Vail Daily column: Between two worlds

As a local person — meaning I was born in Vail — I thought I would share some of my cultural experiences growing up between two worlds. Please don’t be too sensitive regarding my opinions, as I am sure many of you have formulated your own based on your upbringing, as well.

Example: I am a second-generation Mexican-American, and yet, I always get asked where I’m from and when I say I was born in Vail, a look of disbelief and curiosity manifests itself in contorted facial expressions and many follow-up questions.

But, I digress. Please enjoy.

Cultural differences

It was very interesting growing up in a Mexican household, yet being educated in predominantly “white” schools. When I was younger, the Eagle County Hispanic population was far smaller than it is today. For example, my middle-school graduating class had around 20 Mexican-Americans; today, that is very different.

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Many differences in culture are evident to someone like myself growing up, such as organized sports. They are like a rite of passage for young children in the United States, aka little league, soccer and others.

With hardly any concession-stand options — the standard hot dog and preprocessed foods, candy bars and such — my Mexican-American parents would bring coolers filled with goodies such as homemade Mexican foods, burritos, salsas, natural watermelon juice and more.

They would eat and cheer loudly for my every move, as the other parents stared at them with disapproval while they cut apples and served sandwiches and juice boxes. I am very appreciative of my parents for all they did for me and continue to this day to support me.

Another example is, when my parents would have a dinner, no matter who I brought, they were always welcome. Even if food and money were tight, they would always find a way to accommodate our guests. My personal experience was the opposite at my non-Hispanic friends’ homes.

When I left home and went to school in Arizona at another primarily non-Hispanic school, boy, was I in for a culture shock. I missed my family like crazy, but I found most of my classmates couldn’t be happier to be far from home.

Parties and cookouts

But one of the biggest differences between the two cultures growing up is parties and cookouts. As a Mexican-American with a litany of cousins and extended family, I cannot count the number of weddings and parties of all sorts I attended as a child — virtually one or two per week. But I didn’t attend my first white wedding until one of my friends got married in 2008. By then, I was in my mid-20s.

I thought I’d break down the main differences between Mexican versus white weddings and parties. Now, I know this isn’t exactly a politically correct topic, but it’s much easier than saying the difference between upper-middle-class, Anglo-Saxon events and lower-socioeconomic, nonwhite events. So bear with me.

• Invitations: I’ve always wondered why Mexicans bother to send out invitations. No matter how many are sent out, one can always count on many additional people showing up. A Mexican wedding and party is seriously like an open invite. Even if you only know the cousin of the bride’s uncle, then you’re invited. And the great thing is, when you show up, you’re immediately treated like family. You can count on a large portion of carnitas and one or a 12-pack of Coronas being immediately served to you.

The white counterparts, though, seemingly take a much more convoluted approach to invitations and pre-invitations. Basically, it goes like this: an announcement of the event, a save-the-date notification, a reminder, a formal invitation, a reminder to RSVP and a registry notice. I once had a close friend heckle me about not mailing back my RSVP. My initial reaction was, “Seriously? I already told you I’m going.” The RSVP concept was new to me. If I go, then you’ll see me there.

• Food: No matter how many people go to a Mexican event, there will always be more than enough food. I think the organizers ration it out to five pounds of food per person. No wonder so many of my family members would always leave parties with foil-covered plates.

I found out why white parties require RSVPs: to know how much food to order. This is a bit disappointing for people such as my family and me who eat like weightlifters. But unlike Mexican parties, where you can always count on carnitas, rice and beans, “white” events surprise you with the wide array of choices they offer, assuming you indicate what plate you want on the RSVP. And “white” events are often vegan-friendly. Good luck explaining to most Mexicans that you don’t eat meat.

• Advantage: Draw.

So does one group have better events than the other? No. Because at the end of the day, it’s a celebration of love; a birthday, a wedding, a baptism or whatever. As long as you are with loved ones and have an open mind and heart for others and their strange customs, it will be a great occasion. Sure, the differences are many, but most events are great fun. Besides, so far, they’ve always ended the same for me: with a lot of smiles and good memories to last a lifetime.

Juan Sandoval is a Gypsum resident.

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