Celebrando! A Dialogue on Latinx and Hispanic Cultural Traditions
The Ohio History Connection has joined cultural organizations from around the nation to pay tribute to the generations of Latinx and Hispanic Americans who have enriched our nation and society. We are proud to introduce the Celebrando! Project. Each year we will select three to four cultures to be represented by Ohioans who will share their ancestral heritage through data, photographs and personal stories.
In its inaugural year, Jose Morales Crispin from Puerto Rico, Miguel Felipe Daza from Columbia, Irene Gil-Llamas from Spain and Carla Mello from Brazil share their unique histories, cultural traditions and family stories. This discussion was moderated by Rosa Rojas, Curator at the National Afro-American Museum and Cultural Center and continues a conversation that aired live on September 16, 2021. For a recording including a visual aid, please follow this link https://youtu.be/Cra3WSHD9Mg.
Jose Morales Crispin
Community Outreach & Engagement Manager, Franklin County Sheriff’s Office
Miguel Felipe Daza
Educator, Columbus Spanish Immersion Academy
Client Engagement Manager, Chemical Abstracts Service (CAS)
Dept. Manager, School and Teacher Support–Ohio History Connection
Question: What was your impression about life in the states based on what you heard back home?
Jose: I had the impression that Columbus was in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields and the typical “American food” you see in films and TV. That completely changed once I arrived. While there are certainly fields, you can find any food you are craving (or the ingredients).
Miguel: When I was living in Colombia, the impression of life in the United States was very positive. Through movies, series, songs, documentaries, etc., the “American way of life” and “American Dream” was something reachable to everyone through hard work, dedication, and consistency. The United States has always been seen as a place of opportunity, where if you can, you should try to immigrate. However, once I arrived to Texas for Graduate School, I realized that the “American Dream” has an asterisk associated with it. One that is predicated on an individual’s socioeconomic conditions, race, opportunities, and immigration status. The idea that you can acquire wealth and fulfill all possible dreams through hard work is simply not as accurate as portrayed in movies, TV series, and the media. The type of work you do, your salary, professional skills, and so many other factors impact your chances of succeeding in the United States.
Carla: The way that people abroad are exposed to life in the US are usually through TV series, movies and music. It’s a very skewed view. Most successful media portrays large cities or suburbs, generally middle to upper class white families/friends. More recently there have been a few attempts to showcase more diversity and different realities of life in the US, but if you look at media from the 80s, 90s and early 2000s (which was what I was watching as I was becoming an adult), it’s a very limited view of what life is in the US.
Way before the internet, I was always reading news from all around the world and I had good classes of history and geography to understand that what I was seeing on TV was not really accurate but I expected that some things were true. Small, simple things like the fact that people in the US eat dinner way too early (for my parameters), and their breakfast are very, very different than the breakfast I grow up eating. Or the huge number of different churches. Or how different states have very different realities.
However there are also all the little things that are surprisingly different. Let me put it this way. If you have seen the show 3rd Rock From the Sun, many of the little things that puzzled the aliens (and I believe they were living somewhere in Ohio) where things that puzzled me when I started living here.
Because of the wealth of the country as a whole, I expected education and health care would be far superior than what I had back home. It turns out it isn’t. And I didn’t realize how segregated cities were with neighborhoods having completely different demographics. That really shocked me when I start moving around in Columbus and then visiting other parts of the country.
It seems that’s something more recent, but I arrived here in 2012 and everything seems to be presented in a black and white way, or us against them view. There’s no middle ground. That was a huge eye opener. It made me much more cautious about expressing my opinions. Civil discourse is truly lacking. I don’t think that’s necessarily a US thing though. I just never experienced that before. I would probably be experiencing that if I was living somewhere else. It might be something from these times rather than something from this place.
Question: Can you share with us your personal migration journey?
Jose: I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. In 2013, I moved from Puerto Rico to Spain to teach for a year. My plan was to return to Puerto Rico, apply for a visa and return to Spain. I decided to stop by Ohio to visit my sister for two weeks but I ended up extending my trip (I have been living in Ohio for 9 years now). I met my wife, went back to school and Ohio became home.
Miguel: I was born in Bogota, Colombia, and lived there until 2014, when I left for the United States to attend graduate school. I lived in Austin, Texas, from 2014 to 2019, where I completed my MA in Education at the University of Texas at Austin and was an IB educator at the Magellan International School. In 2017 I got married and began my immigration process to become a citizen. In 2019, my wife and I moved to Columbus, Ohio, to be closer to her family, who live around Cleveland, OH. To this day, my parents and youngest brother still live in Bogota, Colombia, and my second brother lives in Belgium. Other than my wife and her family, I have no relatives in the United States.
Carla: Since I was a little girl, I always wanted to travel the world and live in different places to learn about different people and cultures. I never had the means to do it until after college. My husband and I moved from Brazil to Chile for work in 2006 and we lived there till 2012 when my husband was offered a job at OSU. For his career, a move to the US was the logical next step, and my field allowed me to be more flexible and try to find a position once we were here. So we moved. Not because we were escaping horrible conditions or because we were looking for a better life. It was an opportunity to grow our careers and expend our knowledge of the world. It’s a very different reality from what most immigrants experience. We are privileged to have this kind of opportunity. Once my husband got the offer, we applied for our visas in the consulate in Brazil, and once we got the visa we moved to Columbus, OH, where we have lived ever since. We have acquired our US residency but we are not naturalized US citizens.
Question: What similarities have you discovered between your ancestral culture and that of the residents of Ohio?
Jose: Columbus is quite diverse. I was amazed (and excited) to connect with individuals from other Latin-American countries.
Miguel: Due to the pandemic and professional responsibilities, I have not had the opportunity to connect with many Colombians here in Columbus, Ohio.
Carla: This is a little harder to reply. My heritage is multi-cultural. I’m descendent of Italians, Portuguese, Native Brazilians and Afro-Brazilians and although in Brazil we have our specific food, music and dances that were created by the combinations of all these cultures and more, I grew up in a globalized world. I also grew up in a humongous and cosmopolitan city with access to food and cultural expressions from all around the world. I was exposed to all sorts of music, foods, books, movies, etc. The Italian food we get here might be a little different that the Italian food I grew up with but that’s because each place modifies the original culinary with ingredients and tastes of the place you are. Most people in the US may have never heard or danced samba (afro-music) but I have heard all the rock-and-roll I could get my hands on. So there are multiple overlaps and also many differences.
Question: Do you have any final thoughts you would like to leave us with?
Miguel: As an educator, I really appreciated the opportunity to share about my country, background, and personal experiences.
Carla: I hope that putting all these thoughts together inspires people to learn more about other people, cultures and places. I think that with understanding comes empathy, and all of us could use a little bit more empathy in our lives.