Letting Go and Looking Up

Ramon Giron-Melendez
January 4, 2013

Vienna Vienna Vienna….probably the most mentioned city in any of my conversations concerning my academics or my life. Fascinated by its rich imperial history, ever changing cultural scene, and avant gaurdism as a center for progressive socialism, Vienna has always captured my imagination, and more importantly,  my heart. However, coming from the inner city, this Boston based son of Honduran-immigrants, has yet to fully comprehend all that Vienna is. Being raised by an ever so conscience mother with a type-A personality, who for as long as I can remember aimed to raise her children as exceptions to statistics. Indeed, my childhood was riddled with long conversations on class and ethnic identity. She was determined to defy stereotypes associated with the immigrant community and was more than ready to challenge the expectations of what children from ESL households could do. Wether or not I wanted her to be, my mother was a take-over-the-world-and-still-look-cute mom. I’ll admit, to some, this type of up-bringing might seem scary and would have created a dangerous overload of responsibility and stress in some. But for some strange reason, it actually created a heightened sense of identity in me. Acknowledging the pre-existing ideas of who we were as a Hispanic family and Latino individuals, led my household to not only interact with stereotypes daily but also form a teaching relationship with society. We not only talked about biases but we saw it as our duty to educate those around us to see success in unlikely places. In the end, we took courage to throw off pre-conceived notions about who we were, unleashing our full potential as human beings. Now, you might be saying to yourself, relax Ramon, your studying abroad not demanding social justice…just calm down. Indeed, what does this have to do with blogging about  Vienna? What’s the connection?

Well friends, you see, that’s just it, stereotypes and their dangers are global, and for decades, Austria’s identity has been locked up in stereotypes. Wether boxed in as a quaint Alpine country or enchained in the image as Germany’s younger estranged half-sibling, Austria has never been truly recognized for who she is, but rather, has been restricted to be what others think she should be. But wait friends, don’t get me wrong, Salzburg and the Austrian nation are greatly appreciative to Rodgers and Hammerstein, Julie Andrews, and Disney for producing “The Sound of Music.” Indeed, it is one of the biggest reasons Austria’s tourism sector even exists, yet, Austria like other certain demographics in the U.S, has been stuffed into charts, short-sighted histories, and lopsided narratives. As a Columbia college student journeying into this grand Imperial city I look forward to the chance to talk with unlikely blue-eyed kindred spirits. I want to know about their level of awareness of their present global image. I am curious to see how they have come to terms with their fixed post world war II depiction. Are they satisfied? Or rather, are they actively working to change it? I wonder if they will simply embrace the idea of being an innocent farming hermit society or similar to Disney’s “Wreck-it Ralph”…..relentlessly seek to change the minds of their neighbors.

Sure, the Austrian nation may not be criticized for their destruction of apartment complexes, offensively bright red hair, or obnoxious yelling, but they are still bound to an imposed image.  Tied onto a pedestal of victimization, a narrative created by the allies to get Beethoven’s Vienna out of the iron curtain, modern Austria has yet to shake off the distorted self-image of helplessness. However, to overcome  pre-existing ideas of who they are, I think they’ll have to look into the darker side of their rational autonomous will as a people, and sovereignty as a nation. But will they have the courage as a nation to confront locked memories? If they already are, how is their culture reacting to that? Does the nation plan to dive deeper into reading what actually happened? I know that my Boston given, Massachusetts grown, Columbia cultivated personality will have to expand and grow in ways I never thought possible while abroad. And as someone who is still learning in life, I stretch out a hand of empathy and compassion to Austria. Growing up is hard. But I am excited to learn from the Austrian identity, how to leave behind pre-disposed ideas of oneself, embracing freedom, and seizing the chance to recreate one in one’s own image, divorced from history’s burden. I believe in Austria, and I know that after their struggle, they’ll come out stronger as a nation, for as Ralph shows us, the rewards from deep character probing are invaluable, not just for our internal lives, but for our communities.

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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>

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