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, June 24, 2012

"Buy Local" Community Building

What defines a person is his job. Plain and simple. When two unknown people meet, one of the first questions in getting acquainted is: “What do you do?” – or variations of this. The answer the interrogator wants has little to do with salsa dancing, soccer on weekends or amateur dentistry in your garage. This question concerns your actual profession, which can be difficult to reply if you have signed confidentiality agreements with your clients or are employed by the security services – I could tell you but then I'd have to… terminate you. Upon figuring out this person’s employment, the potential future relationship will be based on earnings: does this individual make more than I do? Should I be hanging out with this person? The old rule of “tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are” is in full effect. The work-play balance has tipped into a depth where play does not account for defining who you are yet when we leave this Earth, we take nothing material with us. At least, so I have heard - I'm planning on being buried with my car and bling.

The truth is, there are not many societies out there on our planet where you will find individuals from every social division – they really do divide us, don’t they? – gathered in a common living room. There are not many long-standing relationships crossing these financial boundaries. Perhaps if we did put them all in the same room, we might notice the better off specimen constantly looking over their shoulder wondering, “hmmm… are my material possessions safe with these commoners around?” The humble guest ponders silently: “I wonder if the others will think I am a freeloader.” We tend to accentuate these differences more than we give ourselves credit for. In many countries, it is not uncommon to find an affluent family sitting around their dinner table, blessing the food they are about to receive and in this daily monologue finding something like: “God, please provide for the poor.” Maybe the good Lord – or whatever your higher power is – has a lot on his or her plate and we can do something to lend a hand to our fellow beings.

When I attended Roosevelt High School, I did partake in community service activities – not as often as I would have liked – and I strongly believe in the value of this involvement as an enriching experience for our youth. It is never too early to learn to give. We can quickly realize we are better off than others. If we have no old articles of clothing, are strapped for cash, or whatever excuse we may come up with, we can always volunteer some manpower – womanpower is just as useful. Sometimes, just being present is a beginning of a miracle and makes a difference to the one in need. There are organizations in our neighbourhoods and beyond where we can help make our own communities to become richer and safer places through volunteering and support. If there are none of these, you have yet to genuinely do some justice to your research. Even then, maybe you commence your own local project. Outside my local supermarket, employees are ordered to toss out excess stock considered not to be “fresh” anymore from fears of cross-contamination. Instead of letting this food get consumed or donated to some aid organizations, the garbage truck hauls it off to some faraway landfill. I guess it is much better to dispose of something if you cannot run a profit in their business mission statement. When I realized this I was outraged, especially considering that food banks in Toronto are alarmingly under stocked.

As we get older, we tend to become more conservative. At that point, we figure that if we helped those in need, they would not do anything for themselves. We are convinced that everything we achieved in our lifetime was done so on our own blood, sweat and tears. “Nobody helped ME,” you will hear with misguided pride. We cannot afford to become victims of this tunnel vision. People that share this belief figure that by lending a helping hand, the receiver would just loaf around with all their collected free stuff and do nothing to better himself or herself. Although this may be somewhat true, it is not up to us to decide for others. Some settle perhaps due to low personal standards or lack that fire that fuels passion, but not everyone is lazy. Give someone a chance to shine, to believe in themselves and they may feel reborn to take on the brave new world. Perhaps they are down on their luck and just cannot seem to get out of that funk no matter what it is they try to do. I am sorry to bring this up once more but look at the Eurozone gone broke. We all suffer collectively in bailing them out for being irresponsible. We have all been there at one point in our lives to some extent, so I think it is not too hard to put some shoes on, slip out the door and see what we can do outside to improve our communities.

Some soccer-playing monkeys to lighten the mood

In the industrialized world, we are encouraged to help the children in Kenya, donate to flood victims in Sri Lanka or buy an endangered howler monkey from the jungles of Peru. Many of these agencies generally take the donations to pay their staff so they can travel to far away places, snap some pictures and come back to build a catalogue. How much really goes to Pablo, the poor poster child and his family? We often overlook the problems in our own neighbourhood. There are kids in our communities who go to school on an empty stomach. There are people who are avoided just because they have been laid off and judged useless by the new market, so we share the same disregard for them. There are street people you walk or drive by while you pretend to be looking for house keys as you listen to your iPod. I often advocate taking care of our problems at home before venturing beyond. How can we expect to be a model for society if mom and dad are always arguing, or if Jack does not take out the trash? We can all make a difference one at a time.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Mexico City – A World City

For centuries there has been an argument between two parties on different sides of the fence, quarrelling over which is better: quantity or quality. Some say, the more the merrier and others believe good things come in small packages – think of gourmet restaurant portions. When it comes to Mexico City, both of these worlds walk harmoniously hand in hand down Reforma and strut together around town. I am actually surprised how such a humongous city in terms of its urban sprawl and overall population can run smoother than Toronto, that is not even a quarter of its size. Sure there are shady areas as in most cities, but some of the posh neighbouroods there would make little miss Rosedale or elegant madam Fifth Avenue blush. A shopper’s paradise if you can afford it! I had the pleasure of visiting and enjoying some of these parts of the city while working at the Canadian Embassy a few summers ago during my undergraduate days.

My friends from work in Mexico

            When it comes to the food in this city, it is a true glutton’s refuge. The locals keep their traditional dishes and love to cook, cherishing mealtime with friends and family as a chance to catch up. Everyone is welcome around the table, even a friend of a friend of a friend who no one really knows. In terms of restaurant suggestions, as a friendly hefty Mexican once told me in that classic cheesy Western movie accent: “Never ask a skinny guy where to eat, amigo!” These are wise words coming from an experienced belly indeed. During my time in Polanco, an upscale, European-style neighbourhood, I was invited on numerous occasions to several different restaurants for work lunches and dinners. From tacos to steaks, sushi to chistorra, there is everything to cater to any imaginable taste and cooked from scratch – unlike our countries where everything seems to be reheated from those huge Costco boxes. It is no wonder why most Mexicans have a bit of a pancita. Eating is truly a pleasure and a normal social thing. Nobody eats alone. However, I am still amazed I managed to return to Ottawa lighter than when I left. I must have been chewing on pure magical chilango hospitality – OK maybe I’m taking this too far, but man the food is good.

            This city is magnificent for those who are interested in history, especially the pre-Colombian blend. There are several outstanding museums, and pyramids that still stand the test of time showing us inferior tourist proof that the great Aztecs were indeed master engineers and builders. The most spectacular ruins can be visited slightly on the outskirts of the city, in gorgeous Teotihuacan. Of course, bottleneck traffic is a daily challenge – even worse during protests, soccer games, or any other reason for popular gatherings, which are more and more frequent as more people pile in to the city limits to make this place their home – and outings must be planned accordingly. I once spent seven hours in a traffic jam because some Cruz Azul was playing a Copa Libertadores match against Rosario Central. I will never forget that dreadful day, not because the Argentines lost – I watched the results on Fox Sports Noticias – but because of the time I lost and would never get back. On the bright side, at least I got to see Jesús Silva-Herzog, a candidate for mayor, having the snooze of the century next to his patient driver. True story! I could almost hear the guy snoring away to the tune of his persistent engine while a fly zig zagged in and out of his large mouth at every breath. His campaign slogan was “We have to bring order to this city.” If he had managed to become mayor, he would have lost major ‘power nap’ time. Anyway, do plan your outings according to the traffic patterns.

            My responsibilities at the embassy led me to various Mexican universities to assist senior staff in academic presentations and organizing conferences. This was a fantastic and unique experience. I sat in Canadian studies classes in some very iconic buildings at the UNAM, one of the first universities established in the New World. Who would have imagined hundreds of years ago, that a bunch of young, intellectual Mexican students would be learning facts about my birth country? I rapidly built a strong rapport with many of the academics, staff and students, exchanging thoughts on NAFTA and the potential future of bilateral relations between our countries. They were particularly interested in our progressive and transparent legislation in Canada, hoping to bring some of these ideas into democratizing a country that had been under the rule of one party for about 70 years. It was interesting to notice that for those knowledgeable students – they were my own age, and most of my peers in Canada knew less about Mexico that they did about Canada - we were not just all a bunch of gringos in one gringo basket, North of the Rio Grande. They envisioned their estranged hockey-loving cousin as a viable partner and a potential ally at the negotiation table against the ambitious common neighbour that made our life so sweet in more ways than one. Surely, it does not take too much time for a Canadian and a Mexican to find something in common they dislike about US policies. Sorry, Uncle Sam but you make this way too easy for the rest of us. We hope you change your ways eventually.

Alejandro and I in the courtyard of the National Palace

            If there was only one place I had to recommend people to visit, an absolutely MUST see area of the city, is the Zócalo – the main downtown square. From this heart of the city, you will immediately be captivated by some incredible architecture and you will see what I have been rambling about in previous blog entries about the military mentality the Spaniards had in establishing their major settlements. The National Palace is perhaps one of the more breathtaking colonial buildings and there is a great story behind its construction. Apparently, the Spaniards had mixed up the building designs of the Mexican National Palace and the main Peruvian prison, which can be noticed in the curiously small offices in the National Palace. Inside this palace, there are several murals depicting only some of the very talented local artists, such as the world renowned Diego Rivera. Next door, you will find the National Cathedral and some of the ruins of old Tenotchtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. This is without a doubt, a city where ancient history coexists gracefully with the new

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Power Of One… Plus One

Is it inherent in our human nature to be stuck on the concept of what is best for me? When something bad happens in our life, many of us tend to blame that terrible feeling eating us up on the inside on everyone and everything else. It can never be our own fault that this unmentionable negative thing has crash-landed on our perfect bubble. It is even harder to accept any responsibility or brush off that funk – not in the cool 70s music way, no sir – and pick ourselves up when we caused this ripple of terror or even to just say, “I’m sorry.” Forgiveness is divine, but to say this last sentence seems to be increasingly superhuman or an alien dialect. I suppose, should this reality be otherwise, psychologists and therapists of all sorts would be out of a job.

Everyone always looks to gain the upper hand

On Sundays, I usually kick off the end of the week – or the beginning depending on which way you prefer to see things – with my weekly mass. It is a good time for reflection and spirituality, especially when our brave community leader seems to be out of touch with modern times. However, this past weekend, his sermon seemed to be spot on with where I was at in my train of thoughts. Maybe he has been getting into my blog to check up on his favourite churchgoer? Don't count me out! He encouraged his congregation to look beyond the “I” in aspects of life and embrace the Christian spirit of community and cooperation. Something he mentioned that really resonated with me was: “We always think we are so independent from others and never realize how many interdependencies we actually have.” This is a quote is definitely knowledge I tend to pass on to my children and future generations, much like my Pay It Forward mentality.

The need for material things and outdoing our brethren is crucial from the age we learn to walk and talk. Like the brother and sister playing jump rope on the sidewalk, the first one to quit will say: “I’m done. I’m going to MY house.” Although your sibling lives in the same house many times, you sense a need to exclude the other to somehow feel superior to another living, breathing, bag of bones just like you. Similarity is just no good. It just won't do, that’s why communism failed. How many of us have friends, neighbours, acquaintances, or even that person looking back at us defiantly in the mirror - let’s not kid ourselves, we’ve all been there – that are always stuck in the “I”.

For example:
a)      I wish I had a better car. (two “I”s in this one)
b)      My buddies’ TV is bigger than mine
c)      My girlfriend’s husband is cooler than you, or
d)      all of the above.

Undergraduate students in economics are taught the importance of a free market and that competition is in fact healthy. Tell that to the folks in the Eurozone! Even in Canada where there are so many monopolies, we are taught this from the very beginning. The PR campaign for the “I” is just gaining steam, leading us to believe that eventually, we all can the one calling the shots in Bay Street (the Canadian Wall Street) and earn those big bucks and bonuses, although there are really only a handful of banks in the entire country.

The truth is, interdependencies are everything. Take for example of the CEO of HSBC. Would he have a job and all that tremendous wealth that goes along with the position without the expendable customer service call centre lab rats? Would Michelangelo have had a Sistine Chapel to paint without labourers to erect it? When we decide to take that gigantic leap in a romantic relationship leading to marriage, the two parties enter a contract to make a life together. On my special day, the priest did not begin a process of negotiation where it was concluded my wife and I would be at a 60-40 or 30-70 split but there was an agreement to be there for each other in through thick and thin. Even the sanctity of holy matrimony has been soiled and is now just another victim to the ailment known as individuality. Wives and husband having individual accounts, almost as if reinforcing a sense of competition among each other. But wait a minute... When you tied the knot, did you not agree to make a life together? People appear to need much more convincing these days that working together can lead to greater accomplishments for the common good. There is still the need for great works out there. Rome was not built in a day by some divine intervention by the big guy upstairs (just look up to the heavens and you know you are looking in the right direction). It did take a large group of people to prop up those columns and run a government for the people, by the people and not for you dirty, unfashionable people called Barbarians.

Asked in Rome how long it took to get built, they shut me up with a gelato

I suppose what I am trying to say is that too many of us forget why we are where we are and forget to be thankful to who got us there. It was not some random act of chance or circumstances but to those in our team who drive us on to better things. People around us contribute in one way or another to our existence, and we should always be ready to thank them, forgive them and ask for forgiveness. When a community leader messes up, it is would be far easier (and better) if they fess up in order to make a mends, rather than let the entire neighbourhood burn down with a "My bad, dude" because of pride. Whether we are leaders, followers, wives, husbands, project manager, prophet, brother or sister, we all have interdependencies to be aware of and as such, to be grateful to have them in our lives. There is only one life to live and we have no say on how long we get to walk this green earth, so we might as well make the most of it. Some problems cannot be avoided but we can certainly all do with a little less stress, whether we cause it to someone else or to ourselves. ¡Aurrerá, nire jarrailek!

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Quebec, The Beautiful Province

I received a friendly message shortly after publishing myend of year message a few months ago from a follower asking me questions about Quebec - our predominantly French-speaking province. This person suggested that it would be interesting to get my overall general perspective on this specific region’s culture and what truly makes it a unique province, while the rest of the country – usually referred to as “English Canada” - continues to embrace different variations of multiculturalism policy. This will be tough to summarize in my usual five-paragraph form, so I will do my best highlighting some important basics. I apologize for taking so long to delve into this topic but I am pleased to share some of my personal ruminations on "La Belle Province".

View of the Marché Bonsecours in Montreal, Quebec

I possess a deep admiration for Quebec and its people, having lived most of my recent history in Southern Ottawa, within about 30 kms from the border with Gatineau. During the past 12 years, I have travelled on several occasions to different cities, towns and villages, only to enjoy the landscape, discover the treasures of a breath-taking land and meet the locals. The Québécois are proud people and I mean this in the most positive way. Their territory is a significant part of them, running through their patriotic veins, which may explain why they carefully preserve every inch of their colourful and picturesque settlements as if they were all UNESCO World Heritage Sites. These people are among the few North Americans that are really in touch with the Pachamama (sacred land in the quechua dialect). They are excellent hosts – I have never experienced hostility as a visitor, perhaps due to being a native French speaker – and after spending time there on numerous occasions and different places, I always come back wishing I could just have started a brand new life among these passionate and expressive people instead of coming back to my regular digs.

Montreal used to be the centre of Canada’s economy yet it remains one of the country’s most vibrant cities. People come from far and wide to visit the Old City, the Mont Royal Park and some even the casino. I often call this place, the "Paris of North America" – I possibly may not have coined that phrase, but it is a more than suitable adjective that I borrow from the famous “they”. As you take a stroll down the busy Ste. Catherine Avenue, you will immediately witness any day of the week a fashion-show, with the elegant and trendy city dwellers parading latest styles in urban fashion. You don’t need to bust the bank to look like the latest fashionista, but some definitely do here. Young and old, everyone places an importance on their individual appearance hoping to showcase the very best of their persona to the discriminating observer. If you are famished, never fear as there is an immense variety of multiethnic and local gourmet restaurants able to cater to relatively any budget. Afterwards, hop aboard affordable taxis – compared to most big cities in North America - to ferry you for a digestif and then from one hot spot to the next. The nightlife never stops and is unsurpassed by any other downtown core in the country, guaranteeing you will have made brand new friends before you start a new day. Samuel de Champlain lived by the motto: “Party on, dudes!” 

Should you tire from the hectic urban lifestyle of the Montrealers, or you simply favour the quiet embrace of Mother Nature, there are numerous safe havens all around the province waiting for you. The accommodations are designed according to the sophisticated pallets of the innovative and welcoming Quebecer. They certainly have the know-how in providing quality comfort for different budgets, something that the Torontonian travelling to Muskoka cottage country severely lacks. It is unfortunate too, because we have some pretty amazing nature in Ontario, just nowhere really nice to sit around and breathe it all in. When it comes to paying for your stay, it should be less about the quantity of bills – as seems to be the rule in Ontario – but quality when you are investing that hard earned cheddar on your leave – as I have found through multiple experiences throughout Quebec. Again, there is a sense of pride that comes across, especially when visiting places such as Mont Tremblant, which resembles a perfectly drawn up village from an animated Disney movie. You will always be a return customer.

Cruisin' with my dogs around Montebello, Quebec
Quebec has successfully nurtured the attribute that has been used to define it as a very distinct and unique society within Canada. Traditionally, its governments have adopted a more conservative approach towards the evolution of their national culture in regards to immigration, opting to protect themselves from the Anglophone majority that surrounds them in the North American continent. The rest of Canada has been perhaps excessively liberal, with many of its traditions taking a back seat – beyond the cheap seats and more in the parking lot outside the stadium – in order to accommodate a growing minority of foreign-born groups and Canadian-born people who don’t appreciate or know their own history. Many societies bank on their past, teaching the lessons learned to their youth. I believe as a whole, we should promote a ‘middle of the road’ approach where newcomers maintain their customs and traditions while respecting and practicing Canadian and provincial heritage. We owe it to our forefathers to remember their accomplishments, celebrate today’s cultural diversity together with our own roots that define our present, in hopes to forge a promising future for generations to come.