A third-culture kid (TCK / 3CK) or trans-culture kid is "someone who, as a child, has spent a significant period of time in one or more cultures other than his or her own, thus integrating elements of those cultures and their own birth culture, into a third culture."


Sunday, July 31, 2011

The Latin Connection

In my previous entry on Multiculturalism, I mentioned that new arrivals to Canada have a tendency to reach out to familiar elements that remind them of their homeland. During the initial phase of my transition, I exhibited a slight variation of this tendency. Although I was technically where I belonged, a microchip was planted deep in my persona reprogramming my operating system to include South American behavioural software – a culture engraining a work-hard-play-hard mentality bringing balance between professional and personal lives. I really missed the warm, casual and friendly ways of the Latin American people. While the botanical garden of cultural diversity flourished around me, however, I could not find the proper flowerbed in which to be planted. The subconscious dialogued relentlessly with its conscious counterpart, suggesting that settling into the landscape could be premature. Would allowing my life to take roots in Ottawa be once more interrupted by yet another move in the near future? Was I even where I belonged?

While my internal struggle persisted in the background, I held on to remnants of that optimism adopted from previous versions of my now outdated model. I had tumbled far into the dark realm of shyness and found it hard down there. Outside of my Fab Four, relationships were complicated and the step toward establishing new friendships was even more complex. Was this happening because I was older? Was I experiencing some sort of post-traumatic stress disorder? Previous comfort levels attained while living abroad seemed unreachable. My inner person possessed a plethora of questions that my young mind could not answer. My mind had surpassed my physical growth in some ways, perhaps catapulting me to a teenage state of mind. It became harder to relate to people my age and I found some comfort talking to older people, figuring they had all gone through nomadic lifestyles as a rite of passage of sorts. The world before seemed to have gaps I could not fill yet. Once more, life blessed me with another surprise. A welcome ray of light clearing up the overcast Ottawa South neighbourhood. Little did I know that one of my best friends in life was going to be revealed to me, indirectly and unintentionally assisting me in defining myself during this conflictual time and making some sense out of things. I set some roots in the Canadian soil as a result. The way this special bond came into being both between two third culture kids, but also how two culturally different families began to define an inseparable international family is always a story I enjoy sharing and have cherished ever since.

The Bickfords and the Marquez

The Bickford-Marquez international relationship was established when our heads of households initially met in the late 1970s. Jhonny Marquez was posted to Ottawa in a similar capacity as my father, yet working for the Venezuelan government. His wife, Delia, was expecting their second child after Maria Virginia, in a very unfamiliar place to them. I was yet to be included in the picture as I was only an item on the Stork’s to-do list, but my brother was around to represent the youth on our side. Juan Alberto was the baby boy who entered this world on a fall day in the nation’s capital, becoming the first in his family born in Canada. Due to visa requirements and expensive international travel, a once again new mom was left in a foreign setting, surround by snow and many unfamiliar faces. Maman found out about this through the diplomatic circle and decided to drop in on Delia as she began to adjust to the new family member. My mother was very familiar with her new friend’s challenging situation, having been there herself in the past in 1978. It was psychological difficult to go through the ordeal of pregnancy and childbirth far away from your birth parents. My Maman felt blessed having her in-laws who had been extremely supportive even as they were a mere thousand kilometers away. This friendly gesture from one mother to another was forever remembered as setting the foundation for our amazing saga.

The cross-cultural project was put on hold shortly after launching the initiative, as my parents were posted to Brazil in 1980. By the time they returned to Ottawa in 1983 (now with me), the Marquez had finished their posting. That is how things generally happen in the diplomatic world. Everything is temporary. Afterwards, during our Venezuela posting from 1986-1989, my mother organized a charity fair on behalf of the Canadian community that enabled re-establishing communication lines with the Marquez. Jhonny’s mother had attended the event and suddenly, our good times rolled on. What a wonderful coincidence that both our families were posted to the same country again! Here they became our Venezuelan uncles, as Brian and I regularly greeted them when they came over to our Cafetal home for diplomatic functions, dinners and cocktails. They were always sweet with us, especially tia Delia. But this did not last forever, and we were forced to bid our farewell as we packed and left for Chile. My parents wondered once more if we would ever have a chance to see them again.

Christmas in Archer, Ottawa, ON

By 1992, we had completely lost track of our Venezuelan friends. My father, without the need for any relentless intelligence work, eventually saw picture of Mr. Marquez on The Diplomat, a magazine about diplomatic and foreign affairs issues pertaining to the Ottawa region. The caption seemed to indicate that he had only recently arrived to the area, once more representing the Venezuelan Embassy. My Dad shared the intel with my mom, who then called the Venezuelan Embassy, spoke to Jhonny who gave his home phone number to my mom, who then called Delia, who then told Maman they lived one block away from our Gillespie home. This amazing combination of “who then”s is the short and sweet version of the story. During Delia and Maman’s evening phone exchange, realizing our conveniently close proximity to each other, they both agreed to meet up immediately after hanging up. Maman mentioned this to me probing if I wanted to tag along, mentioning they had a son around my age. I had not met Juan yet and the memory of my tios was fuzzy. We made our way from Gillespie to Archer, rang the doorbell, and Delia greeted us with a genuine happiness including hugs and kisses. This was the warm, human side I remembered of Venezuela. I then met Juan who was in his room rocking out on his Supernintendo, playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Turtles in Time. I realized he was shy as I was and our first conversations were quite basic. Perfect for me at the time, though it did not take long for us to find a common ground in our sense of humour, our love for basketball, Van Damme movies, becoming inseparable brothers from different mothers. Time has gone by since I have seen him now, but I still know the next time we will be reunited it will be as if we had just hung out yesterday. True friendship.

Our families coming together made subzero winters in Ottawa feel tropical. We co-hosted an annual pre-Christmas party using a Secret Santa system. The rules dictated that each gift was to be picked out at the dollar store and the day of the celebration, the item purchased would be given to someone randomly. Dad got a back-scratcher two years in a row. Never saw him use it. Jhonny gifted me with a dinosaur colouring book and as I looked puzzled, everyone burst out in laughter. The gifts were a great source of entertainment as everyone embraced the spirit of the moment without anyone’s feelings being hurt. We organized our very own talent shows on special occasions throughout the year, sometimes with special guests, such as a Peruvian family playing the cajon – their national instrument – and dancing La Marinera, Dad, Brian and I trying to sing a German opera song without evening knowing the lyrics to the song and other memorable events. The response to our performances either merited applause, jokes about other people’s lack of talents having objects thrown at you or other interactive responses. Our homes were in fact the place to be in the Ottawa area. We enjoyed this so much that either I would always be at Juan’s or he would be hang out at my place. A real community of jesters. These gatherings were always something to look forward to and perhaps one of the toughest aspects of Ottawa-life to leave behind. Ottawa became forever synonymous with the Marquez, my dear Venezuelan family.

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