Donna walks into the living room as if she’s more of a stranger than I am to this group. I beg to differ. I glance around in search of how it is that I got here…Oh, right, I know Tina, and her sister, and then there’s Chris, Tina’s sister’s husband. Regardless, I’m the new kid on the block. I win. Donna darts her eyes around the room in a high strung manner; a look of, “Oh, god, I hate these situations.” There’s something in me that actually appreciates her truth. It is difficult to walk into a space and come across as, “Hey, it’s all cool, I do this all the time.” And I guess we do, it’s just that most of us don’t get better with time.
Anyway, Donna doesn’t feel welcomed by the other women in the room. I realize that this energy bleeds over to the men and their perceptions of her too. I offer some pleasantries and before you know it, she’s glued on me. We talk about culture. Donna’s parents are tri-lingual on both sides, placing her in the perfect position of learning Spanish, French, Russian and something else.
“My father forbad me from learning anything but English, and he was embarrassed that he was dark, and knew Spanish and French, and therefore I grew up with the idea that English is the most powerful language to know and that would make me look ‘whiter’ which they both wanted, and so I grew up with little understanding of my cultural background.”
At some point I decide to give up on counting the amount of and’s she uses in her speech, and try to add to the conversation, “Yes, that’s what happened to me and my upbringing -” but I don’t get half way through my thought, when she continues –
“ – and so my siblings are split down the middle color-wise, I’m one of the whiter ones, and so my experience growing up is different to my other siblings who are darker, and – ”
Why is that such a common experience among people today? How many times in the past year have I heard that, for example, Latinos I know never got to embrace their culture/language/history, etc? It happened to me and it continues to happen with our generation. Are we not learning? Do we want to continue this estranged cultural divorce?
“- and to tell you the truth, I just need to start practicing these languages, and if I really want to learn Spanish I just don’t want to learn the Dominican Republic Spanish cause that’s just ugly, and – ”
There’s something to be said about parents choosing to teach their kids another language early. A friend of mine chooses to hire 3 nannies of varying languages to have their 5-year old son embrace three different worlds of history, cultural identity and ethnic understanding. But from the inside out. What a brilliant idea. If I had the money.
Somewhere in the twenty-minute mark, Donna has shadowed me outside for a smoke, to the kitchen and back to our seating arrangement at the early part of the evening. I feel for her. Her boyfriend is not one to settle down and is known to test the waters (of many cultures, apparently), so I wonder if his friends subconsciously prepare for her departure sooner rather than later. And then I wonder…
If Donna tapped into her cultures, would she be better equipped at tapping into herself? And, thus, how she adapts to a conversation with a stranger? And, thus, understand the dynamics of her partner and his friends, and their take on her?
But, then, again, I could be talking about myself.