by María L. Trigos-Gilbert

Hi, I don’t if you know me a bit or at all, at least as a writer. I will give you an opportunity to know something about me. What I will write in here, is the substance of my life. This substance is my father, Benito Trigos Fernandez. Since I live far away from my parents, siblings, and relatives, it is very difficult to send gifts or even to be present at family events. So I decided that father’s day is EVERY DAY as well as mother’s day.

When I came to the USA, I did not have a culture shock because it seems that I have always lived on an airplane as well as far away from home. I have seen so many different faces from so many countries that this has made me indeed a very open minded person. Therefore, I once heard a friend saying how cold North Americans seemed to be during her visit in the USA. I pondered a lot about her words, and then came to the conclusion that my friend missed the point.

What’s the Point?
The point is that we all have different attitudes and perspectives toward life or its events. Whether we are in our own country, or whether we are in a different country, we have not been created in series. For the most part, we look a lot alike, but our demeanors set different standards to what we consider priorities and second choices. This is the point that my friend missed. Though we tend to categorize people, deep inside we must know that we do not have the right to generalize. Even more it is nothing wrong if one is “cold,” I or you may consider a nation’s people cold. Yet they may be the most exciting people that we could have met. The matter of generalizing is the tragedy and catastrophe that comes with it.

What Tragedy or Catastrophe?
The tragedy is that we suffer a culture shock. We suffer it because we think that the ones who surround us are indeed super different from our native settings. The truth is that yes, we are in a different setting almost on a daily basis. We may suffer from it, or we may enjoy the differences that various people from different parts of the world bring in our lives. When people ask me if I miss my country, I have to say that I don’t miss my country as much as I miss my parents and siblings. It is not about the place, but about the ones that we leave behind, though in thought they are constantly in our minds.

Why Have I Mentioned My Father in this Article?
I could simply state that I love the man, my father. This should be an enough reason, but deep inside we are aware that I have mentioned him because I am trying to make a point. So you may ask, “Well, and what’s the point?” I will answer your question by writing in here that he was the first foreigner that I met and knew. Time was passing, and I like my father was, and I am still growing older. As you may guess, children ask, and ask a lot. So I asked my father to take me to Spain, where he is from. My father didn’t have time to go on a trip because of his work and family, our family. Yet he did buy an airplane ticket for me, destination Spain.

What Did I Discover in Spain?
When I arrived to Spain, I truly felt like Christopher Columbus in America. I felt that I had discovered something pretty valuable. I was right. I saw where my father comes from. Then I understood the why of my father’s untypical demeanor. My father has always been a super serious men in comparison to the Latin American men. He has been more reason than heart, though he is a helper and a loyal man at all times, good ones or bad ones. Certainly I could noticed that my father was very different from the most of the Caraqueños, men from Caracas, Venezuela. I was a child, but I did take into consideration my father’s actions in all what our life as a family was concerned.

When I was living in Spain for such a good while, I understood my father a lot more than when I was living in my birth country and with a Venezuelan mother. I understood that my father was pretty much a European. This he could not hide, even though he was married to a Venezuelan and had three children with that woman, my mother. It is true that little we as a family could complain about my father’s culture at home, or at least about the mixture that he brought to our home. On the contrary, he enriched all of us with his responsible way of living, his way of seeing life. This is why I had to start this article making reference of him.

My Life in the USA, Indeed I Understand My Father a Lot More
My father’s native language is Galician. When he went to Caracas, he already knew some Spanish since both languages are similar. Nevertheless, he had to learn new words, new idioms, and indeed the language itself. I was in the very same situation five years ago in this USA. I thought about my father, and I realized how hard it must had been for him. He had to do at first unsuitable jobs, though he was very gifted to do something better. This happened to me; at first in this USA I had “to become” a waitress, a baby sitter, a maid, and you name it. I did it.

What a Night!
One night I had a terrible night in the restaurant that I was working. It was a pretty fancy restaurant. This is to say that the people who went there, were not that tolerant of my mistakes. I was so apprehensive. The whole thing meant calamity for me. Yet I did try to make the best out of it, but one night I had it all. When I came home, I just went to bed with my cloth on and with a towel as a handkerchief to dry my eyes and to blow my nose. I was so exhausted. It seemed that I never could find rest. Yet I always found the way to keep going when I was in front of my coworkers and customers. So we do not have to wonder why I cry so much at home.

What Was the Problem?
The language was the very first problem. I had a terrible time understanding the Southern English. I went to school, and they taught me standard English. I was not used to the nasal sound, which indeed is the lack of it phonetically speaking.

IDIOMS were driving me crazy. “How come?” I used to answer with, “What’s coming?” An invitation to eat, I did not feel like eating anything, and this guy says, “Well, what sounds good?” Yes, it does make sense to me now, but then it truly threw me off.

The supper market, goodness, another nightmare. When I went to buy groceries, I got cursed hundreds of times. Why did it happen? Simple, I used to buy zero cans and all kinds of vegetables. The cashiers used “to hate” me, though I changed supermarkets pretty often in order to keep Darwin’s theory that the strongest survives, the weakest dies. I am a true believer that the strongest survives. The weakest is like the movie, Gone with the Wind. It was not that they really hated me. Yet they had a hard time looking up the code numbers that each vegetable had. Yes, I decided to start buying a lot of more cans to make it easier on them and on me.

“So are you here for good?” My husband’s friends asked him when we just got here, to the USA. Well, I just had a year married to this man, my husband. What was I supposed to think? I truly thought that we were talking about a bad guy that finally decided to behave well in life. I thought that before he married me, he was a real bad guy to the point that people had to ask him if he came back to the USA for good. At that time I never had the courage to ask my husband, what people meant. I was a bit concerned, but too afraid to find out the truth. What was the truth? Simple, people just meant if he came here to stay or for a visit.

“I am fixing to go to the store,” a friend of mine said. I asked her, what are you going to fix at the store? This time I was the one who threw my friend off track, even more she thought that I was being a smart aleck. Of course, I was not; I was about to believe that she was going to repair something at the store. I never knew that she could repair anything since she looked to me pretty fragile, though this was besides the point. Certainly she just meant that she was about to go to the supermarket.

It is very true that we learn by trial and error. Dear reader, this is the fun part of living in a different country and with a new language to be learned. The truth is that I embraced all that came along. I was so eager to learn and to be taught, though many times I was so embarrassed for my lack of idioms knowledge. Yes, those things are not taught in formal courses. It is almost impossible to teach idioms and cultures in school because there as many idioms and cultures as there are people in the entire world. Do you get the picture? I think you do, good for you.

Certainly one thing I have learned through the years that I have spent in universities, academies, and jobs. We all have our own culture, and we must respect people’s cultures. This is the most exciting part of living, seeing how other people live. We may imitate the good we see as much as we should trash the bad part of those cultures out, whichever those may be. I have lived in this country for five years, and all the adventures that I lived at first, did not make me weaker or more vulnerable, but indeed stronger.

Now I see myself and see how far I have come. One thing I always keep in mind; I am not the only one who has done this, nor the last one doing it. There are many people out there who come and go from one place to another. If they leave those places as they come, they have missed the point. If they do not find something attractive and worthy, they have done their traveling in vain. It is as the story of that family who went on a crusade. They kept eating from the cans that they brought because they did not make the attempt to find out that the marvelous meals were included with the crusade’s tickets. So they missed the best part, delicious meals with terrific people. They found out about it when they were about to leave after so many days of eating from cans. Sad, isn’t it? I think so.

This is what may have happened to my friend when she came to the USA. She found cold people rather than a warm south or an exciting north. She kept eating from the cans she brought, rather than trying the meals that she could have tasted. She may have liked them if she would just have made the attempt. I have made the attempt as my father has been doing since he arrived to Venezuela. He has been taking a bit of everything, enjoying people, events, and meals. I feel honor to understand my dad because I have been doing the same thing. Certainly this has been a new scenery, but the deal is about the same.

I am truly thankful that here in the USA I started at the very bottom, from the very scratch. If we think about it, even God had to start this earth’s formation from the very scratch, it took him a while to get all in place and functioning. Therefore, I know what good is when I know what bad (the scratch part) was at first. Thus I understand that my lack of vocabulary, my rough English (more than now), my absent idiom comprehension, and so on was not the North American’s fault. This was my trial, and a fair trail, even more all of them have been necessary situations in order to gain full appreciation of this country and its people. I regret none if I have to regret something, from the top of my head I do not think of any.

Our Beliefs May Be Unique As So Are People
At times we hold beliefs and some positions in life without knowing the whys. Yet when we make a self examination, we understand that we are all humans, with needs and aspirations. The more we limit ourselves, the less chances we get. I am not greedy, but I want all the chances that I may get. I think that you do too. This is the good part that life brings, exploration at all times, sides, and sizes. This is not to say that we must not be careful. This is not to say that we must loose our identity in order to fit with a new “I am.” We cannot avoid being because we are. This is the fact of all facts.

I truly thank you for your attention. You have been a fine reader. If you have some questions, please feel free to write me an e-mail by touching my hotlinked name at the head of this article. I will be very glad to answer you. Much and much thanks from the very bottom of my heart.