Please note the following content has been edited for brevity.
Q: Tell us about your family – your geographical, cultural, linguistic, and family historical roots.
I was born in Panama, but both of my parents and the rest of my family are Colombian and I was raised in Colombia. Spanish is the official language in Colombia, so that is my mother tongue. I come from a big family and was raised with constant contact with all our extended family members. Even though we don’t live close anymore, we are still connected thanks to modern technology and communicate basically everyday. My roots trace back mainly to Spain, but I also have some Arab and German blood from past generations.
My husband Carsten was born in Germany. He comes from a small family and his roots are mainly German with some Dutch blood. We met here in Charlotte 15 years ago at a French conversation class. We have two wonderful children: Jonathan who is 9 years old, and Isabella, who is almost 1 1/2 years old. We are raising them trilingual – I only speak Spanish to them, my husband speaks only German, and they (will) speak English at school. We lived 9 years in Germany and returned to Charlotte 4 years ago. We will see where destiny takes us next.
We try to expose our children not only to our own cultures, but to others as well, in order for them to be open-minded and tolerant towards other cultures and have a broader horizon. For that reason we love to travel around the world and to attend international festivals.
Q: Name a favorite cultural tradition and how you’ve kept that alive in your family
My favorite cultural tradition is our Christmas celebration. All the family gets together and we celebrate for 9 days, each day at a different family member’s home. Each day, we read a little piece of the story of how Jesus was born, say some prayers and sing some Christmas carols with all types of instruments as we gather around the Nativity. We call this “Novena” because it is done for 9 days. Everyday after the Novena, we eat, drink and dance until late at night. The last day is December 24th, which is when we cerebrate Christmas at midnight when Baby Jesus is born. On this day we dress up and do an even larger celebration with lots of food, drinks and dancing until the next morning. Baby Jesus is the one who brings the gifts to the children in Colombian tradition on December 24 at 12:00 am (and yes, children will stay up that late, and beyond during these days). December 25th is not important for us. Everybody is tired and rests the whole day. In the evening we sometimes eat a traditional soup called “Ajiaco,” prepared with chicken, 3 types of potatoes, a piece of corn cob, big capers and special herb called “Guasca”, served with rice and avocado on the side.
We try to keep this tradition alive as best as we can by trying to always get the whole family together somewhere in the world, which is not always easy. And since some of us have partners from other cultures, we try to incorporate some of their different Christmas traditions as well. We are very pragmatic and try to do what we can. After all, the main thing is to be together.
Q: Describe a humorous or embarrassing incident involving either language or culture
A: I came to the US when I was 18 years old. When I was going to college, I used to kiss good bye everybody on the cheek (as it is customary in Colombia). Later on I learned from somebody that quite a few guys thought I was in love with them, because that was not customary here. It was embarrassing and funny at the same time.
Q: How has life been richer because of cross-cultural experiences?
A: It has widen our perspective and simply made life more interesting. We can enjoy a variety of traditions, foods, and lifestyles depending on our mood. We have learned from different ancient wisdoms and seen different approaches and points of view. We have learned to appreciate things from our own culture that maybe we used to take for granted in the past. And we have also adopted habits or traditions from other cultures that we see fit our family. We are reminded that we are not the center of the world. There’s much more to explore.
Q: Describe how your Latinx/Hispanic roots have influenced your/your family’s perspective on culture, exchange, traditions and language
A: It has taught us that once you are exposed to other cultures there is no such thing as “common sense” anymore. A lot of what for me as a Colombian is considered “common sense”, it is not necessarily common sense in other cultures. You learn that after many cultural shocks. Some funny ones, some not so funny ones. This has made us more aware and sensitive to other cultures to try to understand and accept them the way they are.
It is always fun to have cultural exchanges among people from different cultures. You learn a lot from all the cultures and they learn from you. You can share cultural traditions and this helps to better understand the culture. This is something we as a family love to do.
Speaking Spanish has helped us learn or at least partially understand other languages that share the same roots. We love to learn new languages, and every time you learn a new one it makes it easier to understand the cultures where that language is spoken.
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