I came to the beach today looking for a fresh plate of fruit for breakfast while sitting by the sea near my home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. I hadn’t realized the time and found my chosen restaurant was now serving only lunch. Surprised to find this on the menu, I ordered a cappuccino and the French onion soup. It was delicious!
Feeling very cosmopolitan with my French breakfast in my Mexican surroundings my experience brought to mind the crossing of cultures and I reflected on one of the excellent books I am currently listening to on Audible.
In his latest novel, Our Migrant Souls, Hector Tobar, a very educated individual from a Guatemalan background, his wife’s family from Mexico, paints a poignant picture of the hurdles and complex issues his people from Latin America and other migrants face in their new life in the USA.
In the first of his book he tells of his interaction with his Latin X students in Los Angeles and their telling descriptions of their experiences attempting to meld their dual identities without loosing a sense of the past, family, and their self image in the present.
I am especially impressed with part two of the book in which he, a lover of maps from childhood, takes off on an extensive trip around “his” American country. He meets and talks with many people of Latin American descent, often in small rural communities, and kind of randomly interviews them in order to know their thoughts about their lives there. He finds probably to a readers surprise, very interested and cultured people living the simple American life they found as the result of a pressing desire to improve their children’s opportunities and, usually, escape violence and lack of freedom in the country they left behind. As Tobar points out, they often must give up important emotional, family and cultural ties in the process but, like his own family, the people he meets make every effort to introduce their family to the higher level of culture available to them in their new home through education, museums, libraries and travel while maintaining some contact with their families still in the country they left.
In his book and in his classes he helps migrant youth understand and define their identity in America. It is, as he explains, a very complicated issue.
In a system that insists on labeling, often limiting options, people have little choice about how they are defined by others. The categories we ascribe to our fellow men carry preconceived notions of who they indeed are which are most often very misleading. In an article in today’s NY Times a writer points out that this practice results in trapping us in boxes that we cannot easily escape and determines the choices we make, often limiting the possibilities life could offer us.
In my friend Darrel McLeod’s new novel, A Season in Chezgh’un, we experience this in the case of his main character’s struggle between his Cree background which he loves and his hard won career as school principal in a mostly white power structure in northwestern Canada. No matter where you are you long for the “other”, and you must always be watchful of how you are being perceived and act accordingly to fit the expectations or demands of each group.
In America, privileged individuals who actually probably make up a minority of the total population control the guidelines and define how they see those they perceive to be “unlike” themselves instead of fearlessly going deeper into who they really are, their history and their needs, their hopes for their and their families' futures. In this way we unfortunately miss out on the unique value they bring to society.
We must keep an open mind, get to know our neighbors and cherish the differences as well as the dreams. Tobar tells us that good will alone will not solve the problem. It will require initiative from all of us and a restructuring of the way we look at identity and so called race. His book is a good start to help us realize the challenges we all face.
I don’t know what all of this has to do with my onion soup!
I am a writer who covers film, art, music and culture expanding on my own experience, travels and interests. My goal is to explore and to share, hopefully inspiring my readers to follow my lead and further enrich their lives as well.