It was an awkward moment and we all felt it. My first official play date with a friend from school and Mami, upon meeting the girl’s mother, leaned in to plant an introductory beso on her cheek. The woman, a Chinese immigrant, was clearly taken aback and I felt the redness of embarrassment splash over my face. My friend smiled and whispered, “My mom does weird things like that all the time.” It was a gesture of solidarity. Our families eventually became friends and we girls bonded over the “oddness” of our immigrant parents. We forged a community.
Integration into a new culture requires more than just learning the language, as we all know. One must also learn the ways, las maneras, of the new people. Learn the ways of the natives and you can move fluidly among them. Learn the culture, and you can interact more easily with others and be part of an integrated society. And that’s ideal: an integrated society where people of all different maneras can come together and celebrate themselves and each other.
Not to say that getting to this promised land is easy. Moving between cultures is a bit of a minefield, isn’t it? It’s important to learn to avoid some sticky situations by being able to predict how a certain action will play out in a particular context. For example, perhaps I wouldn’t have been the recipient of the swift chancletazo of justice had I not spoken to my mother in the same way some of my non-Latino friends spoke to theirs. What I thought was an attempt to loosen up our relationship was viewed as disrespect for the Mami. And we all know, one cannot disrespect the Mami.
Imagine seizing the Latino teaching moment by giving out some knowledge nuggets. I wish I could have done that when I was teased for kissing my fingers after crossing myself. No need to feel embarrassed! Tell them: lots of people all over Latin America do it this way. Mi barrio international.
What a great mosaic! I should have been proud that el Veeks was my mother’s favorite medicine. I was not alone. I should have shared the treasured knowledge of the great Vapo-rub. Just as I delighted in that lovely custom that my friends had of collecting wages from their parents in the form of allowances. I was all too happy to integrate into that particular U.S. tradition. “Que allowances ni que nada” my father explained when I first approached him with the idea. Eventually, he got to meet other parents who had already been tricked into this “wage for being children” program and he too slipped into this part of the society. Lucrative integration of cultures for me.
This is why multi-culturalism is so important and beneficial for the society as a whole! Among different communities and between social classes, sharing the wealth of our shared human experience enriches us all. When in Rome, do as the Romans, but add a little salsa!