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Life as a piñata: a reflection on cultural assimilation

By Danié Gómez-Ortigoza

June 7, 2017

I grew up in Mexico, a city drowned by myths, legends and ghosts, celebrating death with music and bright colors, and believing that the spirits of the departed co-exist among the living with their own role in the life of those who love them, and won’t let them go. I would attend mass, and look at the terrifying images of saints with empty stares, and extremely bloody representations of Jesus, (trust me: those figures can only be this scary in Latin America).

It is a city of contrasts. This world of colors and laughter is embedded in a setting of extreme poverty and corruption with flashes of unbelievable luxury. 

When you move to a new country, you make a conscious decision to adapt to a new culture, from the things you eat, to the way you speak, and everything in between. Yet, there is a secondary effect to this process of adaptation; when you are back to the place where you grew up in, you are not the same. And it shows. 
It often hurts as well.

Even though your essence remains untouched, your senses react differently. Food doesn’t taste the same, and certain things that you considered normal, don’t make sense anymore, like noticing that most ads around the country are filled with white, blue-eyed people that couldn’t look more foreign to our society.

Judgement kicks in with the knowledge of the newly acquired culture. You even go through what I call, the ‘Conquistador’ Syndrome, in which you erroneously believe you know better, yet who are you really to have an opinion, when you’ve been outside of your country for so long? 
I often get lost in translation, and it goes way beyond a language barrier. I wonder how many generations are needed to fully asimilate into a new culture… or perhaps there’s no such thing as assimilation, and we all go through life living our very narrow view of the world, regardless of nationality, without really understanding each other. And that can be kind of fun. 

I think of myself as one of these piñatas. I carry within me all my culture, my values, my legends and my history, yet I am also a reflection of the different cultures that are a part of me. 
Look closer… how many of the characters in these piñatas are Mexican? Yet there’s nothing more Mexican than piñatas.
Never forget who you are, and where you come from. It’s the most valuable resource, and the most important message that you have to transmit to the world. 

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