Culture shock

I miss people dancing salsa in the streets. I miss abuelitos and abuelitas playing Dominoes. I miss going to the beach with friends and passing by a Cuban bakery to get guava pastries. I miss saluting each other with kisses on the cheek and hearing Latinx music throughout the streets. I can’t do the smallest things I used to enjoy the most in Miami, but I’ve found beauty in Athens.

I now witness the seasons change and deer feeding in my backyard. I love the smell of pines and the sound of birds chirping. I enjoy Outdoors Club because I find it beautiful how my school’s garden is coming together. 

Coming from Miami, I acted differently than my classmates. I would greet with a kiss on the cheek and while it was completely platonic, people found it was socially unacceptable. I wore summer clothes and would speak Spanglish. In my second week at Cedar Shoals, a boy in my class told me to “speak in English.”

When I first enrolled here, many of my Hispanic classmates only spoke to me in Spanish because they assumed that was the only language I knew. Some said they didn’t understand what I was saying because I had an accent. I never experienced this in Miami because almost everyone has an accent. I did think that my classmates were friendly, but their politeness still felt double-sided with criticism because of where I came from.

While there are a few individuals who make me feel welcome in Athens and especially at Cedar, I often feel like an outcast. I can’t seem to relate to others’ and their experiences because we were raised in different environments. For example, I struggle to relate to friends whenever they start talking about their favorite places in Athens because I haven’t been here enough. With my Hispanic friends, I’m often quiet as they discuss dishes like “sope,” Mexican antojitos, which I had never heard before until I came here. I can’t seem to relate fully to any of my friends’ cultures, and I feel excluded since we can’t share that connection. 

While Miami can be described as a melting pot, it’s diversity is always celebrated. It’s as if everyone there shares their culture with one another and appreciates it. They celebrate events like the Calle Ocho Festival, the largest festival dedicated to celebrating Hispanic culture, or the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Parade, where people from all socioeconomic backgrounds celebrate equality. Even though there are similar events happening in Athens such as LatinxFest, it is simply not the same. 

I don’t think people gather together and unify with these events as they did in Miami. It’s almost as if others were categorized into groups. Perhaps I’m not giving Athens a fair chance since Miami is a bigger city, but I do believe it lacks appreciation of all cultures. 

My mother moved from Nicaragua when she was 19 years old and has always been surrounded by people like her ever since. When coming to Athens, I noticed how the Nicaraguan community feels nonexistent, yet in Miami it was big. There are festivals, masses, restaurants, and shops dedicated to my people. Many of the Hispanic markets in Athens don’t even sell Nicaraguan products. My family and I adapted to these changes, and while it has been hard, it also shows the bubble we lived in. We never fully considered how some places might lack the same diversity there was in Miami. 

While moving to Athens was a complete culture shock, I’ve grown with the people and learned their customs. I’ve learned to appreciate things I know I am aware that my experience is not as drastic as those who move from different countries, yet I know that others can relate. Moving is not easy and that’s why it’s important to put one’s self into a newcomer’s situation.