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  • Writer's pictureThea Le Fevre

You are Multicultural: How You Pirouette Between Each Part of Your Identity

Maybe your parents are Spaniards. They got their educations in Spain, applied for a visa, moved to America, and hola amigo! You were born. First, let’s applaud their incredible accomplishments. The bravery required to emigrate is astounding. Learning a second language in a new country must have been overwhelming. The culture shock alone would have been a challenge. Everything aforementioned was difficult and, when combined, incredibly so. For this reason, we’re taking a moment to pat them on the back.

Now that we’ve congratulated their achievements, let’s break these shockingly complex feats down. After that, we’ll discuss your experience and enlighten you on how best to manage what you may be going through.

Now, of course, I can’t authentically describe your life without meeting you personally. I can discuss you (and everyone like you) generally, the struggles shared by many like you, and offer some umbrella positions that can be surprisingly helpful. Let’s start with the first concept.

The Nuanced Semantics Used to Describe Your Parents

What exactly does it mean to emigrate? And for that matter, what does it mean to be an immigrant? Aren’t they the same thing?

This is an illustration of a passport with the cover open. The cover opens to a picture of a nondescript person and illegible writing.
Immigration and emigration are not the same things.

What about learning a second language? We’ve got you covered. Here at ReDefiners World Languages, we help families of all backgrounds and origins accomplish their language learning goals.

But what about culture shock? Maybe you’ve never heard of the term before. Well, that’s why we’re here. Culture shock is the feeling of disorientation experienced by someone when they are suddenly subjected to an unfamiliar culture and way of life.

Consider the complications your parents may have experienced when encountering all of these exhilarating but onerous problems.

Now, fast forward to you in America. You are doing your own thing, living your own life, but not quite living in the same culture as everyone around you.

The Internal Conflict Behind Being A Second-Generation Immigrant

Your parents taught you Spanish and English growing up. You inherited a different history and eclectic music and speech styles that you don’t share with your peers. Maybe your mother always stood very close to your friends when speaking, and they mentioned it afterward. Perhaps she served Paella, a delicious but unfamiliar dish when you invited them to dinner. Or your father was a heavy smoker, but no one else’s parents smoked cigarettes. All of these differences in culture could cause you to feel separated from others. This sense of being set apart may have created some internal conflict.

This is a picture of two silohuettes of men against a white background who are fighting each other. The men are facing each other and mirroring each other in a fighting stance with their fists up.
Being a second-generation immigrant can come with a lot of internal conflicts.

Internal conflict is what happens when you have two coexisting but conflicting wants or desires. On the one hand, you have a deep desire to love and appreciate your hard-working, courageous, and undeniably Spanish parents. On the other, you long to fit in with those around you.

Sure, you celebrate all of the same holidays, and that does help a little. Unfortunately, little things here and there make you feel like you stand out. Badly. Even though it isn’t bad. That’s the internal conflict we’re talking about.

In this article, I will break down what you’re experiencing into technical terms and give laymen’s definitions. Hear me out. It gets pretty good, and hopefully, you’ll have some more tools in your toolbox by the end of it all. Knowledge is power.

This is a picture of a cartoon man reading an orange book. The man has brown hair, and only his head is visible over the book. The man and the book are set against a light blue background, and there's a red question mark above his head.
Learning about the challenges faced by multicultural people can help you overcome them.

What is Macro-Culture?

So, it’s best to start this discussion out with the macro side of the coin. In the sociological sense, macro means we’re assessing culture on a large scale. Therefore, it stands to reason that macro-culture is the dominant culture in a society.

Living in America as a second-generation immigrant may feel like you’re torn between your inherited culture and the country you were born. Or maybe it feels like an exciting blessing, and you get the best of both worlds! The latter sounds lovely. I hope that’s you, but if it’s not, that’s okay.

Now let’s be clear, the macro-culture will be the primary culture you’re surrounded by when you step out of your house. Unfortunately, no matter how carefully you construct your environment for yourself, it might have already invaded your personal space. It’s on your television and social media feeds, and it pops up when you’re not keeping an eye on your Spotify. It feels like it penetrates everywhere, no matter how safe or small.

Of course, not everyone wants to escape their American culture (it’s yours too!). The point is that no matter how hard you try, your micro-culture will be interrupted by the macro-culture. It’s a fact of life.

What is Micro-Culture?

This one’s a little easier. I think most of us know that micro generally means involving minute quantities or variations. If you didn’t know, that’s okay! We’re all here to learn.

We can deduce that micro-culture generally means a distinctive culture shared by a small group that is often based on location. And now that we’ve defined both micro-and macro- culture, we can discuss the delicate dance between the two you regularly perform.

Your Inner Ballet

You’re a Spaniard. That’s your micro-culture (only because you don’t live in Spain). You’re also an American. That’s your macro-culture. You are both. Maybe one feels more naturally you than the other, but it’s a simultaneous thing. Living two distinct ways of life may feel hard to manage at times. It’s a fragile balance. You pirouette between micro-and macro- culture Every. Single. Day.

This is a silhouette of a ballerina dancing. She's wearing a tutu while balanced on one leg. Her other leg is up in the air, and her arms are stretched over her head.
Figuratively speaking, of course.

It can be exhausting. It can be illuminating. There’s some real wisdom to gain. You’ve got so much you could share with me, and we’ll get to that. But let me start by sharing a few facts with you. They may help you understand yourself a little better. Once you’re equipped with the terminology, comment below and let me know what I don’t know.

I’m looking forward to it.

Language is the Paralanguage of Culture

So, here we are. We’re going to talk about how your language is directly connected to and affected by your culture. Like we discussed earlier, a language is determined by its culture. Likewise, your language directly influences your personal, unique-to-you reality. Still with me? Good. Are you ready? There’s more.

The modern-day study of language is called Linguistics, and that definition may apply more to you and how you think. Today, our discussion leans more toward the older study of language, which was referred to as Philology. It has less of an emphasis on textual analysis and more focus on the history of language.

You are not a linguist, and neither am I, so I won’t take too much time here. The main point of discussing philology is to emphasize that your nation’s history has directly shaped its language. And your language has directly impacted your reality. See the connection?

Now, there are sub-categories when studying any subject. We’ll avoid the classroom lecture and skip down to the good stuff. Paralinguistics.

As an infant, you see (literally see using your eyes) the world differently before and after you accumulate language abilities. It’s been shown in previous studies that adults categorize things differently based on what language they speak. For example, an infant will understand the dimensions of shapes in contrasting ways before language development.

Okay, so you’re asking, what does it all mean? And how does it relate to my cultural heritage?

Your Multicultural Self Is an Unparalleled Parallel

Let me explain. You, my friend, are unique. There are many of you, you are not alone, but there are few of you as a group. By you, I mean someone who learned one language as a toddler and then learned another while you were still under five years old. Or maybe it happened simultaneously. Maybe you learned both languages at the same time. There are many of you, but there are more people who started life with one language.

That means while you were learning two languages, you received two very unique perspectives of the world. And they both shaped how you view it in unique ways. Your reality changed in two ways instead of just one. You may even have had to smooth out conflicting perspectives of the world at a very young age. I.e., there are many of you, and you are all special.

This is an illustration of a thumbprint that's been cropped to look like a heart.
Your perspectives make you unique.

So again, you may be asking, “what does this mean?” Well, we discussed it in the more technical language above. Then I broke it down below. So here, we’ll combine the two.

Your micro-culture is Spanish. You learned the world from a Spanish perspective. You see space and categorize concepts in a Spanish way. Your macro-culture is American English. So, you also have the benefit of visualizing and categorizing in a perceptibly unassociated way. This means that the two different languages you were raised to speak have influenced your interpretation of your external reality. And, therefore, your identity.

What Distinguishes You?

Well, here we are. We are nearing the end of the discussion. I can’t wait to see what you have to share with me in the comments. But for now, let’s go over a few things and clarify the rest.

We discussed how language influences culture. We went over how learning language changes how you see externalities. We confirmed that you are not alone, but you are unique. So now, we’re at the cusp. We’re at who you are as a person because of all of these factors. To better understand who you are on an intrinsic level, we’re going to discuss identity. And yes, this is a big one.

The concept of identity goes as far back as the 20th century. Freud developed a theory about the three parts of you which integrate into the full you. Let’s break them down.

Check them out. These are the Id, Ego, and Superego. They’re major.

But the one we are focusing on the most (as it relates to our topic) is the ego. Ego refers to all the psychological phenomena and processes that are related to the self and that comprise the individual’s attitudes, values, and concerns. Your ego was developed with an incredible amount of influence from your culture and, subsequently, your language. It’s an enormous part of your identity.

Since we have just defined everything, let’s put it together. Your identity is a combination of factors that determined, along with your innate qualities, who you are. Underneath that is your ego. This is the compilation of values and beliefs you have accumulated. All of these things were powerfully swayed by your macro-culture and micro-culture. Your language (or languages) also affected your perception. Now that we’ve clarified all the information I just threw at you, let’s take a bit more intense look at the Ego-Ideal as it’s related to you.

Ego-Ideal and the Struggle to Remain Real

Whether you reject this notion or not, your identity is a big part of what you value in your parents. Yes, those courageous immigrants that traveled the world to bring you here. Those tenacious individuals who bore you and made you an American.

This is an illustration of a navy blue cat silhouette looking into a mirror. The illustration is against a light blue background, and reflecting back is the navy blue silhouette of a lion.
Your identity is a big part of what you value in your parents.

You may be second-generation, but their Spanish lives have impacted your American upbringing. So, how do you stay true to yourself when it feels like there are two sides to who you are?

Contribute Your Story or Support Our Mission

That, my dear friend, is up to you. I’ve given you the tools to understand better how your multicultural upbringing is remarkable. We broke down your engineering, or how you and those like you operate. We talked about how you tick, so to speak. It’s marvelous. I agree.

Maybe you can use your incredible viewpoint to influence others. Help someone along the path to accepting their new (or not so new but just as relevant) identities. Perhaps volunteer with ReDefiners. Please support our mission or those of others like you. Share your skills as a volunteer or share your story in the comments below. No matter what path you choose, it will undoubtedly result in something spectacular because you are spectacular.

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