Embracing My Mountains

Ramon Giron-Melendez
May 20, 2013

As the weeks start winding down, Vienna envelops me with her last minute charms and whimsical personality. She reminds me of all the wonder and culture that started here, and why I have been captivated by her since the 8th grade. Still, no charm can match the sweetness and authenticity of a child appreciating you for who you are and you seeing them for whom they are. During my last day in my teaching internship it dawned on me, that although I did not foster the break out of a genius, I did connect with my students at a personal level. However, it was a connection that went beyond just, “I understand you,” rather it extended to my whole experience as a bi-cultural human being. As stated in my previous entry, the mountains of a minority do not disappear in Vienna, but rather they are redefined. As a “phenotype minority” my appropriated look has transformed me into a representative of the “middle east.” Although some might say this is unfortunate, and that my “suffering” is endless, and that I will never be able to “shake off the minority experience,” for once, I’m glad I wasn’t able to.

My last day as a teacher’s assistance was focused on my life in the States as a non-typical American. No, I said, I do not have blonde hair, or blue eyes. No, I do not know every word of the Princess Bride, and no I have not seen any of the Star Wars movies. And yes, I still think Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches are exotic. Instead I pointed towards my innovative grandmother who pioneered Hispanic female independence as she left Honduras to Miami in order to work as a nanny and raise money for her children back home. I spoke of my dual identity, as an English speaker in school and as a Spanish speaker in my family, where as a person, I change mannerisms, behaviors, expectations and even beliefs. Yes, I said, the struggle is real. However, the blessing in incredible. The skill to traverse between two spaces, to handle two cultures, and to inhabit two spheres of life, is an ability to envy.

Often times, media outlets may not affirm us in our identities and personalities like we would want them to. The signs we get from around us tell us that perhaps we might not measure up as well as we thought we did. However, speaking with my class, I let them know that it is simply not true. Being bi-cultural makes you unique, and gives you a multiplicity of perspectives that leads you to have a more comprehensive and inclusive view of the world. I later went on to show them, that although I love Abraham Lincoln as much as the next American does, my Latino heritage is still a significant part of what defines me as a person. Through music and video I was able to give them a glimpse of my world and what my “alternative” values, ideas, and rhythms are.

Still, I have to admit, I took courage to speak up because of their courage.  Although my past academic schooling experiences may not have affirmed my ethnic identity, I saw in these students a self-confidence that I longed. Their ability to speak their native language without fear, their love from where they came from, and their openness to new cultures made me feel like I was missing something. I was truly impressed by their handling of diversity. Of course, it would be impossible to directly link my aesthetics with their treatment but I can personally say, that my “looking like them” made me feel very comfortable surrounded by them, which in then end, I believe helped them feel at ease around me.

If I had been given the wish to “look” more Austrian before going abroad, I probably would have laughed, and then actually taken a serious second to think about it. But now, having lived in Vienna for 5 months, I have to say, that I would unquestionably not give up my look. Whether I like it or not my different phenotype allows me to move through a variety of worlds, it is my cloak of invisibility that allows me to blend in and camouflage in a wide range of worlds, societies and spheres of life. I am honored to share in the culture of millions around the world and I am even more delighted to have the privilege of being confused with being on of “them,” for by being “them” I am really just myself, gathering insight as I survey society after society, culture after culture.

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Ramon Giron-Melendez

<div><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Ramon, originally from Boston, MA, is a Junior currently studying History at Columbia College. Specializing in Eastern European history with a focus on the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, he hopes to deepen his understanding of the fundamentals of the dual monarchy during his time in Vienna. Through comparative research of geo-politically marginalized regions, he aims to find new ideas to aid development in the 3rd world. Strongly believing that everyone has an inner child, he actively works to raise awareness on the rights of children worldwide through is involvement as co-president of the Columbia Child Rights group. However what most captures Ramon&rsquo;s imagination is his admiration for one of Europe&rsquo;s greatest institutions, The Eurovision Song Contest itself! Eagerly following year round developments, Ramon enjoys watching how countries choose to represent themselves to the world and how they project their national identities unto this unique international platform. A passionate fan of music, he spends as much time as possible following the music industry. He can usually be found reading Rolling Stone magazine, keeping his eyes peeled for new emerging music genres, and eagerly looking out for new artists on the rise!</span></div>

2013 Spring
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