When I arrived in the United States in 1991 to study economics at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire on a Fulbright Scholarship, the first question people inevitably asked me was, “Where are you from?” I was born and raised in Panama, so the answer was easy each time I was asked. And I was asked the question a lot.
For the most part, I’ve lived in the U.S. ever since that time. I married my wife—a Wisconsin native— and settled in the city of Janesville where we raised a son and a daughter. I was granted U.S. citizenship in 2014 and carry a U.S. passport. And I still get asked the question, “Where are you from?” These days, the answer isn’t quite as simple.
Like many Hispanics in America, I identify strongly both with my country of origin and my adopted home. Fluent in both Spanish and English, I move comfortably in both worlds, and yet don’t feel fully a part of either one. There’s a duality to my life, an “in-between,” a situation that exists for many Hispanics. I tend to think of it as an “otherness,” with both feet planted firmly in each of two distinctly different cultures and not fully anchored to either one.
Fortunately, I’ve turned what some see as an insurmountable challenge into distinct opportunities. It took a while for me as a young man to learn the norms and behaviors acceptable in my new American home. But I was an eager student and made it a point to understand and accept changes without fully losing aspects of my Panamanian culture and heritage.
Since then, I’ve learned to use the traits of each culture to enrich and enhance my relationship with the other. My cultural duality has helped broaden my understanding, strengthen my skillset and move more freely and operate more effectively in a variety of settings. When you paint from a more diverse color palette, as they say, the end result is always both richer and brighter.
My two kids are, of course, part Panamanian and I do my best to keep that part of their lineage alive. But to them cultural duality is far more conceptual than it is an actual part of their daily lives. It has always been interesting to me the role that parents play in acculturation and assimilation in households with immigrant parents. Each one is very different.
As credit unions seeking to serve the Hispanic community, it’s important for you to understand the two worlds where Latino members navigate every day. We’ve said before that serving Hispanics is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. It’s a community of people as rich and varied as the number of countries from which they come, the social and economic strata in which they live, and the extended families that play so significant a role in each of their lives.
Now add to that the notion of duality and its impact on first-, second- and third-generation Hispanic Americans. Their cultural heritage will always be present, but the duality may fade as assimilation becomes more complete with each succeeding generation. The way you treat any of the generations when they come to the credit union seeking services is often the difference between success and failure.
Sound complicated? It doesn’t need to be. As a not-for-profit member service organization, it simply comes down to knowing your member and how best to meet his or her needs. The better you know Hispanic members the more effectively you will be able to serve them and the more business they will bring to the credit union. That’s a challenge that can result in greater opportunities for all.Leave a comment