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 29, 2012

Mexico, Land Of Dreams

Preconceptions are among the more common flaws we all possess. I am sure some among us would go above and beyond to discredit this statement, but there really is no back door to sneak out through. It is a brown flaming paper bag on the doorstep but it is a means to define that twilight zone of the unknown. No matter how deep this condition is buried in our subconscious, every element surrounding us must be familiar or we become unsettled. The familiar is what brings peace of mind. We are increasingly uncomfortable with the abstract and most people find it a superhuman feat to admit: “I don’t know.” This is a major driving force fueling our almighty ego, repressing our many insecurities. We certainly don’t want others to label us as ignorant or useless. The same applies to the way we view countries beyond our borders. 
Dropping by Uncle Leon's in Coyoacán, Mexico City

The negative aspect of patriotism is similar to an obsessive, stalking love infatuation. Regardless that there are other fish in the sea, there is nobody better, sexier and perfect than my country. There is only one. We have the best healthcare system, we are have the best sense of humour, we are the smartest people, our soccer team may not be good but at least they are handsome, our army smells better than yours, etc. This passion leads us much like a subservient horse with blinders on, keeping it from being frightened by the reality that surrounds its pretty large eyes. This obedient horse is managed with the crack of a whip much like we are driven by our own national psyche: nobody does it better than us. Should you break free from that carriage hauling foreigners' behinds through the colourful touristy city streets and become a wild stallion galloping freely through bountiful plains, the world out there will surprise you.

Mexico’s national image is becoming stained by the localized bloodshed, leading many foreigners to opt for other vacation destinations. I have heard people comment: “I don’t want to go to Mexico to be murdered.” Even Mexican expats contribute to tarnishing the sinking reputation of a magnificent country, stating that they moved away because of the drug cartel violence. What they won't tell you is that they actually left to pursue professional ambitions and originate from relatively sheltered regions. Mexico is still a place where you will discover a thousand shades of something new. Mexico has not matured as a destination. It has always been mature. Mexicans are proud of their rich history and culture, doing an outstanding job in maintaining world-class hotels and resorts. The services in these establishments far surpass many North America, European and even other Latin American countries’ standards. There, you can definitely find your land of dreams, whether it is walking shoulder to shoulder with the pre-Colombian gods on the Mayan Riviera, sipping a "Coco Loco" on the Pacific Coast or taking in the lovely sights of the many bustling urban centres.

During my two summer internships I was fortunate to befriend several Mexicans hailing from different parts of a very diverse country. There is something very genuine about the nature of these kind people and their enjoyment of others is unparalleled. When they say, “We should get together”, they actually mean it. They find a way to include you in their activities and before your trip is over, you are guaranteed to have expanded your own network of friends and professionals. You know where you stand with them, unlike other cultures where opinions are hidden behind a veil and an artificial smile. It is refreshing in a way not to partake in psychological warfare to ascertain where you stand in other people’s books. This provides an environment to enjoy the small things that, once added up, make one great time. Mexicans do go out of their way to ensure you feel welcome and comfortable, taking the time to explain everything to their foreign guests. They did not seek to label me as an ignorant gringo or lead up with topics to get an “I don’t know” out of me. 
In my office in Polanco, Mexico City

As I closed my chapter in Mexico, a majority of my co-workers were sorry to see me go – and really, so was I. I had not realized that I had been actively engaged in supporting so many people in the staff that everyone knew me, from the ambassador to the custodian. A senior trade officer whom I had closely worked with on the Terry Fox Marathon campaign in Mexico City urged me to stay, however, I had to return to Canada to pursue my university studies. I am sure I could have landed a permanent position there, but unfortunately, these days everyone needs to have a diploma or certification to get ahead in life. Gone are the days when you did not even need to finish high school to get a job. My experience there made me grow as a person and professionally. ¡Viva Mexico!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Attack Of The Smartphones

Technology has propelled itself from being a simple tool complementing daily life to an absolute necessity. Three out of four people in the world have cell phones, not to mention several gadgets and applications to spice these up. The world is increasingly interconnected and those who prefer the old school low-tech days are rapidly being left behind. Communication through technology and social networks are playing an increasing role in turning private lives public, broadcasting everything from having the best day of your life on Facebook or complaining about the company you work for on Twitter. Even business are preferring candidates with strong social media acumen. You have to be extremely measured as you are under public scrutiny: anything you say will be traced back to your activity on the worldwide web.

How to juggle gadgets

I recall when I moved back to Ottawa in 1999, technology was still a communication tool somewhat disregarded by many. At the time, chatrooms and messengers were viable options to keeping in touch with friends and family far, far away. International phone calls were expensive as there were limited or no long distance plans – I remember obscene bills prompting me to swear by e-mails – so communication with the world outside your city was much more difficult. After all these major breakthroughs, we can now spend entire days exchanging instant voice messages with our favourite people in the opposite end of the globe with minimal fuss. Back in the late 90s, we all felt these technological advancements were convenient but we had not fallen into the deep abyss of temptation that we are currently have. I believe we valued face-to-face interpersonal relations. Now, we feel helpless without being able to keep tabs on those we care about if we have been out of touch for 15 minutes.

This lack of development actually facilitated my transition, not only back to Canada, but to being completely on my own at 18 years of age. My parents were in a different country, which led to infrequent communication, my friends from school had ventured to all corners of the world and my brother was about 800 kms away – he was geographically the closest ally to my cause. Without having that ease of spending time on the phone with them or chatting via Skype, MSN, WhatsApp and all these other applications, I was obliged to come to terms with my reality. I knew there was a world beyond my radius of operation which I could no longer influence or be part of and I absolutely had to learn how to make things works as best I could on my own. If I needed to help getting out of a jam, nobody would come to my rescue – or at least it would take a long time for it to translate into a result. This approach was similar to other postings, as through my own experience, I fought hard to earn my place in a new life where I felt I belonged.

Nowadays, anywhere you go, you will find people’s attention consumed by their phones, ipads, portable computers, mp3 players, etc. Screens are a must to operate as a normal human-being. We cannot afford to distance ourselves from these electronics in order to communicate with people miles away or who are not in our immediate line of vision. It is relatively impossible to feel alone or to truly have some quality alone time being “off the grid”. Many marriages and relationships blamed their problems in paradise on television but the market saturation of these electronic tolls are creating a much greater destructive force by way of dependencies, contributing to the already severed household dialogue. As soon as your gadget rings, your attention is diverted from what you are doing back to it and nothing else matters. “I have to find out if Ted bought that TV he planning on purchasing.” I have seen this happen countless times in meetings, get togethers, pedestrians crossing a street – and almost getting hit by a vehicle in the process due to their addiction - and even my closest relationships when I am face to face in a deep conversation. Make sure when you switch off, you hit the proper switch.

Make every moment a honeymoon

It is perhaps easiest for people who have relatives abroad to fall into this destructive addiction – I know, I have family abroad as well. Although it is healthy to keep in touch with relatives, it is detrimental to your own well-being to be disconnected from your daily life you now call home. So many of these people know every detail about the old country - a place where they may never return to live - rather than what is happening in the country, city and community where they currently live. Furthermore, feeding this urge to stay connected with a faraway place feeds feelings of alienation, depression and home-sickness. They often feel that the grass is greener on the other side, but if this were true, then why did they leave their slice of heaven to make home somewhere else? I encourage you all to take some time off the grid, spend quality “techno-free” time with your families and closest friends, and invest in your own mental hygiene regularly. Technology is only a tool not a life support system.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The End Of The Mexican Revolution

My internship in the Canadian Embassy in Mexico presented formidable learning opportunities to build a sound foundation for a promising professional future. I was a stagier in the congressional affairs section in 2000, where I encountered prominent Mexicans politicians, government officials, foreign dignitaries and other interesting personalities in the diplomatic circle. I played a leading role in organizing embassy-sponsored events such as academic conferences, high-profile visits and the Terry Fox Run, a proud homage to a great Canadian icon. It was an honour to collaborate with experienced, competent public servants and passionate locally-engaged staff. I developed a thorough academic background of many Mexico-Canada relations topics yet I never expected to take part – even though it was quite a minor one – in the evolution of Mexico’s political history.

Arriving in Tixtla to get my monitoring on

In June, I took advantage of an internal volunteering opportunity in the Embassy to partake in the Mexican presidential elections as an international electoral observer. President Ernesto Zedillo’s mandate was soon to expire, marking 70 years of PRI [Partido Revolucionario Institucional] controversially uninterrupted rule since the last shot was fired ending the revolution. The party’s track record included years of vote buying (gifting goods and favours in exchange for a vote), electoral fraud, suspected murders, diverse forms of intimidation and many other delinquent activities that share more similarities with organized crime. As a side note, I strongly recommend a Mexican movie called "Herod’s Law" (La Ley deHerodes) which can give an excellent overview of the overall political system and some of the previously mentioned illicit behaviour. Certainly Mexicans were always yearning for a tidal wave bringing about change after the every new PRI manipulated victory however, when the party returned to power the national coffers continued to benefit the minuscule ruling elite.

I chose to cover remote areas in the state of Guerrero - on the Pacific coast - a part of the country often recognized for Acapulco, a world class tourist destination. Although I did get a few minutes to dip my feet in the refreshing embrace of the ocean waters, most of my billable time was dedicated to venturing into Chilpancingo, the state capital and smaller towns in the interior. This rugged terrain was notoriously renown for PRI electoral fraud and sporadic EPR guerrilla incursions – not the kind with the dung-flinging hefty monkeys, but leftist insurgents with Kalashnikovs. The locals shared much in common with the average Latin American campesino, which amounts to owning a whole lot of nothing. They are simple folk quarantined in the isolated countryside and unfortunately, easy to persuade as their modus operandi is constantly set to survival mode. Their level of education is relatively nonexistent and traditionally voted for the PRI due to colour association between the party's logo and their national flag. It made sense for them and it was the patriotic choice come election day.

The most curious happening in my expedition monitoring the democratic process ocurred in a small town called, Chilapa de Alvarez – not often you find a town with a first and last name. I was observing a makeshift polling station propped up in the middle of the zocalo (town square). These were two flimsy dining room tables some good Samaritans provided with big white boxes sporting an IFE tattoo – the national non-partisan electoral body - resting on them while two indigenous women sat behind, bored out of their minds. The extreme heat and humidity of a jungle-like environment tends to do that, even to locals. Everything was peaceful without a soul around town, perhaps due to the ley seca – no alcohol allowed come election time - when out of the blue, a run down, rusty old turquoise and yellow school bus pulled into the square. The door squeaked open, releasing a dozen men dressed like bandidos wearing sunglasses. They proceeded dancing in a straight line through the square, the polling station and back around into the bus leaving nothing else behind than a thick repulsive body odour stench. Not a single person in the town seemed to care or notice this had just happened. 

Observing a polling station in Chilpancingo

In general, it appeared as if the elections had in fact been clean - or much cleaner than usual. President Zedillo seemed keen distance himself from the old days of dirty tricks. There were some odd instances where polling stations in Guerrero were inside a building with political party propaganda decorating its exterior or people working in the polls feeling nervous when they saw my team approach bearing IFE badges and observer credentials. Not only were we outsiders, but perhaps they thought we were there to sour an under-the-table agreement with a party figure. Of course, the role of an observer is only to stand aside and let the process unfold without intervening. The media however – especially TV Azteca – undertook its familiar role in sensationalizing realitys, such as riling up crowds for the camera to chant “there is fraud here!” when there were lineups. When the votes were counted showing Vicente Fox, the PAN candidate, in the lead, Zedillo appeared on television giving a concession speech which was unheard of in previous elections. The PRI always found a way. It was exciting to witness first-hand the beginning of the democratization of a wonderful country.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Azteca Stadium – Inside The Belly Of The Beast

Football is dubbed, the people’s game. Anywhere you will travel around the world, the odds are high of finding an open field with people kicking some object back and forth while trying to emulate every signature move of their national heroes. Everyone believes they can become the next Pele, Diego Maradona, George Best or Zinedine Zidane when standing in the gauntlet. Mexico has greatly contributed to the beauty and intensity of the beautiful game at the international level with numerous players, like Hugo Sanchez, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Luis Hernandez and many more of note. During my time working in Mexico City, I had the pleasure of seeing some of the Aztec magic challenging the more novice Canadian side.

Pre-game show

The game in question was a qualifier for the World Cup 2002, to be co-hosted between Japan and South Korea and was played in Mexico’s Estadio Azteca. This intimidating concrete monster was first inaugurated in 1966, playing a significant part in the 1968 Summer Olympic Games due to its incredible capacity of 104,000 spectators, is used as the official home stadium for the Mexican National Team. As a member of an opposing team, you pray to the soccer gods to open up the ground and swallow you. There is no way to conquer the hearts of the sea of green, cursing your existence and that of your parents who brought you to life. You will share the same exact feeling as an away team supporter on the walk of shame to enter the stadium and find your seat to the greatest show in town.

Lucky for me, I went to support the Canadian National Team which had literally no chance to upset the Mexicans. Unfortunately, Canada does very little in nurturing and helping develop star quality players because of the excessive focus on hockey. Many dual nationals end up opting for their other nationality as the quality and investment in the sport far surpasses ours. My fellow supporters and I figured the Mexicans would be well aware of this and the ambience in the stadium was going to be far less hostile than say, the USA or Argentina. Canada has left a minuscule footprint on the footballing world. How wrong we all were, as at the most, 60 Canadian fans sat together while the fans prepared for an ‘off the pitch’ showdown.

As soon as the Canadian team set foot into public view, an overpowering ‘boo’ with a mix of swear words took over the audible environment. Usually, when the national anthems are played, there is a moment of silence and respect for the two countries playing each other, but the melody of O Canada could not overpower the stampede of profanity. Hey, at least we got on the jumbo tron! As the game rolled on, it seemed both teams were bumping heads and unable to get on the scoreboard come half-time. It began to rain all sorts of objects – I could have sworn I saw a shoe flying through the air, I kid you not – including stones and plastic beer cups, where the beer had been ingeniously replaced with urine. Our Canadian contingent began to pray for a Mexican goal so we could leave with our lives.

Mexico - Canada showdown

Should you find yourself in a similar situation, I suggest you buy a Mexico jersey before walking into the stadium. This could guarantee a more pleasant experience. Another lesson learned is not to mess with your host. Don’t step into the kitchen if you do not want to get burned. Mexicans are extremely friendly and great hosts, but do not try to show them out at their own game, even if there is no shot. You will not enjoy the consequences and meeting their alter-ego. I am forever grateful that our boys did not win that day – the game ended 2 – 0 in favour of Mexico who went on to the World Cup. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Happy 145th Birthday Canada!

Today’s blog entry is brought to you by Percocet, bringing you the very finest moments of nausea and fatigue on your bumpy road to recovery. Some of you may know that last Sunday presented a mild setback in my amateur softball career, as I tore my Achilles’ tendon running the bases - at least my team managed not to lose the match. Unfortunately, this injury prematurely terminated my outdoor sporting activities for the rest of the summer and my mobility is limited as I await surgery. Following this surgical repair of my tendon, I will enjoy sporting a brand new cast from 4 to 6 weeks which anyone can sign but there will be a $5.00 cast signature tax. My assistant will commence the registration process as of Tuesday, due to the observed holiday on the Monday. Tell your friends.

Happy Canada Day!

Although I am sure you would love to hear more about my interesting sports injury, I prefer to divert our collective attention to a wonderful country that is turning 145 years of age – a relative youngster in terms of other countries’ existence. Yes, you guessed it. It’s Canada’s birthday today. This is a day where everyone feels more Canadian than usual and the hyphen that some regularly utilize next to Canadian to define their personal identity or place of origin takes a backseat. We are all Canadian. Canadian flags dangle throughout every city as if we had all won the Stanley Cup. Just about everyone tosses their worries aside just for one day and joins the festivities. Some find this day as an opportunity to reconcile with a country they have forgotten, realizing how lucky we truly are in comparison to other places on the map. This is one of the reasons why so many of our ancestors decided to come here and give it a try here in the Great White North.

This day as is common every year, the party is really in Ottawa, the Nation’s Capital. Other cities have their own thing going on, but there is really no comparison. To fully experience the entirety of the national holiday, Ottawa is the place. Become part of the massive tidal wave of fellow compatriots dressing the streets in a beautiful sea of red and white. Sing the national anthem on a city bus as your ride for free. If you have never been there on July 1st, you are definitely missing a great show. I always loved as a kid – and even more as an adult - doing the more touristy and traditional activities such as going to Parliament Hill early in the morning. There is nothing more thrilling for your patriotic bones than to see the changing of the guard and sing the bilingual version of our national anthem. I get goose bumps every time. Almost everything seems to be free around town on this day. You will see concerts, cultural shows and museums enjoying record attendance. If you are lucky enough, you’ll catch a great Canadian act performing on Parliament Hill late evening before the fireworks – I remember seeing David Usher perform one year.

Having faced many challenging situations in South America as a young handsome boy – from military coups to urban terrorism – I can really say that I enjoy the peace my country has to offer. I am not sure if there are many places in the world safer than here. It is really odd to rarely hear car alarms, gun shots, explosions or have the military running life in the streets. The main drive we Canadians share to leave our country is to take a vacation on a sandy beach in the Caribbean or exploring the elegance of Europe, but we love our seasons along with their respective outdoor activities. We have the biggest play ground in the world where we can go skiing on the Rockies, ice skating on the Rideau Canal, cycling from Toronto to Niagara Falls, camping relatively anywhere… well you get the gist of it. You will generally find we are all friendly people and willing to open the doors of our homes to visitors, demonstrating to others what we believe is the meaning of hospitality.

Ottawa showing her guests a great time

This Canada Day, let us all be thankful to all those who gave their lives to this country and honour their sacrifice by picking up right from where they left off. Our ancestors did a great job placing us on the map – from my good old buddy John Naismith to Sir Isaac Brock – leaving us with their own legacies as proof that we can all make an everlasting impact on our history. We must continue to nurture young minds, teaching them our rich history, our distinguished cultural and traditional heritage in order to continue to achieve great works that can benefit our entire planet. Let us represent the Maple Leaf – not the Toronto NHL franchise that has been a source of much disappointment – to the highest level both at home and abroad. Happy Canada Day to everyone and play safe!