Ever feel out of place? Like you want to belong but there’s something that is off? It reminds me of middle school, when you’re no longer the cool oldest kids in elementary and not yet in high school. You’re stuck in that awkward these glasses are too big for my face sort of stage in middle school. I felt like I spent a lot of my childhood trying to grow up faster or get to the “next best thing or stage in life.”
And it’s funny how being an adult we often find ourselves in the same position. I talk to so many friends, specifically women, who talk about how hard it is to make friends or find a good group of ladies that you know you can count on at all times. This is especially true for the expat community or for friends who have made a move at some point in their lives. Starting over is hard and scary and has you asking yourself “Can I really do this again? Will I find my tribe?”
I just finished reading (or actually listening on Audible - best membership I've ever paid for, click on this link and get 2 free books when you sign up) "Born a Crime" by Trevor Noah and am enthralled by his childhood in South Africa and the trials he had at a young age living in a world orchestrated so carefully to be racist. It's shocking, yet sadly not shocking, as I know living in Mexico or in the US, racism is still such a huge issue in 2019.
Trevor talks about growing up as a mixed child, which is why he was "born a crime". According to Trevor's declaration in the book, "Trevor was born to a white Swiss father and a black Xhosa mother at a time when such a union was punishable by five years in prison." It doesn't matter who the male or female was, the color of your skin made you guilty. (This was in 1984 - hello, not that long ago!)
Trevor talks about being a chameleon in a world that requires you to be someone specific to fit in, stay safe or be accepted by others. He talks about language being the key. No matter what you look like or what color you are, if you can speak the same language as someone you can be accepted.
“Language, even more than color, defines who you are to people.” - Trevor Noah
I find that fascinating.
Obviously as a very gringa girl living in Mexico for 12 years, I still feel like a fish out of water so often. My expat friends and I talk about how hard it is to really get to know people in your second language, be accepted with the other moms at preschool and feel like we can be ourselves in a world that's SO different than where we grew up.
Just last month following our Sunday service at church given by the amazing Angela Jaquith (originally from Washington but her heart is in Mexico) and who I respect so much confessed also feeling unsure of her language skills. Sidenote: She and her husband helped us so much during the year of "shit hitting the fan" as new parents when we were at a loss and ready to give up on our marriage that we almost did. By the grace of God, friends like Angela surrounded us with love, wisdom and grace. She is an incredible woman. Angela speaks at conferences all over the world in English and in Spanish, encouraging women to embrace their gifts and live life unabashedly with the freedom to be unique and who we are called to be, while being a mom, an artist, a business owner and in the middle of studying her 5th degree or something like that and Master's.
This woman who I admire so much and just encouraged hundreds of people with the message in Spanish to embrace the storms life throws our way and know that through the storms in life we will grow and ultimately encourage those around us. And she admitted to still feeling weak or out of place at times while speaking Spanish.
We bonded over this feeling of being able to communicate better in English. Of feeling more confident in English, yet here we are living in Mexico, speaking Spanish every day.
We may not always feel confident where we've been planted, but that doesn't mean we can't keep growing.
I can’t help but think about this journey life has taken me on. This experience of at times having to be a chameleon to fit in to my surroundings. Living in a new country and having to express myself in my second language. Falling in love with someone who didn’t speak English and walking through those storms of miscommunication or misunderstandings because our worlds were so different.
Yet this world of beautiful culture, language, food feels like home now. In fact, perhaps it’s a mid 30’s thing to do, I’ve been pondering all of this as my career has drastically changed over the last few years and even in the last few months as I find myself giving keynotes, presentations and workshops to hundreds of educators in Spanish, my second language and I wonder “How in the world did this happen? Who am I?”
Ironically I still feel more like “me” when I’m speaking English or at least the me I’ve always been. But this part of me speaking Spanish has opened up so many new opportunities I never would have had.
And through new experiences, new struggles, new challenges, we are all forming our identities and versions of ourselves. We all have the choice to put ourselves in new situations, to take risks, to be vulnerable and eventually, I’m hoping that I’ll feel less like I’m trying to change who I am and more that I’m embracing who I am in either language.
There are times I feel like my friends in Mexico don't know the real me. Yet I know my friends back in Minnesota no longer know the real me either. Because as we grow our identities grow as well.
Experiences shape us and mold us. If we pursue personal development, taking risks, and trying new things we continue to grow.
We can wear " different colors" like a chameleon, yet it's really just layers of our growth and ability to connect with others.
A chameleon can only change its colour but never change its skin. - African proverb
So let’s find shared experiences, let’s learn more about those around us, let’s embrace the growth that life provides as we are going through new circumstances, whether we enjoy the process or not.
Because whatever you're going through, whether it's learning to express yourself in another language or not, you are growing and gaining more colors to connect with others.