When you're a member of a minority culture (though I think Mexicans are getting closer to being the majority in San Diego), you often find yourself explaining even the small nuances of life to friends and acquaintances outside it. Sometimes it can lead to awkward, borderline racist conversations. Other times, it can offer an interesting perspective on people's experiences.
I've had a lot of these conversations lately and so has America, as race becomes a bigger, more important and passionate issue in this Trumpified society. Every time that man opens his disgusting, Cheeto-colored mouth and spews a layer cake of hatred, ignorance or an unwarranted reference to the size of his penis, a large part of this country applauds increasingly louder and I get more and more scared for the future.
My conversations don't always erupt into a barrage of angry emails, tweets, PMs and in-person confrontations, as I recently experienced. Sometimes they simply lead to fascinating dialogues about the differences between cultures. These are conversations I love and regularly enjoy having, because in understanding our different experiences, traditions and beliefs I truly believe that individuals, and the collective human race, become more compassionate and less close-minded.
I recall a friend, an immigrant from Afghanistan, getting her nose pierced. "Oh my god, what did your parents say?" I asked. "Mine would kill me!" She explained that nose rings were a widely accepted tradition for women in her culture, so no, her parents weren't mad. Alternatively, my boyfriend's septum rings upset his religious mom. It's her Biblical belief that nose rings were intended for slave women and he's not a woman and therefore it is offensive. When my mom saw my nose piercing, she was infuriated that I would do that to my face, the face of her baby, and threatened to rip it out. In all situations, I learned something new about the meaning to different cultures of a sliver of metal piercing through a nostril.
My best friend is going through a difficult divorce. We've all been through breakups, some of us through divorces. The role our family plays in those situations varies, depending on culture and one's relationship with their family. My best friend, who is white, refuses to talk to her parents about it. "I literally have zero interest in talking to them about my divorce," she says. "They don't know anything about me. If they want to help, they can give me money to go to Ikea."
At first it seemed cold. Her relationship with her parents isn't strained. In fact, she loves them very dearly and even spends a fair amount of time with them. I didn't get her reaction. When I was going through my divorce, that wasn't even an option. My family demanded details. If I wanted that newly single cash handout to take to Ikea, I was going to pay for it with information. And the reactions were Telenovela sized. Cómo! Que paso? Por qué! No puede ser! Cómo es posible!
I had to brace myself for the anything-but-delicate familial reaction as hard as I had to brace for the crippling loss of my marriage. The gossip quickly made its way to my extended family and family friends. Distant relatives and friends of my mom asked me deeply personal questions, and I didn't have the option of asking for privacy on the matter. Well, maybe I did but it's just not how my culture, or family, works. That's not to say all Mexican families are the same, but it is a common thread.
Because of this, my eldest sister and I seem to have developed a trauma for drama. I downplay most things because I've had too many years of experiencing level-500 reactions to any not-great news. Last year, when my doctor told me I have a tumor on my brain's pituitary gland, my initial reaction was panic and fear for my health. My second reaction was, "Oh god, I'm going to have to tell my mom and she's going to lose it." Even when I told my closest friends, I let them know as they were walking out of my apartment just to avoid any fussing. (Everything is fine, by the way.)
When I tell this to my best friend, she is absolutely horrified at even the idea of having to discuss any of her personal hardships with her parents. She doesn't think it's weird or look down at the fact that I do, and there's not really a choice in the matter. It just took a long time to admit what she was going through, and the idea of being forced to share her struggles and have the people she loves freak out over it is an anxiety attack waiting to erupt. I realized it's not cold at all. It's just how her culture and family works, and I explained to her that those freak-outs come from love. That's why I accept them.
The larger conversation revolving around these differences when it comes to break ups has been fascinating and varied, and much of that is because my best friends come from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. Our different perspectives and histories offer a new insight, and it's pretty awesome. When those perspectives come together to help heal a friend we love, it becomes all the more important that they coexist and are understood.