Melody Tovar’s mother is from France. Her father is from Venezuela and her brother was born in Switzerland.
Now her family lives in the United States and she is the only natural-born U.S. citizen in her family.
Growing up she learned English as a second language. French was her first language and it was always spoken at home, which put her behind in school. When friends would come over she would serve as a translator between them and her family, she said.
“I did feel very different, different food, sometimes different clothing brought to school, and often times when my mom would come to school for any reason and I would speak to her in French, I would get it pointed out to me, or have people ask me to say things in French after hearing me speak,” Tovar said.
Though once she started getting involved in sports and clubs in high school she felt a little less “foreign” and rather just French-American, she said.
“What is different is feeling as though when political issues in both France and Venezuela break out, I feel demoralized and defeated because it feels like part of my home is in danger,” Tovar said. “It’s hard to explain that feeling to peers who simply set their profile background to the French flag after a mass attack. It’s indescribable how scared I feel for my family in Venezuela at the moment or even my grandma in the midst of these terrorist attacks, in some ways this makes me feel very different from my peers and makes me take a bit of distance when things happen.”
When political issues in both France and Venezuela break out, I feel demoralized and defeated because it feels like part of my home is in danger.
For her other family members, they feel attached to their homelands, but each would bring their cultural experiences to the United States. Her mother taught French lessons at a high school. Her father continued his passion in psychology and is a school psychiatrist. All of her family members eventually became naturalized U.S. citizens.
Keeping their home cultures
“They are very happy with their decision and continue to entertain many Venezuelan and French cultural tendencies at home, but interact slightly differently at their jobs and around English speakers,” Tovar said.
For the family, living in the United States is a place where they can embrace all of their cultures and they can have opportunity for success.
“I think both my mother and father agree that if it weren’t for the other they would have lived in their birth countries, but they love their situation now and how America has helped my brother and I achieve what we have, and the opportunities that they have had as well,” Tovar said.
Living away from their homelands also causes great pain.
“Life for my father has been difficult with the struggles that Venezuela has undergone in the past years because he desperately wants to help, but doesn’t know how, and is stressed about the family we have there still that is going through some troubling and dangerous times,” Tovar said.
Both my mother and father agree that if it weren’t for the other they would have lived in their birth countries.
Viewpoint of a longtime friend
Tovar has a deep understanding of the hidden struggles that life can sometimes bring.
“She was also used to being around people who had been through more rough upbringing, so it made her really understand to get to know someone rather than just judge them immediately,” said Holli Holmes, her longtime friend.
Tovar sees the beauty in the multitude of cultural memories and traditions she is able to partake in, including celebrating her favorite French holiday, Jour des Rois when she makes a special dessert called gallette des rois. For the dessert, she would peel hundreds of almonds for one pie and would place a porcelain figurine in the desert. Whomever gets the figurine would be king for a day, Tovar said.
“I still don’t know how but my parents somehow made sure both my brother and I would always get one,” Tovar said.
One of her favorite Venezuelan memories is making hallakas. They are similar to tamales but are wrapped in palm tree leaf and contain different ingredients. Her entire Venezuelan family would make these together and sit around a huge table. Everyone would put just one ingredient in and would pass them around. Her grandpa would wrap them up and the family would sell them before New Years in Venezuela.
These cultures have shaped who Tovar is, Holmes said.
“It made her a lot more approachable,” Holmes said. “She never thought of things having one right way, so she was always very creative.”
She is currently studying biology with an emphasis in pre-health. Eventually she would like to go to medical school and then get involved in a program like Doctors Without Borders.