When You Are a Second-Gen Kid, It's Easy to Lose Your Family's Culture
Earlier this year, I visited El Salvador, a mountainous and beautiful little country nestled between Guatemala and Honduras. It was my first time visiting my parent's birthplace, and it was also when I discovered how distant I am from my family's culture.
I remember when I arrived at the San Salvador airport, I was greeted by a security officer who, upon seeing me, naturally began speaking a torrent of Spanish.
"Sorry, man, no hablo español," I replied.
And as I said it, he just kind of furrowed his brows in disappointment and walked away. Throughout the trip, moments like that kept happening until I realized I'm just as foreign as the white students I was [on assignment to document for my college paper]. It was a strange feeling, to belong and not belong, to be separated from your community on the basis of your upbringing. You feel left out.
Growing up, I couldn't hold a conversation with my grandpa, and he spent his younger years traveling Central America as a luchador, a masked wrestler hustling money to feed my mom. Even today, I can't have a beer with my uncle, and talk hours about what it was like growing up with my dad, living in a war-torn country, not knowing which day will be your last.
When my parents immigrated to Canada in the 80s, they escaped a brutal civil war. For years, insurgencies, death squads, and hardline politics plagued El Salvador. The country is still dealing with the residual effects in the form of large-scale gangs and government corruption. It's clear now why my parents were reluctant to revisit their home and why I never went growing up. To them, returning to El Salvador meant being reminded of the hardest, most traumatic years of their lives.
When they arrived in Ontario, my parents immediately began working and going to school. By the time they were my age (23), they had full-time jobs, three kids, a house, and two cars. They worked ungodly hours, which meant that they barely had time to see me and my siblings. I spent a lot of my younger years in daycares and with family friends, where I spoke mostly English. Annoyed by my growing inability to understand Spanish, my parents naturally started speaking more English until I was only fluent in that.
At one point, a kindergarten teacher told my mom that it would be much easier if she spoke only English at home, so I wouldn't get "confused" with speaking two languages.