Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Culture Corner 9.16.15

I never felt like I belonged to any culture, so I invented my own.

First, let me being when I was born on the hottest day of the summer of '94 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. According to my uncle, there was a terrible drought that summer but when I was born it started raining for weeks on end. Of course, this is not true, but I like that he tells that story anyways.

My mother is Dutch, although she only knows how to say milk in Dutch. Her father, a Protestant missionary, took his wife and six kids all over the Americas: from Canada to Argentina, from Puerto Rico to Guatemala and from the West Coast to the East Coast in the United States.

My mom (wearing white tights) with her parents and siblings
My mother met my father on her last year of High School in Puerto Rico. My father was a rebel, always wearing a leather jacket and looking like Bob Dylan. My mother, on the other hand, was a goody two shoes, always well behaved and looking like a shy Olivia Newton John. Yes, their story is very similar to that of Danny and Sandy from Grease except that there was no singing involved. I look at them now, and I cannot imagine how they ever got together because they are so wildly different from each other. That is, until I see pictures of them from the past.

I know, they're cuties. 

My parents got divorced a year after I was born, so I have no memory of them ever being together. Looking at these pictures, I see bits and pieces of me sewn in their faces. I can see their love for each other even though I've never seen it in the flesh. I am taken down a memory lane that isn't mine, and yet, has a lot to do with me. These are my origins. 

We moved when I was three to Argentina, where my mom married her first love, Daniel. Daniel, an Argentinian from Italian descent, had two kids of his own already, and suddenly, my brothers and I where living in a full house. Twice a year, we would take two airplanes to visit my dad in Puerto Rico during our school vacations. 

From the left: Fiorella, Lucio, Kyle, Me! and Paul.
(I really want a piece of that cake right now)
I love telling this story, even though I've told it so many times. You see, because I moved around so much from Argentina to Puerto Rico, I never felt like I truly belonged to either of those cultures. When I would go to Puerto Rico, people would see my blonde hair and assume I was American and would speak to me in English. Even after I would reply in Spanish. No one could (and still can't!) believe me when I said I was born there. That Puerto Rican blood flowed through my veins. That I was boricua by nature. In Argentina, they could always detect that my accent wasn't fully Argentinian. Some word, some lisp, the way I would pronounce my g's would give away that I wasn't truly one of them. I never felt that I belonged anywhere, except in the house that I grew up in. 

That house was my own personal country. In that house we invented a mixture of all our cultures and we coexisted. That house defined all my siblings and I: a conglomerate of things belonging to different cultures and hobbies and findings and memorabilia. It was filled with my mom's paintings and pacifiers that Daniel would find in the street and hang on our cork board for "good luck." It had CDs upon letters upon photos upon the biggest encyclopedia collection that you will ever find. There was a lot of shouting and fighting and compromising but there was also a lot of loving and love for cooking too. There were customs that we all maintained like eating dinner at the table (where a mandatory joke was told) and having asados every Sunday at lunchtime. If the house was our country, then each room was a province. The kitchen was the most sacred place, and if you ate a piece of someone else's birthday cake without their permission, it was considered treason. My mom's art studio was magical - the smell of acrylics still brings me there. Some nights, all seven of us would sit in my mom's bed to watch Friends or The Nanny before dinner. The house was constantly filled with people, either for a party or a sleepover or a tea time gathering. And music played in every room, from Louis Armstrong to The Beatles and from Led Zeppelin to Green Day and from Shakira to Fleetwood Mac. Our house was like the inside of a junk drawer - nothing in it made any sense but it all somehow fit perfectly. 

And even now, in a different country, where I don' t feel like I belong, yet again, memories of that house give me a piece of mind. It lets me know that out there somewhere there's a culture which belongs to me. 


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