Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Two Worlds Overlapping

My Australian experience has been amazing: in 4 years, I had the chance of embracing a new culture, new friendships, new perspectives on life and new experiences. Because the Salvadoran and Latin American communities in Townsville were rather small (in comparison to cities like Brisbane or Melbourne), my day-to-day experiences were, for the most part, with Australians and other international students from non-hispanic backgrounds.

At the beginning, this was a problem: arriving to a place that is so different from home requires a great deal of adjustment and patience. You have to get over the cultural shock, the frustration of not knowing where to go or what to do, and the sadness of apparent loneliness. After all, you are hundreds of thousands of kms from your hometown! Having only three or four Spanish-speaking people I could turn to in Townsville, adjusting to Australia was hard. I often wished I was in Brisbane, with my brother, because I knew that he would hang out with quite a lot of Salvadorans and Latin Americans, and that would have made the transition easier.

But God was faithful. I survived quite nicely, and succesfully adjusted to Australia after a couple of months. In fact, my incorporation into Australian culture was so succesful, that along the years my accent, use of words, humour and personality started to become more and more Australian. I would often discover myself feeling as if I had lived in Townsville all my life, and that those memories of a place called El Salvador were only dreams or products of my imagination. Don't get me wrong - is not that I was ashamed of my heritage, culture and country (on the contrary!) but my Salvadoran idiosincrasy was challenged everyday by an Australian culture that would accept me a little bit more as the days passed. Being an international student at JCU forces you to think, write, speak and learn in English, with the Australian paradigms and ways of thought. Deep within me, a dichotomy was established: a part of me culturally and racially bound to El Salvador (and Latin America), and another part of me bound to the Australian way of life in a remote city like Townsville, in the life I had to live as an international student at JCU.

Not having many Spanish-speaking people around me made it difficult to nourish the part of my heart that longed for El Salvador. Everything around me reminded me I was in Australia, tempting me to neglect my Salvadoran side. Thus, my Australian experience happened almost in isolation from my previous 19 years of my life in El Salvador. There was barely anything that tied both worlds together. In fact, the only links between them were the e-mails with my family, my music in Spanish, Facebook, a Salvadoran internet forum I visited (and continue to visit) fairly regularly, and of course, my memories. Those were the things that kept my Salvadoran heartbeat alive.

Four years after leaving my country, my folks came to Townsville for a holiday, but also to "pick me up", so to speak. Out of a sudden, then, the two worlds started to overlap to some degree I had not expected. As I spent time with my family for the very first time after so many years, all the happy and sad memories of my Salvadoran life came to me in a rush, like a furious river flowing down the mountains, aided by gravity. For a brief second, I was there again, in "el pasaje", hearing the familiar birds, eating the delicious Mesoamerican foods, listening to music in Spanish, admiring the familiar geography around me and living the life that was so normal and ordinary, a life that knew nothing about Australia...

The ringing of my mobile phone would suddenly wake me up from my day-dreaming: it was a friend from Christian Union at JCU, wondering if I was doing something that evening. I was back in my reality, in Australia. And so, the very best of both worlds were being united, as my family, representing my Salvadoran life, met my Australian world, my Aussie experience. In a mysterious and enigmatic mixture of feelings and thoughts, I am still caught in between two worlds, in the transition from one home to the other, in the pain of separation and farewell, and in the excitement of re-discovery and re-embrace.

1 comment:

Heather said...

Wow Vernon. Very deep, and beautifully written! That amazed me, and definitely got me thinking.