By Ana Alza
“Reza.” My mother’s go-to advice for any situation. This time her “rezas” were a bit more insistent. I was on my way to Miami for staging. As a recent college graduate, I had deviated from many of my family’s expectations by joining the Peace Corps.
My family emigrated from Peru to the United States in 2003 with hopes of a better life. My parents had prepared me for our big move by enrolling me in a bilingual school and exposing me to American culture. Once in the States, I was supposed to excel in school, graduate from college and seek my professional degree in law. For Peruvians, if possible, students should finish their major/career without breaks. However, I pursued another path. It was difficult to explain to my family that I wanted to return to a part of the world they left for economic and security reasons.
I wish I could say that growing up in a bicultural household fully prepared me for costeña culture in Colombia, but its spontaneity took me by surprise. I grew up in an environment that emphasized things like time management, goals, to-do lists, and promptness. Living in Barranquilla has taught me to think on my feet and constantly adapt to new, and at times, strange situations. It has given me the opportunity to understand some behaviors, which previously, I thought were proof that some of my family members were already insane or going insane.
At the same time, having to explain my background is difficult. Colombians often find it hard to remember that none of my family still lives in Peru. Thus, they expect that I’m well-versed both in American and Peruvian culture, when really, most of the things I remember of Peruvian culture are general things that anyone could find in a book.
There are some pros inherent in my background. I can see many common things across Latin American cultures. I understand better some family interactions and relationships that other fellow volunteers think are so strange. I’m fluent in Spanish and know what people are saying. As a result, locals feel comfortable speaking with me. Also, I’ve found that if I don’t talk at all, many assume I’m Colombian.
I am thankful for my time in Barranquilla because it introduced me to new traditions and customs that were not part of my upbringing in Peru. While my family still struggles with my decision, they have learned to respect it and empathize with the struggles of a Peace Corps Volunteer. I am thankful for all my cultural transitions since they have shaped the person that I am today.