By Mari D. González
In the December 2009 edition, a writer for The Economist said, “Every foreigner of inquiring mind becomes a part-time anthropologist.” That statement describes me personally and professionally.
I moved to the U.S. in the 90’s. Having completed a B.A. at eighteen, I wanted to explore the world—specifically to learn about people and their culture or their “programming” as Geert Hofstede calls it. My first job in the U.S. was bilingual health educator. At that time, my passion for learning and breaching cultural gaps was greater than my actual English-Spanish bilingual skills.
At fourteen in Mexico, I had moved from my inland hometown to the coast to study. Although it was within the same state, the cultural differences were vast. That was my first intercultural experience. In Ciudád Guzman, my new home, I was called güerita or blonde. As you can see in the picture, my hair is not blonde nor have I ever dyed it, but that was a contextual distinction in a place were most people were darker-skinned than I. Color aside, I wanted to fit in this new place and did not want to be seen as “different.” There were several instances when I would get preferential treatment, which I did not enjoy, such as people getting up from their chairs to let me sit.
I was seen as an outsider and treated like one. I had more privileges because I was perceived as belonging to a higher color-based hierarchy. That’s the type of cultural programming or enculturation that is characteristic of many societies. I found the distinct treatment fascinating, not because of the benefits I got, but because I did not believe I or anyone else deserved such treatment based on appearances. I knew it was a learned attitude that remained unquestioned, and that was my first cross-cultural analysis.
I am back to my writing on intercultural communication, a topic I love. Since my last blog post, I have completed my thesis research and earned a long-awaited Master of Arts degree in Intercultural Relations (MAIR); I am continuing to work on a paper that should be published soon; I have taken several courses in online communication and marketing and passed my written test for medical interpreting. I am happy to be able to write again.
Edited by Connie Cobb