By Guilianna Zamora, Spanish Tutor at Spanish Blackbelt Language School, Boston, MA
The experience of getting to know another culture can be exciting and rewarding, but it can also be very difficult. How can you best come to understand and fit into another culture? How can you share your own culture with others? As a Catholic Peruvian woman married to a Jewish American man, I ask (and answer!) these questions every day. Intercultural marriage takes a lot work, dedication and commitment. As part of an intercultural marriage, I constantly work hard to understand and fit in with another culture, but along the way I’ve learned a great deal about myself and my own culture.
When I first met Jon in my hometown of Cuzco, Peru, it was exciting to see that we had more similarities than differences. Even though it was very obvious for the rest to see we were very different. I will always remember my first conversation with him talking about our families. Jon told stories about his family with great love. He affectionately described each member of his family. So I realized that family values for both of us were essential. Among other things that also captured my attention were his passion for his studies as a mechanical engineer, and his enthusiasm about climbing and hiking in the mountains of California. While I had these conversations with him, I noticed how interested he was to learn about my culture and my language.
In some cases, there are real differences between our cultures that are difficult to adapt to. For example, while Americans consider dinner the most important meal to share with family, Peruvians treasure lunch as an opportunity to bring families together and share a feast. In the morning before lunch each day, my mom used to cook delicious dishes such as papa a la huancaina, ceviche, arroz con pollo, lomo saltado, ají de gallina and other traditional Peruvian dishes. At two in the afternoon my dad would walk home across town from work, my brother from school, and I from the university, and we would eat together over lively conversation. After that each of us would return to our duties. When I moved to the United States I found that the tradition was very different. Here lunch is a meal of convenience. It’s very common to eat a sandwich, a slice of pizza, salad or a burrito and have just a few minutes to eat it. People often commute long distances for work and would never consider coming home in the middle of the day. While this is a cultural difference that I am not used to yet, Jon and I decided to integrate our cultures. For instance we often cook dinner together, sometimes Peruvian food (one of Jon’s favorite foods). We pray before the meal and we share our stories of the day, sometimes speaking English and sometimes Spanish.
Over time we have learned that life can be fun when we embrace each other’s culture and enjoy our differences. This was exemplified by our wedding day in which our families united in a celebration with both American and Peruvian traditions. Our wedding was held in an ancient mountain town called Yucay near my hometown of Cusco, Perú. The priest who led our ceremony invited my father-in-law to say traditional Jewish prayers in Hebrew. During the reception, our fathers gave their speeches in their own language one line at a time, giving Jon and I time to translate for our American and Peruvian guests. It was fun to watch our American and Peruvian friends manage to communicate with each other despite their language differences, to see our American friends enjoy a Peruvian feast, and to dance to popular songs in both Spanish and English.
After almost ten years together we have had many fun cross-cultural experiences. Jon was thrilled to go to a huge soccer game in Lima with my family, and I got to celebrate when Jon’s home team won my first Super Bowl. I took him hiking in the Andes while he took me hiking around Lake Tahoe. I showed him around Lima, while he gave me a tour of Washington, DC. Jon learned to dance salsa while I learned to dance hip hop. Furthermore speaking different languages has given us a great asset because it has made us bilinguals. This has allowed us to integrate and interact very easily in various social situations as well as in our professional fields. For instance Jon was working last winter on a project in Colombia where he used his Spanish extensively. I have worked in the hospitality business for many years and studied in United State, and have found it essential to speak English well. As Spanish tutor I feel very fortunate to teach my language and my culture to others as I did with my husband.
Immersing yourself in another culture is not easy. It requires extra effort and major commitment. We have learned in our marriage, though, that every challenge we overcome strengthens our relationship. During our time together, we have learned a lot about each other and the cultures we come from, and we keep our eyes open for fun and rewarding ways to bring our cultures together. We have learned that the difficulties involved in getting to know another culture are worth it.