Friday, March 20, 2009

Group Post: What drew me to Chile?

This is part of a group post that took place on Friday. I am way behind on mine, but you can read the others here.

Much like Abby says about her reasons for coming to Chile, mine are boring. I was a Latin American Studies major at the University of Virginia and studying abroad was always a part of my plan. I had a gut feeling that led me to Chile, but no specific reasons as to why I chose it. When people ask me here I always say that it was because of the history, the Andes mountains or the fact that a professor from my department started the study abroad program and it had a great reputation--but that's not really true. I have no idea where Chile popped into my head, but I remember thinking I'd go to Chile years ago and I never really changed my mind. Again, this isn't that interesting. What might be a little more interesting is why I chose Latin American Studies which then drew me to Chile.

My grandmother's family on my mom's side is Puerto Rican with some distant Mexican relatives. While my grams (Carmen) grew up in New York City, she spent a lot of time on the island with her family. Her father used to pal around NYC with his beat generation cousin Luis Muñoz Marin (yup, I'm a Marin). My grandmother was fluent in Spanish and very latina in many ways, yet she somehow lost touch with a lot of her family and never seemed to be too proud of being Puerto Rican/Mexican/American (she would say her family got there by way of Spain).

When my grandmother got divorced, she moved to Mexico to live with family with her two young daughters. There, my mom learned the Spanish she's never forgotten. She also picked up her taste for delicious Mexican food and her tendency to want to have her entire family under one roof.

Right when I was born and a few years after my sister was born, my mom hired a nanny from Bolivia, Deisy. From then on, she and my mom only spoke in Spanish so my dad was left to fend for himself, my sister picked it up right away, and my first words were "jugo" and "gato". We ate chicharrón and I was (and still am) Deisy's little chanchita. I switched from Spanish to English with ease since my mom, grandmother and Deisy only spoke Spanish in the house. But when I was still very young, Deisy got another job and left and we had many other latina babysitters and nannies, but I don't remember them well. The only one who sticks out in my mind is Deisy because she was (and still is) a very important person in my life. The Spanish, however, left with Deisy.

After that I never really thought about Spanish. I remember a trip to Puerto Rico when I was 12 and I didn't understand anything my family said to me in Spanish, but they all understood everything I said in English. It was then that I decided to take Spanish in high school, but I was horrible. I'm really a brick wall when it comes to teaching me a new language and it only got harder as I got older, but at least my interest was piqued.

When I went to college I decided to take an introductory Latin American history course just for fun and because I wanted to know a little more than I did about Latin America (which was next to nothing). During my first class of my first semester of college, I was hooked. I was fascinated by the history and everything my professor said. I really started trying to speak Spanish and trying to learn more about my mom's side of the family. When I decided I was transferring to another school, I based a large part of my decision on my study abroad options and the school's Latin American Studies programs. At UVA, I continued.

In October of 2005, my grandmother died. This was a huge blow for my sister C. and me because she was living with C. 10 minutes from my college dorm so we spent tons of time together. Even though you can't say she didn't live a full life, it was still so shocking. My sister and I had a really hard time dealing with it and I was already struggling as a transfer student so I decided I'd take a semester off from school and move to Puerto Rico to be with my incredibly warm and loving family there. They welcomed me "home"* with open arms and I made all of the arrangements to leave school. At the last minute, though I decided I'd stay at school which was the right decision for me in the end, but I was left with this yearning to go abroad and learn the Spanish I'd lost.

Going to Puerto Rico would have been an amazing time, but I was really set on going somewhere new when it came to picking a program. I wanted my own experience living abroad alone and if I had gone to Puerto Rico, I bet my mom would have been down there every weekend and I would have probably spoken more English than Spanish. And since Chile had always been in the back of my mind, I started checking into programs there. After months of fighting with my study abroad office, I finally got my program approved and prepared to leave for Chile.

Like I said before, basically nothing drew me to Chile specifically. It was just a feeling I had. A lot of people even tried to convince me not to go, but I was dead set on it. My advisor said that Chile was too dull for me and that I would be safe, but bored. Another professor thought Mexico was the only way to go. My mom, grandmother and Deisy certainly weren't tied to Chile either. If I followed any of them, I would have gone to Mexico, Bolivia or Puerto Rico, but I think I wanted Chile to be all about me. It was a good time in my life to go away and be with new people which would force me to learn Spanish, but it was also so much about those 3 women and feeling connected to them.

I've always felt latina. Maybe it's because everyone says how much I take after my mom's side of the family, but I'm really not latina. I have the same heritage my sister has (1/2 Irish, 1/4 Puerto Rican and 1/4 Norwegian) and she looks like the Irish side of my family and doesn't speak Spanish. There's no reason for me to have come out more hispanic, but I did. I really identify with the culture, the food (not Chilean food, though), and the people. I love the history and feel totally at ease in Chile and in every other Latin American country I've been to. I've always had the urge to know more about my family which then turned into a need to know about Latin America in general. When I go back to the U.S., I want my life to remain part latina. I want to work with latinos in the U.S. and I want my future children to grow up speaking Spanish just as much as English. Now, Chile's a part of me even more than Puerto Rico (although I'd like to change that) and I'll always feel part Chilean after I leave here.

I realize I haven't really answered the question of what drew me to Chile, but it's because I don't know the answer. Chile is totally different from Puerto Rico, Mexico and Bolivia, I know. Why I didn't go to any of those countries (and territory), I don't know. I plan on spending a lot of time in Puerto Rico and hope to get the chance to get to know Deisy's family in Bolivia, but Chile is so special to me. I bitch and moan about a lot of things here, but I also know that when I leave here I'll miss it like crazy. It'll always be a big part of my life regardless of what the future brings.

Oh hell, maybe I came here just to meet Italo :) who knows...

*My grandmother's cousin always calls Puerto Rico home so when I talk to her, she says, "when you come home to us"....and "We're so glad you're home". It's the cutest thing.


Emily said...

Loved your have such an interesting family heritage. Interesting that you got into LAS by chance.

Abby said...

Haha, the last line about Italo cracked me up.

And can I just say, yay for Fallaw!

Sara said...

I am like you and feel completely drawn to Latin America for some strange, inexplicable reason.

I remember you telling me about your mom's side of the family. I think that's cool. I went to Puerto Rico once and loved it!

Amanda said...

I teared up reading about your grandma. I'm really close to mine, too, and I am so scared when I have to face that day. I think it's so amazing how much influence she has on your life since I have a very similar situation. I call mine "Grams" too :)

Caroline said...

i feel so special when you mention me. i teared up too. i miss you!

nyGRINGAinCHILE said...

great post. loved hearing about your history. if you went to UVA you surely know Randolf Pope and his wife Mane? They are Chilean, so i assume they set up the program.

Isabel said...

Em- yup, LAS was pure fate!

Abby- I'm going to email Fallaw soon and say yay :)

Sara- I'm glad you loved PR! I haven't been there in over 3 years and I'm dying to go back.

Amanda- Maybe both of our Grams were long lost twins as well :) I'm so glad you have such a great relationship with yours. I'm very grateful for the one I had with mine, but obviously I would have LOVED more time with her.

Caroline- I'll mention you more then! I've been taking note of restaurants I go to with good customer service and good vineyards to try to convince you to visit me again because I know you didn't like it here the first time. I miss you so much, too! i hate stupid anesthesia school!

NyGringa-- YUP, they did set up the program (at WashU). Mané was my professor, but I didn't ever have Randolph Pope. Although he and I did speak on the phone for about 30 minutes about the department when I was deciding whether or not I wanted to transfer to UVA and he really helped me make the decision.

You went to WashU, right?? Because now there's another professor at UVA from the WashU Spanish department (D. Chavez).

Renée said...

Great post. I could really relate to wanting to get in touch with your family's latino heritage but wanted to go to a country that would be all your own. That's something I've felt about choosing Chile over Mexico but couldn't quite put into words.