La Jornada – A Journey In Cultural Identity

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The following post is part of our series on Ethnic Identity.

At some point in my career I had to do a presentation about Mexican culture in a multicultural team. I gladly did it, but no one else did one. It was only me and though there were many minority friends in the group I was the only minority with no other counterpart minority friends in the mix. This experience pointed out to the separateness between us. I had to explain myself even if no one else had to. It was as if somehow my culture was harder to understand or as if others did not know what to do with my culture and so it required an explanation.

Identifying as Mexican and Latina at this point meant identifying as complex in a way that required an explanation.

There was also a time when communication styles were impacting the dynamics of our team. It was becoming harder for all of us to be effective and to continue to believe the best in each other when we were constantly misunderstanding each other. At some point the norm became to assume that “communication was for the hearer.” With this in mind we needed to speak in a way that clearly communicated our message so that others could understand it. However, it seemed as if this norm was only applicable for us indirect communicators. Under the guise of communicating for our audience there was an underlying devaluation of indirect communication and a great appreciation for direct communication.

Indirect communication was referred to as a secret code that was hard to decipher and in that season of my life direct communication seemed rude and aggressive to me. Much of my comfort and familiarity with indirect communication was tied to my cultural background, therefore, identifying with being Latina meant identifying with someone who though able to speak English was not able to express preferences or ask for help clearly.

Experiences like the ones above have turned me away from identifying as a Latina, because I long to be understood.

Later that semester I remember driving down Lamar frustrated as thoughts were running in my mind. I made it to the light on MLK and as I waited for the green to turn onto campus; I finally figured it out. The problem with my existence was that I was Mexican. The reason my experiences were so hard was because I was Mexican. It finally clicked and as I connected the dots, they pointed to my “Mexicaness.” I shouted out to God and busted out crying “If only You did not make me this way then I could better relate to people, I could speak their language, and I could get done what you have called me to do.”

Sometimes, it has felt as if the burden is solely on me to help others understand my experience or culture when relating to me. It is almost as if there is no mutual move towards each other, but rather there is an expectation that I will know what others need to understand in order to decode my culture and that I will be able to explain it in a way that makes sense to all. Now, don’t get me wrong I love decoding my culture and love sharing what I know and understand with others. What I dislike is doing all the work for someone else because the lack of investment in seeking understanding to me has communicated a lack of interest or value.

Often, in an effort to understand others we miss that we too must be understood. As much as my culture needs to be explained so do other cultures need to be decoded and explained. As we are able to decode our own culture and identify our own cultural “bottom-of-the-iceberg” elements we are better able to comprehend other people’s explanation of their “bottom-of-the-iceberg” elements.

When the Lord called me to LA, it finally became clear that I was made Latina for a reason. My experiences and heritage were so for such a time as this in a place like this. Because of who I am I am able to tell the story of God in a unique way that makes sense to Latinos whom He loves. Because of who He made me I am able to offer a breath of fresh air through a different perspective to many in the greater body of Christ. Because of whom God made us we can bring Him glory. It was God’s idea for us to be born like we were, in the times, and places where we were so that He would glorify Himself through us, delight in us, and so that we would enjoy Him and reflect Him beautifully and uniquely.

Today, I I have begun to grow in gratitude to God  over being Latina. Further, I have been able to tell my story to Latin@s and non-Latin@s and I have been more understood by many who provide the strength to be misunderstood by many others and to continue engaging.

I have experienced understanding when my fellow Latin@s share their stories and our stories resonate with each other. I have experienced great support from them as they challenge me to further explore my ethnic identity. I am honored by the respect some have offered me and for how they have shared their pain and joy in their journeys. I have been enriched by them.

I have been understood by non-Latin@ friends as they have chosen to come into my context purely to engage. I have been humbled by those who have joined me in going to places where they become the minority and they are there with a sense of awareness that their presence impacts the dynamics of the environment, yet they choose to respectfully engage and see potential for developing relationship. I have been enriched by them.

In decoding the Latin@ experience, it’s easier to explain it when people believe or trust what we share rather than judging its weirdness or complexity. I love when people have taken the time to be around us and get to know us just by being with us. I enjoy when a relationship has been established and there is room for genuine questions, asked from a place of true desire to learn.

I have been honored and understood when people let themselves be influenced by my experience. I have experienced healing when my experience matters to others and when they have shown compassion to me by acknowledging my journey and the shared experience of Latin@s.

photo courtesy: Johan Larsson

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Posted on April 18, 2012

About destinoovalle

A Latina, former Destino student, now serving in an urban context.

2 Responses to La Jornada – A Journey In Cultural Identity

  1. miss.picture says:

    “The problem with my existence was that I was Mexican” This both made me laugh and cry. Oh how many times have I thought that my nationality was the problem. If only I was “Like them”. If only I spoke their language better. If I could only get rid of my accent, things would be easier. Thanks for sharing, Ovalle. 

    • destinoovalle says:

      “If only I was like them” makes me sad to think about the many times I thought of my own as less than or juts outside the norm. I think what I am finding now is that being outside the norm is needed and life-giving to the body of Christ. Thanks for reading Diana!