How It Feels To Be Stuck Between Two Cultures

June 13, 2018

I’m writing this post to give you a peek into my life, more importantly how I’ve always been sort of stuck between two cultures and what that feels like now as an adult. Because when it comes to purpose and owning your magic, stories are very important, they are powerful, even more so when it’s about your identity. So here’s a little story about mine.

I’m lucky enough to have supportive parents and the means to even have considered doing something different like leaving my country. You see, I left 7 years ago for college and have lived in the states ever since, but I’ve walked a fine line between both cultures my entire life.

I was born in Monterrey, one of the most commercial and Americanized cities in México. It may be a city but we call it “El Rancho” because everyone knows each other, and if you don’t know someone you can bet your friend does. It’s a city with 2 degrees of separation and in this city more specifically, San Pedro, everyone does the same thing. We have two of the most prestigious colleges in the country a good 30 minutes from each other, an array of competing private schools and more industrial and commercial opportunities to hold jobs for anyone who’s willing. Naturally, few people ever leave.

It’s a bubble, one in which everyone does the same thing on repeat. They go to the same private schools wearing restrictive plaid uniforms, sporting the same shirts from Aeropostale or American Eagle that they got on their weekend visit to Texas (our closest border) and end up in either college. After graduation, they get a job in one of the many companies, get married, throw a lavish party, have kids, and then their kids go to the same schools they did. Rinse and repeat.

It’s a privileged twinkling city, one that has everything you ever need so not a lot of people leave. Kind of like Moana, she wants to go explore, but everyone stays on Motonui because consider the coconuts! I always describe it to my husband, Keal, as a sort of LA vibe. With trendy hipster restaurants and hangouts opening and closing in the blink of an eye, startups, tall office buildings, big companies like Coca-Cola, people from different countries mingling, the Beverly Hills scent of privilege, and everything in between. Very Americanized.

Don’t get me wrong, although my hometown is not like Santa Cecilia in Pixar’s Coco… the culture and values are the same. We too have a Plaza, traditional Mexican architecture, a storied Baroque palace and many many people filling up your belly with tamales and love. That part is so true. I had a very cool upbringing full of family values, color, Sunday visits to my Abuelita’s house, all the warmth and friendliness of my people and the best food on the planet. But I feel like I’ve lived in this limbo of cultures my entire life. My heart belongs to México, but my mind is very American.

I grew up watching 90s Nicktoons, Lizzie McGuire and so many Simpson episodes that I have absolutely no accent when I speak English. I often pout and whine about not having a sexy Sofia Vergara accent. A few years back, it used to be a point of pride in me, where I would smugly tell the story to any American who would be surprised when they found out I was a 100% born and raised Mexican. Cue my perfectly timed story of how my Dad got us DirecTV growing up, bought me all the books I ever wanted and how my English teachers were Hey Arnold and That’s So Raven. Oh Snap!

Sometimes I feel almost like an impostor, like I’m going through life without anyone ever really knowing who I am because I blend in so seamlessly. I know a lot of people would kill for this, to blend in, but sometimes it feels like I’m caught between two worlds, betraying my country in a way. I know it took me a while to love my tanned olive colored skin and be proud of it, even before I moved to the states! There’s a term widely used in México for people who love other countries more than their own: Malinchista. Growing up I was called that, by friends, classmates, and sometimes even my own mother. I always felt ashamed of liking American things even when my own city was exposing me to them. Living so close to the border gives you sort of an identity complex. I KNOW I’m Mexican, I was born there, I lived there for 21 years of my life, the most crucial years, my childhood. But I was also raised in a semi-American environment. You can say it’s confusing for a little girl who’s figuring out who she is.

At 20 I started tinkering with the idea of studying in California. I was struggling with my career choice (I was majoring in International Marketing at the time) and felt utterly lost. So with the support of my parents I moved to California to go to school for Graphic Design and I never looked back. Pop! Went my childhood bubble.

I was lucky I ended up in LA because it has a mix of people from all over. I not only made Mexican-American friends, but also Columbian, American and Venezuelan. I never really felt out of place at school and I even landed a job at a Hispanic ad agency in Santa Monica right after graduating where many of my co-workers where Mexican imports with work visas, like me! It was a slice of home. I did not get culture shock at all, my upbringing had been preparing me for this my whole life. I sported these cool California rose colored glasses and found my own little bubble of camaraderie and familiarity. Thats when it hit me. I was stuck in another bubble.

I always get stir crazy if I find myself in some sort of hamster wheel, or rat race. I wasn’t going to climb the corporate ladder and keep working for the weekend. You can say that I have this kind of rebellious spirt that is always searching for more. I always want to expand my horizons, take risks and have adventures. I think its partly because of that upbringing of seeing everyone doing the same thing on repeat, except now as an adult I am constantly surrounded by people whining about their jobs but not doing something to change their realities.

So I quit and traveled for two whole years and now I’m staying put and working on building my business. None of which would have been possible if I didn’t have both cultures ingrained in my brain. As a 28 year old semi-adult, I can say that without having that story I wouldn’t be where I am today and I can appreciate it. My Mexican culture is based on hard work, friendliness and family. My adopted American side that I have learned in my 7 years of living here as well as during my childhood is all about opportunities and the American dream. The fact that I can blend in so seamlessly IS my superpower. I have the best of both worlds! I get to be proud of being Hispanic, to represent while I live my dream.

I no longer am ashamed I have no accent, nor hiding, I am loud and proud. I have the honor of having years of tradition behind me. To have the hardworking ethic of my people push me forward. I have the resilient heart of my country and the ideals of the American Dream, which I am so lucky to be able to do. I get to take risks because I know there is more. I get to say no to settling and strive to build my business in a country that welcomes opportunities. I get to BE Mexican and have years of tradition and values coursing through my veins.

Yes I am far from home, from my friends and family, but they are with me always. I have adopted an American lifestyle in my 7 years of being here, but it was part of me all along because I lived so close to the border and now I get to share it with my husband who is American.

I am not saying its easy, most days I really miss home. I miss the warmth of the people, the FOOD, the traditions, how everyone smiles at each other, the hard working ethic that everyone has (you will never meet someone as hardworking as a Mexican), and how you just call every one of your friends’ parents Tía/Tío (Aunt or Uncle) as if they are family… because they are! Not to mention you greet everyone with a kiss on the cheek and a half hug, even people you just met. None of this business transactional handshake you get in the states. The fact that I know all of this makes me just glow with pride.

Today I am not ashamed, I am empowered. I am honored to be able to live my dream with México always in my heart. I am not stuck between to cultures, I’m embracing two cultures. It’s who I am and hopefully one day if and when I ever decide to have kids, they’ll be embracing them too.

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