I am happy to introduce you to Ivan Gonzalez, one of the elders at River City Community Church. We’ve been talking a lot these days in my community about the necessity of growing in our own cultural identity if we hope to also learn to be an effective cross-cultural ambassador. Ivan wrote up a short piece on his journey recently, and I happily agreed to post it here. Enjoy!
I’m Puerto Rican. That means as I’ve traced my lineage that I’m a mix of multiple streams of culture and ethnicity. I was referred to an article by Bill Smiljanich that states there are lots of ways to maneuver with our identities in our society.
At times, I’ve felt like a chameleon. It’s interesting how Wikipedia defines the ability of the chameleon to change their color depending on the circumstances they’re in:
Mechanism of color change
Chameleons have specialized cells, chromatophores, which contain pigments in their cytoplasm, in three layers below their transparent outer skin:
- The cells in the upper layer, called xanthophores and erythrophores, contain yellow and red pigments respectively.
- Below these is a second layer of cells called iridophores or guanophores; these contain guanine, appearing blue or white.
- The deepest layer of cells, melanophores, contain the dark pigment melanin, controlling how much light is reflected.
Dispersion of the pigment granules in the chromatophores sets the intensity of each color. When the pigment is equally distributed in a chromatophore, the whole cell is intensively colored. When the pigment is located only in the centre of the cell, the cell appears mainly transparent. Chromatophores can rapidly relocate their particles of pigment, thereby influencing the animal’s color. Chromatophores change because the cells get a message from the brain.
Notice the changes occur when “the cells get a message from the brain”.
So in my journey as a “puerto-rican” I’ve had to ask myself what part of my culture is “appropriate” for this moment I’m in. Should I break out with my salsa moves now? Show I speak proper English right now? Should I go into “boricua” mode right now? Should I try to live into my African, French, Taino-Native roots?
For the most part, I’ve learned to accept the ‘privilege’ I’ve been dealt because I am believing in God and learning the nuance of living into the realities that the Bible teaches. I must admit though, that there have been times where I’ve been ‘stuck”. I’ll wake up one day fully fluent in Spanish and having to take extra time to translate in my head every phrase into English then speak through out the day. Other times it’s the reverse.
At other times I find myself out of sorts because I’m letting my education shine through as a defense mechanism. It goes something like this: My internal dialogue is, “I’ll show these people that I’m smart or well informed by using words that make people think about what I’m saying. It’s a subtle defense mechanism that I think makes people think twice before they respond to something I say. Part of that is my own insecurities shining through. Even now, I wonder how vulnerable and transparent I am suppose to be as I write this. And right now, I hear Jesus saying, “The heck with it. I love you and this little part of my kingdom (RC3) to much to let you get away with not being transparent and vulnerable. Keep writing. . . .”
Notice in the paragraph above I used “these people”. That’s where the problem starts. As soon as I start to use language that frames me outside of this community God has drawn us to I/we start to reinforce walls of separation. It’s a tactic the enemy uses over and over again to get us to draw lines of difference between us. We never will get to a place of the “beloved community” until we admit that this happens in our heads, our language and our hearts.
What prompted this? I finally read this article
Love to hear back from you. Please respond to all so that we can keep the dialogue and learning going.
Have a blessed day!