Saturday, August 11, 2012

Multicultural influences: do they tear me apart, or broaden my world?

I am excited to welcome my friend, Catalina Egan.  Many of you may know her as, M.C.V.Egan.  Catalina is an American by choice. She has lived in Mexico, France, Sweden and various parts of the USA. In this post, she explores the pros and cons of being multilingual & multicultural. As much as her life experience has opened doors and broadened her  perspective, Catalina shares how difficult it feels, at times,  to really belong. Please, welcome her, and enjoy her story.

In many ways today’s technology as well as ease to travel has made most in the world multicultural to some extent. We are as a whole aware of what people in other countries believe, eat, how they dress and much else about their cultures. We are connected and informed; even if reluctantly at times.
This was not always so and from my 53 year old perspective I have very clear memories when foods were not as international; believe it or not McDonalds were not everywhere. Stores were all different, The Gap was only in the USA and the world at large did not share the same coffee, Starbucks was not even a thought. Today we share all this and more this unites us and makes us global; we are in many ways citizens of the world.

I am so thrilled to be invited to share with you this week how my multicultural and multilingual background makes me at times feel very much like a citizen of the world, like I could fit anywhere and at others like a person with no real sense of belonging.
I was born in 1959 in Mexico City, Mexico. My first language was Spanish and my upbringing very Catholic. I felt out of place even then because I am very tall and have a very deep voice; yes it was a gift of birth and not the cost of a smoking habit. (Now kicked) I was never one to accept and compromise and that too was not the norm for girls of my era and frankly more so to the macho culture of Mexico.

I came from a family with many international influences. I grew up surrounded by books and toys from foreign countries. At a young age I became very aware that some people are born where they belong and others are born to seek out the place that feels like home. I was also very aware that I was part of the latter.

At the age of 12 my entire family moved to the Washington D.C. area.  I had already spent a school year in America a few years earlier so English as a language was not an obstacle. It was a very strange era in America because Watergate was about to change the face of what I had perceived as a country where politicians were so honest (not a perception in Mexico) all honest Abes. There was also the Vietnam War and long lines at the gas stations because of something called OPEC.

Every day I felt more and more at home in America; in spite of all the things that seemed to disturb the adults.  I pledged allegiance to the flag and felt great about it. That was all good and fine, because although I felt very much at home and like I fit in my resident Status was a G-4. Guest with privileges and those were temporary. I will not bore you with the logistics of immigration experiences to any country which has also been a big part of my multicultural experience. But it needed to be addressed as it is part of being multicultural and adapting to the other countries.

I lived in France as a student for almost 2 years and Sweden for five years. I have such a love for so many aspects of the four cultures that have left a strong imprint on who I am. For a long time I felt like I was a misfit and did not really belong.

I identified with songs like Neil Diamond’s I am I said where he expressed the confusion between trying to belong in New York or in LA. An Argentine  Facundo Cabral’s song Ser Feliz  a song with an angst of not belonging. In that song the words being happy is my color of identity vs. the colors of a flag. Were the words I felt defined me. I was not from here nor from there…to date on facebook I can’t bring myself to choose a “hometown.”

Another aspect of the multicultural point of view is that history varies as it is taught in different countries and with the difference in perspectives. A good example is the UK National Archives where so much of the American Revolution is housed our Patriots and heroes are their rebels.
Today as I observe the wonderful sense of nationalism displayed by all the people competing and cheering in the Olympics I become a bit confused. I am an American by choice with a nuance of influence from three other countries. That being said, when I watch tremendous athletes from Mexico, Sweden or France…and when they succeed, I get a flow of emotion, feel their joy and I am so happy for them and for those three other countries that helped define me. I also still feel strongly that the color that most represents me is my ability to be happy.

Get to know Catalina...


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