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How Traveling With a Peruvian Flag Helps Me Shine a Light on My Culture

A first-generation Latina’s journey of identity and exploration.
Hi, I'm Flavia!

A first generation Peruvian American, Flavia Cornejo is a travel blogger, digital creator, and Founder of Latina Traveler, a platform created to inspire Women of Color to travel solo but safely and with confidence. As a full-time traveler, Flavia has visited over 37 countries and lived in 5 to date. Flavia’s interest in the travel industry led her to pursue two master’s degrees in the field: Tourism and Travel Journalism. Flavia is a freelance journalist with bylines in Fodor’s Travel and Hermosaz USA. She’s currently based in Portugal, but has lived in New York, Lima, Buenos Aires, Paris, Barcelona, and Budapest.

Editor’s note: We use "Latine" throughout, at the request of the author.

Many first-generation Latines own at least one flag from their parents' home country. Whether they were born in the United States or brought over as young children, the kids of immigrants often feel that the flag helps them stay connected. It’s a reminder of where their family came from and the fact that, although the country may be far away, its culture and customs are still present in their home. Since actually going to the motherland can be difficult sometimes, the flag helps us feel connected, no matter where we are.

Growing up in a small, mainly Caucasian neighborhood as the daughter of Peruvian immigrants, I always felt “ni de aquí, ni de allá”—neither from here nor there—a sentiment that many Latines living in the United States know all too well. Many people in my hometown saw me as “other,” and some didn’t even know where to locate Peru on a map. At the same time, people from my parent’s homeland claimed I wasn’t Peruvian, because I wasn’t born there.

I was always balancing two cultures, two languages, and two places. While I tried to be more American than the Americans and more Peruvian than the Peruvians, I was constantly being told I wasn’t one or the other.

Flavia Cornejo stands in front of a lighthouse in Montauk, New York.
Flavia travels around the world with her Peruvian flag.Bildquelle: Flavia Cornejo

My upbringing in the US gave me many qualities and ways of thinking that are definitely American, but my home life followed Peruvian customs. When my sister and I would complain about having to speak Spanish—arguing that because we were in the United States, we should be allowed to speak English—my dad would respond by saying: “Our house is Peruvian, and in Peru, we speak Spanish.” We ate Peruvian food and listened to Peruvian music, and I learned a lot of cultural customs and developed a native level of fluency in the language (for which I’m forever grateful). We also visited Peru itself, spending every summer there with family. During these trips, my parents would take us to see many parts of the country, and I was able to see how diverse Peru’s landscape, customs, and people really are.

As I grew older, I started traveling more, visiting Europe, Africa, and Asia. My first trip to Europe came when I was 15—when my parents offered to send me on a trip instead of throwing me a big quinceañera (a traditional 15th-birthday celebration). I spent three weeks on a group trip with other teens, seeing Western Europe, and the trip made me even more obsessed with travel. As I became more independent, I even started looking for jobs that would pay me to travel to places I had never been before.

Flavia Cornejo with her Peruvian flag in Morocco
Traveling as a teen sparked Flavia's interest in exploring the world.Bildquelle: Flavia Cornejo

Once I started traveling more, however, I found that in most situations, I was the only person of Peruvian descent. In fact, most people I met didn't know where Peru was located on a world map. I also found, as I spoke to more and more people, that Peruvians seem to travel less than people from other countries (including many other places in Latin America)—and that Peruvian women almost never seemed to travel alone. Many of my own family members, in fact, were surprised that I had visited places that they felt were extremely far away.

Travelers I met when I was in foreign countries had also noticed this. They would tell me that they would sometimes come across Colombians, Mexicans, Brazilians, or Argentinians, but they rarely met Peruvians. This gave me the idea to demonstrate to both Peruvians and non-Peruvians alike that we do travel to far away and unique places. My mission became to show others that we are present anywhere and everywhere. I wanted to show that we are capable of going to places most people might only dream of. I wanted to be the representation I didn’t see. And what better way to show our presence around the world, I thought, than with the flag that I already held so dear?

Flavia Cornejo stands in front of a mountain town in Morocco
The mountain towns of Morocco also bore witness to Flavia's flag-carrying adventures.Bildquelle: Flavia Cornejo

When I led a group trip in Hawaii, I took my Peruvian flag on a kayak to a remote waterfall and to the summit of Haleakala. During a trip with friends through southern Spain and Morocco, I made sure to bring it with me to places like the blue houses in Chefchaouen and the Medina of Fez. (Having the flag with me in Spain, the country that once colonized my ancestors’ home, felt particularly powerful.)

But for me, the most meaningful place that I took the flag to was Egypt and, in particular, to the pyramids. My grandmother had visited the pyramids about 25 years before me and had taken photos in front of them. Taking a photo where she once stood, in such a well-known place, with a flag that many people wouldn’t immediately recognize, felt important. Standing in the same place my grandmother did so many years before made me feel closer to her, too. I hadn’t known her as well as I would have liked, because she passed away when I was still fairly young, but being there felt like sharing a moment that was just ours. (Had she been with me, however, she may not have fully understood why I was carrying the flag. To her, Peru was already home, while to me it was a piece of my identity that I felt I had to hold on to.)

Flavia Cornejo stands in front of the Pyramids of Giza, in Egypt.
Flavia's most memorable moment with the flag took place at the pyramids in Egypt.Bildquelle: Flavia Cornejo

Taking these photos around the world has created a lot of opportunities for me to talk to people about my identity, as people often ask me about my flag. Many ask what country it’s from, and then, after talking with me for a while, most also ask why I carry the Peruvian flag if I was born in the United States.

I’ve asked myself that same question on occasion, especially knowing that many Peruvians don’t see me as Peruvian. In the end, I’ve decided that it’s a personal choice that I get to make for myself. I may not have been born in Peru, but in my mind that doesn’t make me any less Peruvian. I have so much love and respect for the place where my parents were born, and that I’ve visited every year since I was born. Traveling with my flag has brought me closer to a culture I grew up with—and lets me take that culture with me wherever I go.

A couple months ago, I moved to Portugal—a place I had fallen in love with while traveling—to build a life for myself outside of the US. Now that I live in a new country, a place that is foreign to both my ancestors and my immediate family, the flag brings me home. It carries all the beautiful memories I have of growing up in my Peruvian New Jersey home and of visiting family in Lima, Peru. Today, my flag isn’t just a flag—it’s also become my way of going home.

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