Under Construcción: Growing in Cultural Identity
A friend introduced me to the idea that “ministry is as much about us as it is about those to whom we minister.” This picture could not be truer of my experience with Destino.
This post is born out a recent experience that led me to reflect upon the person I have become culturally and ethnically. My hope is that as I invite you into my journey you’ll be able to reflect upon yours and/or give some guidance to Destino students who may have some similar experiences.
I have been transformed and I have grown much as a result of entering into this field and into the life of the students with whom I work.
When I began interning I was placed in a team made up mostly of Asian American brothers and sisters. It was a place where I felt welcomed and understood. For the first time I realized I was a minority and felt like one. As they shared their experiences of not fitting in well I slowly began to look into my life and realized that over the last few years of being in the US I too had had some of those experiences. They spoke about honor and shame and I felt I belonged there because to a certain extent because I could relate in ways that I could not relate to the majority culture.
After a year of being together, encouraged by some and with personal hesitation, I came to embrace what seemed like a sad reality – though some of my experiences were similar to those of my teammates, I was not Asian American.
I began feeling different and distant from my teammates. This pushed me to explore more about my own ethnic identity. Soon it became evident that in order to define and discover who we are it is helpful to know who we are like, but it is also important to know who we are not.
Realizing I was Latina became a problem before it became a gift. There was not much I could do about this part of me, I did not choose it. I had little to do with the fact that my culture was presenting roadblocks to my effectiveness within this ministry. The gain came in that I became aware of how my culture was playing a part in my interactions and experiences.
I chose to get angry about how this culture, I did not choose, was having a great impact in my life. I thought I could scratch it out altogether and try to adopt another way of doing life and eventually I could figure out a way to cope with the shame of how wrong getting rid of it this felt. But it did not work.
Through the affirmation and encouragement of friends I jumped back in the game towards realizing that I honor God by being who He made me and this includes my Latina-ness. He determined the times and places where we live so that we can come to know Him (Acts 17:26, 27). I am Latina largely because of the times and the places of where I have found myself and the people who have been there in these times and places. All of this is intentionally determined so that we can know God.
I am used to missing it in interacting with majority culture friends. I am used to people explaining words and phrases to me. I am used to friends introducing me to books, music, and movies. I am used to having to learn how to function well here.
But up until earlier this year I was not used to missing in “my own.” I stumbled upon the unspoken rules of courtesy and saving face many times throughout the night. It was unusual.
To be honest I have been out of “my own” for a quite a while. Others have become my own and are no longer other to me. It was a conscious choice I made to serve among us, Latin@s, but I did not realize the depth of transformation it would involve or the pain and joy this experience would produce.
Before, I was able to go into one parent culture and be ok with stumbling because I could go back to the other parent culture where I belonged and functioned almost impeccably. Going back and forth was done with ease. But now I belong to neither. Today I am jumping from a third culture into both. I am jumping from a place where I have taken elements of both. I confess when I first moved to the US I disliked the sound of Spanglish yet today it comes so easily.
Being Latina is such a gift to me today as I belong to a people that sometimes does not belong. I see so much beauty and richness in my fellow Latin@s and truly believe we can contribute so much to the greater story of God.
Ministry has largely become about my heart and my life transformation. Further, those around me have been impacted as I have grown. A large part of this growth has come from crossing cultures and becoming more aware of my own.
What about you? How are you under construcción? How have you culturally been transformed by serving with Destino?
What area some areas where your How can we help Latin@s and others connect with the grief of living in between cultures?
How can we help others appreciate the gifts that come from some these painful experiences?