Our son was three or so when he entered preschool. After a few days, his “miss”, as they often call female teachers in Mexico, asked, “Do you understand what he says?” Obviously, she didn’t. We had gotten used to his childish language, in which he mixed a bit of English and Spanish. Of course, before long he straightened things out.
When I took a course in bilingualism as part of my M.A. studies, I wondered if it was too late to help my children become as fully bilingual as possible. But looking back, we hadn’t done that badly, even when our actions were not necessarily the result of conscious decisions at all times. Continue reading
Growing up in Honduras, little by little I began to understand how the world I lived in classified people. I was pigeon-holed as a “gringa”, much as that technically means an American and I am Canadian. I recall walking to school and having someone yell “Gringa!” at me, and wanting to shout back: “I was born here; did you know that?” Even after four decades in Mexico, I realize that my skin color and features still scream “foreigner”, and even after long years of being nationalized, I am usually considered an outsider. Whenever I meet someone new, or even take a taxi, within minutes I am usually asked, “Where are you from?” or “How long have you lived here?” If the person is fairly young, I sometimes reply to the latter, “Longer than you!” (To be truthful, my accent is a giveaway too.)
In California, during a recent visit, some Latinos were trying to take turns to get a family picture with the Hollywood letters in the background. I offered to be their photographer, and they expressed their admiration for how well I spoke Spanish. I just told them I have lived for years in Mexico. Unfortunately, my accent isn’t as “native” as one would expect it to be, however, and even on the phone I’ve been asked, “Where are you from?”
Once I was interviewed for a book about expatriates in Mexico. In the end, the editor indicated a chapter had to be cut out to limit the length of it all, and… guess what? That meant my story. My take on it is that mine was chosen because I was not your “normal” expat compared to the others included, not a retiree who had chosen to live in Mexico instead of the U.S. or Canada, for example. Besides, my husband is Mexican.
That’s about when it occurred to me that for much of my life I’ve been an expat by default, not so much by a conscious decision to live in a country, but due to my connection to other people.
Growing up in Central America was the result of my Dad’s choosing to work there. Marrying a Mexican in Mexico meant, for me at least, taking for granted that we would live here, where he had a small business and would not have to start out from scratch in a foreign language.
Living here by default means that I never really had to take inventory of the pros and cons of living in one country or another. I took Mexico with its pluses and its blemishes, which were mostly familiar to me after studying and working here. Then again, I had spent so little time living in Canada that when people ask “Do you miss Canada?”, it’s hard to say that I do. Of course one misses family, but I also grew up far from all our relatives, knowing that in the summer we’d see at least some of them.
As a Christian, I realize that I am also an expat by default, of sorts. Scripture says we are citizens of a higher realm, who will never feel completely at home until we are there with our heavenly Father. In reality, I did not choose to follow Christ; he chose me and when the time was ripe, I responded. I’m a pilgrim here, not fully attached to one culture or another, but feeling a special connection with others who share the same “citizenship”, no matter what their background.
Fellow pilgrims, let’s make the most of whatever world we live in, and never get too comfortable with where we are, for our true home is around the corner!