Where are You From?

No question elicits more anxiety than this one. At times, I even avoid meeting new people just to side-step this question. “Where are you from?”—seems like such an easy question that should have such an easy answer. For me and others like me, not so. I am a part of that societal anomaly called “Third Culture Kids”—those are born in one culture, raised in another, and never completely ‘at home’ anywhere. Allow me to explain… 

 I was born in south Alabama…way down south where the peanut and cotton fields fill the landscape. I came into that world in the mid-60’s…long before cable TV, central a/c, cell phones, and anything akin to ‘urban sprawl.’ My daddy was the Baptist preacher at a small and growin’ church outside of Dothan, Alabama…that’s ‘Dothan’ – “DOOOE-thun.” My momma, a school teacher, and daddy raised my two older brothers and me in a good Southern home. 

 My few memories of this time include hot summer evenings, a kiddie-pool full of frogs my brothers and their friends had caught, and the stand of pines behind the house with the trail that led Ms. Kirkland’s house. The pine needles muffled all the sounds underfoot, and the thick trees quieted all the other sounds—this was a place of solitude and peace. But, that’s it for the memories—we lived there until I just turned four-years-old. 

Good Baptists that my momma and daddy were, they were anxious for opportunities to share the Gospel—that good message of Jesus—with the rest of the world. So, when the chance came along to go and serve as missionaries in a foreign land, they jumped at it. In 1969, we all moved to the former British colony of Guyana on the northeast coast of South America. 

We arrive deh in dis land…soooo different from de place back in de US. We was some of de only white people in a sea of colour. Deh was a lot of black people, descendants of slaves and others from Africa…an’ a lot of dem was Muslim. Yes, people don’ realize dat right der in Guyana, Sout’ America, almost every town an’ city have Muslim mosques. Den, another part of de population is from India…a lot of Hindu walkin’ the streets. And, we had Hindu temple everywhere. But, is a British colony, so another piece of the people—blacks and Indians—is Christian. Oh…one mo’ piece—the native peoples…the indigenous people dat live in the interior—the Wai-Wai and Wakashani and oder tribes. 

 What a place for this boi to grow up, eh! My parents was smart in dat dey put us in de national schools—not in de “American Schools.”—when we reach dere. So, we learn de culture, de language. Yes, dey speak English…but more of a patois—a mix-up, mix-up language wid pieces of Indian, French, an’ other languages mix in. For example, we didn’ jus’ say “yes.” We say, “Yes, oui!” 

And, my parents was smart too in dat dey didn’ try to live the American life-style like so many expats. Yes, mon, we eat de food of de people: chana, pilau, cook-up…plantain, marme-apple. Yes, we was livin’ like Guyanese, eatin’ Guyanese, an’ talkin’ Guyanese. Guyana was a wild and untame’ land…a land of violence at times between de races an’ between de religions. 

An hour an’ a half from de capital city of Georgetown, an’ we would be on de rolling savannahs with the indigenous people, or we could be in de almos’ impenetrable jungles with jaguar and tapir. Guyana means ‘land of many waters’…and that was true—rivers everywhere, and rains that flooded the land. 

Unfortunately, de government dere tell us dat we can’t stay—dey kick out all the Americans. So, my parents wasn’t ready yet to head back to America, so we tranfer to de island of Grenada in the southern Caribbean when I was just eight-years-old. 

Tanks be to God, de language was about de same! But the world was sooo different. We went from a multi-cultural world of Hindus, Muslims, an’ Christians to a mostly Christian culture…even if the people wasn’t too active in the fait’. And, we went from de wild lands—jungles and savannahs—of Guyana to de tropical paradise of rain forest an’ beaches of Grenada. In Grenada, we live’ on de beach, mon. Yes, an’ I was deh every day afta school. Jus’ me an’ my dog…walkin’ de beach, swimmin’ in de ocean. This place define paradise…and it define me, too! 

We live dere until I reach almost 17 years of age. So, all my adolescence pass on this island. My bruder, Jeff, and I had small boat that we would take out to de reef…all de time. We would snorkel every afternoon afta’ school and most every Saturday. If we wasn’ snorkelin’, we was fishin’. It was de life, mon! Ah love’ it! 

De school day was short—we start at 7:30am an’ finish at 1:30pm. So, it was straight home to a meal of some kind of fish usually—most of de time, flyin’ fish. We eat a lot of rice, fresh fruit an’ vegetable. In place of potato, we e’t breadfruit—boiled, fried, in stew or soup. Yes, mon, I miss de food of dat place! 

When I turn 14 years old, my father buy me a moto’cycle. Freedom, mon, freedom! I come an’ go how an’ when I want to…well, to a degree. But really, Grenada was a sweet life. It was de best life. When I dream about ‘de good life,’ I dream about Grenada. But, tings don’ last, nah. So, in 1982, we make de move back to the US. We leave behind de magic of the island so I could prepare for university in de US. 

In June of 1982, we arrived in Atlanta, Georgia. High school was easy in the US after having studied in the British system in the Caribbean. I cruised through the last two years high school and went on to college where I majored—finally—in English (I had six declared majors in college—I just enjoyed everything!) 

After college, I opted for graduate school, and off I went to the University of Louisville, in KY. In Louisville, I met my wife, Jeanne. After grad school, I accepted a teaching position in Georgia, so off we went again. From Georgia, my teaching then took us to south Texas, to McAllen, and then to Michigan. From Michigan, we went back to Georgia…and it was there we decided to make a change. After all, my life abroad was life-shaping for me. Why not give our three children the chance to experience the world? In July 2005, we arrived in Barquisimeto, Venezuela, where I would work with the Methodist Church and various institutions of higher education. 

¡Guau! Que diferente este mundo en Venezuela. Na’guara! Por casualidad, Venezuela está pegado con Guyana…pero es otro mundo. Llegamos allá con muy pocas palabras en español. Sin embargo, seguimos la práctica de mis padres—ponemos nuestros hijos en las escuelas locales, nacionales…para aprender el idioma y la cultura. Yo aprendí el idioma con mi diccionario en una mano y mi amigo, Samuel, a mi otra mano. También, vivimos como la gente—comemos las comidas locales: empanada, yuca, pasta con salsa de tomate, las frutas y vegetales indígenas. 

La gente de Venezuela son una gente cálida, abierta. En 2005, Chavez estaba todavía…y la economía estaba bajando. Pasamos tiempos de escasez—sin azúcar a veces, sin papel higiénico en un mes, y aun un tiempo sin café (¡qué horror!). 

En 2007, la violencia estaba creciendo, y decidimos por la seguridad de nuestros hijos que ya llegó el tiempo por un cambio. En junio 2008, nos mudamos a Monterrey, México. 

¡Nos encantó ‘la ciudad de las montañas’! Nuestros hijos encontraron amigos en sus escuelas y en la iglesia. Encontramos amigos en la comunidad y en la iglesia. Y en una ciudad de unas 6,000,000 personas, encontramos una vida nueva. 

Aquí también, mi esposita encontró trabajo en una escuela como maestra de inglés. Yo estaba trabajando con la Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) y con el Seminario Metodista Juan Wesley (SMJW). Yo estaba dando clases en inglés (UDEM) y en español (SMJW). ¡Estábamos viviendo la vida! 

Y de repente…llegó la violencia--violencia por la economía, violencia por los carteles. A pesar de la violencia, nunca—NUNCA—nos sentimos amenazado. Viajábamos por camión a todas partes de la ciudad. Salimos en las calles con amigos y compañeros. Vivimos con la gente, como la gente. Estábamos ‘Regios’…y nos gustó la vida. 

Llegó el momento en cuando una hija nuestra estaba lista entrar la uni y nuestro hijo estaba listo entrar la prepa. Nuestra hija mayor ya regresó a los EEUU para asistir la uni, y no fue bien con ella—enfrentó un golpe cultural después de tantos años en el mundo Latino. Entonces, decidimos a no enviar a los otros hijos solos a los EEUU. Íbamos a ir con ellos. En junio de 2011, regresamos a los Estados Unidos…pero no a Georgia. Esta vez, nos ubicamos en McAllen, Texas—in the US, but close to ‘home’ (Monterrey) for our teenaged children. 

I took a position with South Texas College, and I worked for the college from then until this past June. Our oldest daughter, Jesse, returned to Monterrey and married her high school sweetheart (they recently gave us our first grandson—Santiago Nicholas). Megan studied nursing at South Texas College and is now a trauma nurse in San Antonio. She married this past summer, and she’s now Megan Molina. Andrew, our son, did four years of high school here in the Valley and then went to Austin where he studied computer science at St. Edwards University. He met his girlfriend from California there. Today, they live in Arizona. 

Jeanne and I have made our home here in the Valley. As a Methodist minister, I served a bilingual congregation in Rio Grande City for five years…and now serve the Church in McAllen, Texas. My wife, Jeanne, and I have lived in Georgia, Venezuela, Mexico, Texas, and Michigan. Before we married, I had lived in the US, Guyana, and Grenada. In all, I lived over 13 years in the Caribbean and now over 16 years in the Latino world. 

I did not merely ‘live’ in these worlds; I ‘moved in.’ I embraced those worlds…I sank my tent stakes deeply in the soil of the lands where I lived…I breathed deeply the air, ingested the foods, swayed with the music, and did all I could to integrate, to be accepted, to become one with the worlds in which I lived. When my wife and I moved with our children, we did the same…and encouraged our children to do the same. 

Today, our family gatherings are multi-cultural events—half English, half Spanish, foods from five countries, music from many countries—country music, reggae, reggaetón, 80’s pop, and much more. Also today, my children flinch at the question: Where are you from? 

“Where are you from?” Such a simple question that should have such an easy answer. When I hear that question, I pause…usually glace down at my feet a moment trying to decide how to answer. Most folks want a city and state. Do I really respond, “Well, I was born in south Alabama, moved to Guyana, South America, as I turned four; then when I was eight, we moved to Grenada in the West Indies where I lived until I was almost 17. We moved to GA where I went to college…and then to Kentucky for grad school. Married…moved back to GA…then we took our children to Venezuela….” You get the idea. 

I’ve about decided that the easiest thing to say is, “I’m from Georgia”—that’s where my dad was from. If I’m feeling a bit more free and if I’m willing to dive into the tale, I’ll say, “I’m from Grenada in the Caribbean.” Yeah, that one usually takes some explaining. If I meet someone from Mexico, I’ll say, “Pues, originalmente de Alabama, pero pasamos mucho tiempo en América Latina.” 

Sometimes I simply mumble something about living in Mission, Texas, and turn the question back: “And where are you from?” Yeah, that’s usually the easiest thing to do….

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