My Love-Hate Relationship with “Being Different”

By Markus Spiske (Unsplash)

In a workshop I participated in, we were asked to take a few minutes to jot down some of our personal history and to note some of the things that stood out as positive or negative.

More than ever before, it hit me that several of the experiences I mentioned in my growing-up process had to do with feeling different.

Being unlike others.

Sticking out like a sore thumb.

Feeling uncomfortable.

When I mentioned that to the teacher, she brushed it off with the words, “Of course, we’re all unique and different!”

Right, being unlike one another is natural and good. We don’t expect to be cookie-cutter copies of one another. Genes, personality, culture and much more are part of that.

By Refugio Méndez (our grands)

However, I grew up in Latin America, born of WASP Canadian parents. Sometimes as I walked to school I would hear the word “Gringuita!” yelled… basically a somewhat derogative “American”. At our international school, we foreigners were nevertheless in the minority. Being white made me different. My Spanish never lost its slight foreign tinge, so even on the phone in Mexico I am often asked, “Where are you from?”

By Ying Ge (Unsplash)

Being a bit of a nerd made me feel different too. Books interested me more than jumping rope. Classmates would grab my notebook as I arrived to copy my homework. I took 7th and 8th grades in one year.

Is there something about Latinas and hormones? At least in my case, adolescence took longer coming, and at junior high graduation, my flat chest and lack of bouffant hairstyle made me stand out as… different.

By Ospan Ali (Unsplash)

In boarding school in the U.S., I still didn’t fit in. When the resident advisor yelled out “Cool it!” down the hall one night, I surmised that the slang meant “Be quiet!” I didn’t know what pastrami was, or Yorkshire pudding, or a prom.

When foreign student gatherings took place, I at least found others who knew what it felt like. Many were the children of expats, third-culture-kids like me. No one else had traveled on banana boats, however!

By Kelly Sikkema

I was one of the few who got so excited when the first fall foliage, and later the first snow, arrived.

Always the youngest in my class, my lack of maturity made me different as well. Perhaps as a result, many of my friends were in lower classes.

By Kaleb Tapp (Unsplash)

Then I took a semester of college in the States, when protesting against Vietnam was all the rage. Much as I wasn’t American, I participated in protests, all the same. Trying to fit in. I was on a big campus at the age of 16, a mere child to some. Once someone walked up to me in the cafeteria and asked: “Are you the sixteen-year-old kid?”

Different.

By Alex Zamora (Unsplash)

Next stop: Mexico. My fair skin made me feel like I could never blend in. I was often perceived as American, and at that time the Vietnam situation made the U.S. rather unpopular to many.

In public, I found the cat-calls overwhelming, even when I wasn’t wearing a mini-skirt. The word may not have been said but it was in their minds: “Gringa!” My differentness attracted guys and surely turned off a lot of girls, who saw me as competition. Some of the men seemed to expect that, more than Mexican girls, I’d be into “peace and love”, hoping that meant I’d be willing to share some free love with them.

Living with a Mexican family for a while, I found so many things hard to get used to. Once I was asked why I didn’t wear stockings, which (though it went unsaid) any decent woman wore.

By Milada Vigerova (Unsplash)

Ah yes, religion set me apart as well. At the time I was “seeking” and sometimes attended Quaker services. A Mexican man once told me he had never heard of any Mexican of any importance being Protestant. (He didn’t know, nor did I at the time, that there had been and were some important Protestants in government, education, and literature, for example.) So much of Mexican culture is related to Catholicism that in many ways, we minorities feel… different.

At the age of 21, I made the decision to truly commit my life to Christ. That meant changes in my behavior and mindset. It affected dating decisions, which puzzled potential suitors. At a discotheque, I met a well-known singer and actor, who asked me, “How do you seem so happy when you aren’t drinking?”

By Adalia Both (Unsplash)

Then there’s food. As a young adult, I got interested in health food and a low-meat diet. My husband and I even offered vegetarian fare at our wedding, which undoubtedly came across as quite strange for many of our guests. If I turned down a ham sandwich or a soft drink at a social gathering, it didn’t always sit well. Later I learned that socially there were times when it was best to make exceptions.

By Dave Clubb (Unsplash)

When the babies came, I started to learn about breastfeeding. If I nursed in public, I could get strange looks. Even in an indigenous town, when I was still nursing a one-year-old, women acted surprised; they had never seen a “white woman” nurse and figured they didn’t have any milk! “Long-term” breastfeeding for women of my social class, in particular, was still a factor that made me “different” at that time.

Eventually, I started the first La Leche League group in our city, which meant inviting women to our monthly groups, helping them via phone, and sometimes speaking on radio or TV. Often I felt I was bucking the tide, with even doctors suggesting that our advice was poorly-supported, though in the long run, the World Health Organization ended up with a statement that was very close to LLL recommendations.

By Immo Wegman (Unsplash)

Over the years, my looks, my accent, my cross-cultural background, my faith, my diet, and even my babies’ diet… all these and more were factors that often made me feel I was different. When I hop into a taxi, almost inevitably after a few minutes the famous question pops out: “Where are you from?” If the driver is considerably younger, I can laugh and say, “I’ve lived here longer than you!”

Back to that class, just months ago. My prof pooh-poohed the idea that I was really any different from others. However, the fact that my physical attributes alone make me stand out in Mexico was confirmed as I walked through a park after that workshop and some guy yelled out at me in English: “Good morning!”

Okay, I’m an “alien” in the end, an expat by default, as my previous blog declared. I’m a pilgrim heading for my true destination!

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Canadian-Mexican linguist and translator, Margie loves to write about cross-cultural living, faith, family, aging gracefully… and more!

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Margie Hord de Mendez

Margie Hord de Mendez

Canadian-Mexican linguist and translator, Margie loves to write about cross-cultural living, faith, family, aging gracefully… and more!

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