"So you're from Mexico right?"
"What is the food in Cuba like?"
"Mmm Ecuador, is that in Africa?"
I come from a country that is part of a much bigger region: Latin America. Although we share a lot of cultural traits and customs, each one of the 20 countries in this region is unique. However, when I moved to Claremont, I encountered a lack of knowledge about my region and the differences among each Latin American identity.
Because some of us have similar physical traits and speak with similar accents, people tend to relate our identities and think we all come from Latin America: the one-culture country. However, the truth is, the differences between all Latin American countries are countless.
Most of us speak the same language and could technically understand each other, but even Spanish is unique to each country. In fact, within each country, the local vernaculars are different from one another. The accents that people living in coastal areas have is completely different from that of those living in the inland regions.
The food, the music, the holidays… they are all different! This time of year, you could be in Mexico celebrating el Dia de los Muertos, while in Ecuador people are celebrating their National Flag Day and in Peru people are commemorating the Purple Christ Holiday (when their biggest earthquake hit the country but did not destroy a purple painting of Jesus).
Finally, ceviche: a typical Latin American seafood dish, is prepared completely differently in every country. I dare you to try each!
Being aware of everyone's identities without automatically putting people with similar traits into bigger categories is important, and has helped me not only to be more aware of my unique Latin American identity as an Ecuadorian, but also to be mindful of other regions and their countries' unique values and cultures.
-Valentina Emanuele PO'20
After more than a year in the US, I realize how differently people express their emotions here.
When my friends saw me after two months of summer break, they ran to me to give me big hugs and told me how much they missed me. When I told my spib that I received a disappointing grade for my paper, a deeply worried look appeared on her face and she grabbed my hand and told me, “I am so so sorry to hear that.” Direct expressions of emotions are everywhere around me: the body gestures, the “perfect”, the “so much”, and the “I love you” constitute the essence of social interactions here in the US.
Coming from a high-context culture like China, I am not used to such upfront expressions. Our emotions are delivered in more subtle and indirect ways. In one classic Chinese pop song, the singer sings “look how beautiful the moon is tonight” to a girl he likes instead of saying directly, “You look gorgeous tonight and I am falling in love with you.” We tend to project our emotions to some external things, for example, the moon in this case, flowers, sunshine, or even a delicious dish we are sharing with people.
However, I realize if I don’t express my emotions directly in a low-context culture here, there will sometimes be negative outcomes. First, not being expressive can make people upset. For example, people will say “you never really say ‘thank you’ to me. Have I not done enough?” Second, failure in expressing directly sometimes makes people question what I mean: “Do you really think this is a good idea for our project?” or “How do you really feel about our relationship?”
Knowing that these differences exist help me better navigate my interpersonal relationships, especially intercultural ones. However, we need to be mindful that even though general cultural difference in emotional expression exists, different individuals still have their own ways of expression and we should not assume before we further get to the persons for the benefit of a healthy relationship.
ISMP community members will be posting blogs and other media regularly!