On Belonging - My Family Travels

You fit into me / like a hook into an eye / a fish hook / an open eye
You Fit Into Me, Margaret Atwood


Cultural immersion, the anthem of this year, played itself boldly across glossy welcome packets and brochures. Terms like “global citizen” and “language mastery” beckoned to curious students like siren-calls and tempted us with benefits that alumni claimed would resonate across college years and maybe, even, life itself. Most listened politely and then turned away with an equally polite indifference. Others vaguely entertained the idea of “going abroad,” knowing it to be impossible but briefly giving themselves over to the dangerous “if.”And then there was a group, small but present, who yearned to be the vagabond student, posing with their foreign family in the pictures that shined up to them from the gleaming pamphlets. I was not in this last group, for I belonged to the dreaming but skeptical second party. In the short time that the program was presented I whisked up fanciful notions of eating paella in the small kitchen of a bustling Spanish family and exploring the streets of the south, bathed in the white sunlight of March. I also had, in the short time of the presentation, dismissed all of these day dreams, and reduced them to a laughable hypothetical to pose to my friends at lunch: “What would happen if I actually left for one year?” And that was, supposed to be, where it ended… but it didn’t.I embarked on the silly hypothetical and ended up in Spain, one year later, in an unforeseeable reality. I came with a kind of ingrained assumption that, just like the many before me, I would find my home here. While I did discover that home could be more than just any one place, I also found that I didn’t belong here. I simply did not fit.

Now, I was hesitant to jump to such a conclusion because, how can one, really? Generalizing such a vast space in which I have only lived for nine months seemed simply foolish. However, like Margaret Atwood, I came to a point in my experiences where I was able to see the limitations of myself crudely colliding with the expanses of the other party in the relationship, in my case the culture.

But why, and if not this culture, then which? It was a question that, unlike the hypothetical I had posed so jauntily to my friends nearly a year before, remained unanswered. I had instead realized it was not the Spanish culture I did not belong to, but rather any culture. I found myself in the paradox of being a global citizen without any societal stereotype to subscribe to. I am an American-born mutt, half Mexican, half Puerto Rican, with an accent from the Iberian Peninsula. However, though I am made up of all these places, I belong to none of them. The drinking and smoking of Europe have no place in my life, nor does the American tendency to over-eat. I am not Catholic, like most of my Mexican family, nor am I prideful, like my Puerto Rican one. Though these are generalizations, they are apt in summarizing the incongruousness of these respective nations’ customs with my own.

I am left then, with the realization that I fit into any one place like a fish hook fits into an open eye; the only way to connect is if we are painfully shoved into one another, destroying parts of ourselves in the process. Though the eye and the hook share some qualities — both search for things in the profound depths of their respective seas, both often catch things, or are caught themselves, and both glint in the light — they do not belong together, for their union only brings pain. If I am forced to reconcile myself under the societal norms of a single culture, I will only be hurt. Opening myself up to the world this year, I realized I am too vast and complex to marginalize myself to one part of it; I belong to the world, and the world belongs to me. Together we fit. 

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