Expat Life

Between cultures

The prompt for the Expat Blog Challenge on Saturday, February 16th was to respond to the following quote from Sarah Turbull:

It is a bitter-sweet thing, knowing two cultures. Once you leave your birthplace nothing is ever the same.

Growing up in Miami, I was like everyone else: Cuban. Ok, there were other people in Miami such as Haitians, Nicaraguans, Dominicans. I even knew a Polish kid and a Greek kid. But with about 35% of the populace being Cuban, Miami is the largest city with a Cuban-American plurality. I lived smack in the middle of it in Little Havana. I grew up on arroz con frijoles and Spanish-language soap operas.

I didn’t know I was a minority until I left Miami. My Otherness was brought to light just five hours north in Tampa. Funny enough, Tampa also has a large Cuban population, but those Cubans have been in the US longer and came from a different class. Among my college friends, I looked and sounded different. Suddenly, I wasn’t white anymore; I was Hispanic.

I was born in Havana, but I left with my family when I was two years old. To people on the island, I’m American. To Americans, I’m Latina (a term I don’t identify with at all). I’ve always lived between cultures.

Moving to Melbourne made me more American. When you’re an expat, you become a representative for your entire nation. The move also highlighted my Cuban edges. There are so many little things about the US that I don’t know and don’t understand. A certain American culture wasn’t strongly present in my life. For example, American folklore is almost entirely lost on me and I didn’t try Kraft’s Macaroni and Cheese until I was 19.

Travel changes a person enough. Moving abroad does something else to you. In some ways, it brings you closer to people like you. This is why so many expats seek other expats. They want to be with other Americans. They are familiar strangers and they share a certain experience nobody else understands. That hasn’t worked well for me because I’m not American enough. My Americaness prevents me from connecting with Cubans who have arrived in Australia from Cuba.

Immigration and expat living also create a new void between you and people that you thought were like you. Immigrants tend to hold on to their culture tightly, but culture is not fixed. The country you left behind continues to change. When you return, it feels a little foreign.

Comments

comments

  • Great post – I enjoyed reading this. I know what you mean about suddenly being the representative of your entire culture too. 🙂

    • Cosette

      It goes both ways. I consider my Aussie partner to be representative of his entire country lol.