. I think that is when I started to delve more into other latin and POC cultures. But then I moved to LA on my own and had to create a new group of friends in this city and after 10 years of being in this city, I have the most diverse group of friends! I have friends of every race and color and culture and even found a select few of Bolivians which I am so proud about because like I said before. We are rare to come by.

Do you consider yourself as more of an American or that of your parents' native country?

Definitely Bolivian/Argentinean more. I've never been a patriotic American. Not that I hate America or anything or don't feel like I belong but Latino culture just fits me better. I've built a business identifying as a Bolivian and creating Bolivian designs. All of my inspiration and drive comes from my parents ancestral land. People know me as "FROM A BOLIVIAN" in the Bolivian and Latino community. Yes I am American but I identify so much more as a Boliviana.

Are you proud to be American? 

Sure. I think the whole patriotic proud to be an American is all fine and dandy but it's just not my cup of tea. I am always incredibly grateful my parents came to this land for a better future for us and I am currently building that better future for us but I wouldn't go to a top of a mountain and yell "I'm proud to be an American."

Do you plan to pass along aspects of your parents native culture to your children (if you choose to have them)? What parts of the culture do you want to keep if any? If yes, how important is that to you, and how do you plan on doing so?

100% YES. I am all for passing on everything I learned to the next generation. That is how cultures and languages die, you must pass it on and educate. Definitely will be teaching them Spanish, quirky, silly traditions we would have at New years, Native songs, Bolivian cuisine. Will definitely be taking them to Bolivia when they are old enough to suck all that information in. I want them to know about their ancestors, the indigenous peoples that are still alive and well. Culture and keeping it alive is so important to me. It is what I do in my business.

Are there aspects of your culture that you don't enjoy, parts that you know you don't want to pass on?

Machismo is a big issue in Latin countries as well as old thinking ways. I got a lot of angry stares while in Bolivia because of my tattoos. It is frowned up to be a woman and have this many tattoos. Men in Bolivia beat their women more than any other latin country and are also not faithful to their spouses as well. That is beginning to change and I hope that dies out in the next generation.

What's one thing you wish people knew about your culture? 

The food and the Cholitas! Cholita culture in Bolivia is getting more media so I love that and the food is so underrated or just not known at all. There are a trio of Bolivian brothers on the east coast that are putting Bolivian modern/fusion cuisine on the map and I am so happy about that as well.

Are there any specific thoughts / inspiration behind the way you took your photos and what you took photos of? Feel free to use this space to express your photographic inspiration for this project. 

I guess I took it as literal as can be. I took photos of my everyday life. Some days were dull and others were crazy busy with an extravagant lifestyle. I think it's important for first generation kids or immigrants to know that you don't have to have this heroic or grand life to be able to live in this country. You can just live a normal happy life without having to prove you belong or have a place in this country. I am a photographer and designer in LA and throughout the span of this process I had days where I was just cutting fabric in my office and on the computer and other days I was shooting Common and shooting models and living a life that my parents couldn't have even dreamed of. It's a balance. I just wanted people to see that I'm just a normal gal with a lil bit of flare. The journey my parents had, that I've had and the obstacles and the triumphs I have made to make it in this city as a proud Bolivian/American is rewarding and to be able to just document my every day life and think that people would be interested in peaking through the lens with me is an endearing thought. I love that people would want to hear my story, its a unique one. Just like any other first generation story out there. We are one of a kind.