Opinions, Column

Learning More About Our Cultures

Integrating cultures can be a tough job for anyone. There are intricacies to each and every different lifestyle, and blending them together can be a lengthy process.

There is also a feeling of responsibility that comes with being from a certain culture. You are expected to know about its foods, celebrations, and customs regardless of whether you were raised to follow these traditions. For me, the first time I realized I needed to get to know more about my country was when I was six and living in Spain.

Being the only Mexican in my classroom was usually a lot of fun. I got asked to point out my country and hometown on the world map practically everyday, which of course made me feel very exotic. Two days before “International Day” came around at school, I was already prepared.

I thought I was ready for every possible question. I knew the name of the city I was born in, I knew the name of the capital, I knew the name of the president at the time, and I could even tell people how often it snowed in Monterrey, which is never. As I sat with my friends at lunch pondering what else people would want to ask me, I saw the teacher come up to me.

A couple of minutes later, after agreeing to make a piñata for the class, my six-year-old brain reevaluated my original assumption.

Had I ever made a piñata before? No. Did I know what they looked like? Yeah. Would my parents help me? Probably. I continued to eat my lunch, safely assuming that the odds were in my favor.

That day at home, I told my parents about my situation and asked for their help. They looked perplexed for a second, but in the end shrugged, all of us thinking, “How hard can it be?”

It was hard.

As my mother and I struggled to put the paper maché on a soccer ball, I waited impatiently for my Mexican genes to kick in. I should know how to do this more efficiently, I thought. But two hours later, after we had stuck some cones onto the covered soccer ball, I forgot about my worries and couldn’t help but beam. It looked perfect.

Of course, there was no candy inside the piñata. My mom and I had pondered how to make it so that it would be round, and a soccer ball had been our solution. Looking at the finished product, no one would’ve been able to tell that the piñata was home-made, and I was so proud. We thought we had discovered how to make a piñata by ourselves, and all without the help of Google!

Spoiler alert: We thought wrong.

Two days later, my teacher was ecstatically helping me hang the piñata up, promising all the children that everyone would get a turn to hit it. It wasn’t until she started to tell the children that piñatas were supposed to break once you hit them that I started having the first foreboding that it was not all going to go as planned.

It took the teacher approximately three kids to figure out something was wrong with my piñata. The children would run up to the piñata and hit it hard, expecting to make a dent. Instead, because of the soccer ball I had so carefully hidden in the middle, they would bounce back and land on the floor. The piñata was left unscathed. Eventually, my mother started handing out the candy to the children, trying to distract them from the obvious fact that their efforts were all fruitless.

After my embarrassment that day, I realized just how little I actually knew about my country and our customs, and decided to make more of an effort to learn about my origins. Monterrey is one of the more Americanized cities in Mexico, and I’ve always appreciated the liberal upbringing I’ve had because it helped me integrate more smoothly when I came to the U.S.

There are still many beautiful traditions, however, that the Mexican culture holds dear—traditions that make me who I am, in part, and customs that I want to keep learning about. Rather than viewing it as a responsibility, learning about our culture and how to integrate it into the many others we may have encountered throughout our lives should be an adventure.

There is no straightforward manual for any culture, and much less one for how to bring them together. It’s a work in progress for everyone. Though I realize now that I do not need to feign knowing about all of Mexico’s traditions, I’m still proud to say I have figured out the secret to building a working piñata instead of a battering ram.

Featured Image by Zoe Fanning / Heights Editor

October 15, 2017