I can recall the first time I ever realized my father was different. It was a telephone conversation that I had trouble eavesdropping on because the words, which seeped from between his lips weren’t ones familiar to me. They appeared to flow quicker than the ones I spoke and had more of a rhythmic pattern to them. I remember intently listening in awe, wondering how I could get my words to flow in the same manner. Curiosity arose in me as I pondered how easy it was for him to speak in a familiar dialect to me, but when conversing with his mother and siblings, the linguistics adjusted immediately. I was unconsciously being made aware that something was different about him . . . about me. [Click]
While I was only of elementary age during this first realization, the progression of my years naturally revealed to me that language was not the single thing, which made the difference. There was something greater which I was a part of. I had one piece, but there were certainly more to be uncovered. [Click] Maturity would be the road of discovery to maneuvering the pieces into their appropriate placement. On my quest to make sense of my identity, I would listen attentively to my father boast of the place where he originated from, yet, in the same breath shame the place where he currently lived. Internally, I questioned what would cause him to give praise to his Panamanian heritage, yet, negate his Blackness. Even though I still was not able to understand it all, life continued and I persisted through the journey.
With the continuance of time passing, more stories emerged from my father; stories which presented vivid illustrations. The mental images, somehow, had the ability to make a connection with my taste buds. The same tongue that had only ever really known the taste of my grandmother’s collard greens and corn bread, could now relate to unfamiliar flavors exposed to me only through story telling. Further embedded in those stories was warmth; the warmth that comes from possessing a sense of belonging; a sense of belonging birthed not from story telling alone. It transferred from Panamanian tales to semi-Panamanian experiences; experiences that caused me to be doused in Panamanian jewelry, immersed in a sea of pure Panamanians and Panamanian-Americans who communed weekly to rehearse for the annual Panamanian parade. Pride. Community. [Click]
Years of picking up and shifting the pieces. Approximately 7 years removed from the first realization, I ventured into seemingly unfamiliar familiarity: language. Remember the language I wondered about? ¿El mismo idioma que no entendi? 7 years later I had a more formal introduction to said language. A cultural piece was being deposited into me and I had no idea how that would shape the following 7 years. . .
**This is a two-part story and this is only the beginning! Stay tuned to observe how my cultural venture continues to unfold!**