13 Jan Finding a Place Between Worlds
Breaking into the world of interpreting and gaining acceptance as somebody who learned Spanish in college and beyond has been a quite a journey in self-discovery. Although I’ve learned the language and culture well enough to succeed as an interpreter, the fact is that I will never be like those around me who, being either heritage or native speakers, are naturally part of the Spanish-speaking culture. What a difficult realization to come to, and yet I don’t think it’s necessarily a unique experience.
Although it’s always been a lot of fun to liken my life to the cultural encounters in movies such as Spanglish and My Big Fat Greek Wedding, for a long time it was a heavy burden when people around me would point out that I was different from them. When first learning Spanish, it was no surprise that cultural references or plays on words would slip by me. Despite the hard work in learning all of the ins and outs I possibly could, there came a point when I realized that I will never be able to close the gap between my two worlds. To add insult to injury, I found myself in a place where it didn’t feel like I was a full-fledged member of either one! Now that’s heavy.
Having come to that conclusion, I found myself analyzing what got me there in the first place. I think at first, my trying to “find myself” as a young adult coincided with the beginning of my integration into a new culture. I mean, here I was trying to learn a new way of speaking and living, and I hadn’t even really matured and fully learned about my mono-cultural self yet! Later came the trials and tribulations of integrating into my new family by marriage. That’s difficult enough, but add in that the group was large and recently immigrated to the US, and you have the perfect storm for feelings like I just couldn’t get the culture thing right.
In the world of professional interpreting, I found myself the minority yet again. Many colleagues of mine grew up in the United States speaking Spanish and are bicultural, and many grew up in a Spanish-speaking country and immigrated here as adults. My desire to have all the wonderful language and cultural knowledge they had was overwhelming, and seemed to be my duty as a good interpreter. Gosh, can’t a girl catch a break?
I wonder whether this experience is similar to that of people whose physical features or background come with an expectation to speak perfect Spanish, but they don’t. Maybe there’s a burden carried by immigrants who try to blend in, and yet they’re continually reminded about their foreign accent or the different foods in their lunchboxes. Come to think of it, we all have something that makes us different… no—that makes us unique! Now we’re getting somewhere!
After all, looking at the struggles I endured as a young adult, as a new interpreter, the moments when I felt inadequate, all of it continues to be wonderfully balanced by the joys of learning different perspectives, and getting to know a rich variety of people from far away that I might never have otherwise met. All of it, without exception, makes me examine myself, my ways of thinking, and see the world from a different point of view.
When I look at the whole picture, the reality is I’m not living some unique experience at all; I’m living the human experience. It took a while, but what I’ve learned is that rather than carrying the burden of attempting to transform, my goal is to continue to add to who I am, striving always to learn more about the language and culture of my work. As an interpreter, I’m expected to flow back and forth between both worlds, and life has had its way of placing me right in the middle, despite my push to be on the Spanish side.
Indeed, I learned to embrace the fact that I won’t get all the plays on words in my second language, I won’t always know the best cultural remedy, and my accent will be a little funny sometimes. There will always be something I don’t know, and I may stick out like a sore thumb in family portraits, but I like to think I’m enriching those around me with my unique life experiences. Nope, I didn’t grow up bicultural, or bilingual, and I’m now completely content knowing that my culture is neither from here nor from there, but from my heart and my life. And in the end, that’s pretty cool.
Check out these links for further thoughts on Cultural Identity and Multiculturalism: