I question prejudices people have about me and explore the idea of identity.
English Level: B1 🇨🇦
I went to my mom and said, “why is everyone speaking to me in English? No entiendo.”
I was four years old and on a flight to Canada. My parents come from war-torn countries in Latin America, and Canada opened its arms to us. My parents knew nothing about Canada, not even that it’s cold here. But they came hoping this country would offer their children a better future.
So we’re on the plane, and people keep coming up to this blonde-haired, grey-eyed child, assuming I speak their language. What would give people that idea? Well, look at me. I don’t look like your typical Latino. You know, the ones you see in the movies. Tall, dark and handsome. I’m more like tall, light and ñyah.
I used to hate my appearance. Why do I look so different from my brothers? Why do I look so different from my brown-skinned, black-haired Nicaraguan father? I came to believe that I was a freak and that something was wrong with me. And the people around me confirmed this belief on a regular basis.
One day, I met a South American woman, and when I spoke to her in Spanish, she asked me, “Where did you learn Spanish?” I laughed and said, “I am Spanish.” She called me a liar repeatedly and refused to speak to me in Spanish.
At school, kids would say, “I don’t believe you. Say something in Spanish!” “I’m not a circus monkey, so I’m not here to perform for you. Just look at my name. Why would I have a Spanish first and last name if I wasn’t Latino? How many Germans do you know with the last name Robleto?”
I lived in Germany for the last seven years, and one day a German asked me where I’m from. I said Canada and he didn’t believe me. He thought I was a German!
The older I get, the less all of this bothers me. I’ve come to see that sometimes people’s perceptions of us (of me) are wrong. I’d dare say, most of the time. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s felt this way.
Has any of you ever been confronted with the following statement? “When I first met you, I thought you were ___.” Fill in the blank. Arrogant, stupid, obnoxious?
In my mid-twenties, I moved to Costa Rica for a time period. Coming from Canada, people assumed I had money. People would say, “it must have been so great to grow up in Canada with all that wealth and opportunity.” I’d say, “when I was six years old, my family and I would walk around the biggest mall in the city at closing time to collect cans and bottles from garbage bins—that way, my father could pay for gas. In the summers, I’d work in the fields picking strawberries, blueberries and raspberries under the hot sun for 10 hours a day. In my teens, I did cleaning jobs at large department stores. I promise you, wealth is not a word I’m familiar with.”
So who am I really? I’m Latino. My mom’s food and the Spanish language are my favorites. When I lived in Germany, I’d cook Spanish food whenever I felt sad to get a feeling of home. But I’m also Canadian. This beautiful land has shaped my worldview and educated me. I have an open mind, and it’s because I grew up in the Great White North. I’d also add German because I believe in organization and punctuality. Especially in business, I like things to be done in a German way. But I’d also say French because I lived in Quebec and spent the last five years of my life living on the French border. Nobody does pastries like the French! But I’d also say black culture has influenced me. I was a rapper at 18 and grew up with many Africans and Caribbean people.
My point is that you can’t define me. Not even I can do that. You and I are more than the labels people place on us. We’re more than the initial opinions people have about us. So today, I say, “Hi, hola. My name is Jorge, also known as George, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
- Appearance (noun): Aussehen
- Freak (noun): Monstrosität
- Confront (verb): (jdn.) konfrontieren
- obnoxious (adj.): unausstehlich
- Wealth (noun): Reichtum
- Department store (noun): Kaufhaus
- Label (noun): Etikett
- Initial (adj.): ursprünglich
- War-torn: (of a place) racked or devastated by war.
- To bother someone: (of a circumstance or event) worry, disturb, or upset (someone).
Question to consider
What do people misunderstand about you?
- Most Common Mistakes Germans Make in English
- Speaking Mastery Communication Course
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