This German-American-Latino shares his journey.
By Antonia Naje Allsopp
Celebrate National Latin-American/Hispanic Heritage Month with us! Through October 15, we’ll be sharing various stories from the Latinx community — be sure to read them all here.
In an adorably straightforward cartoon to explain his Mexican-American, bicultural, mixed-race heritage, cartoonist Terry Blas clarified the confusing terminology: “Hispanic” defines
language, while “Latino” defines geography. (“Latinx” is becoming popular, too, as it eliminates the male-female binary inherent in the original term.) None of these distinctions are defined by race. Let’s explore the many shades of Latin that grace us each day.
Jon Theisen grew up in Denver, Colorado, U.S., but he moved 10 times within its metro area during his formative years. As a biracial Domestic Third Culture Kid, he discusses how geographic mobility and cultural fluidity may have shaped his expectations.
“My upbringing is in line with what Culturs represents — the idea of it resonated with me in the aspect [of] different people from different worlds who live in different areas or have lived in different areas in their lifetime,” he shares. Theisen’s father is of German heritage, while his mother’s parents were from Mexico. Though he’s lived in the Denver area all his life, Theisen is no stranger to the gifts and challenges that come with both geographic and cultural mobility.
“Living in those two worlds — where the Hispanic heritage is close-knit — you have to be at every, single dinner event, you have to show up at every invitation or you’re shunned … the German side is completely opposite: A little more cold, a little more straightforward and to-the-fact — no hugs,” he chuckles. “Two completely different worlds between German and Hispanic heritage, Latino heritage, but they both have their strong points.
Theisen explains how love was shown differently on his father’s side of the family than it was on his mother’s. His maternal family was close-knit and affectionate. From the paternal side, love came in the form of dinner on the table or an outing to do something fun. “It wasn’t more of a hug and ‘I love you.’ It was more of a ‘Here’s this for you, here’s what I’ve done for you — this right here in my hand is a gift for you,’ versus the other side of the coin where I’m going to give you hugs all day, but I’m not going to buy you a pair of new shoes,” he laughs.
Theisen thinks the disparate cultural values were a big reason his parents divorced. He explains both sides of the family are passionate about their way of life, and as such, were reticent to make a change or meet in the middle. “I was young enough to really not have known anything different,” he recalls. “The way I was brought up — it was normal for me.
Living with his mom on the north side of Denver until 11th grade meant he was in a predominantly Latino neighborhood and went to a high school within demographics that mirrored his home life. The school was 90 percent Latino, and Theisen “looked like the white kid in class,” he says. At grade 11, however, his mother moved out of state, and he begin living with his dad. “It was kinda funny because being half-and-half, I didn’t feel like I landed in one place or the other. I was a little bit confused and went with the flow,” he says, referring to his new school, which was the opposite of his former high school. In Jefferson County, “It was 90 percent Caucasian, so I was the minority — all the kids there referred to me as ‘The Mexican,’” he shares. “It’s completely a matter of where you’re placed in society, so I got to learn a lot about the way people think about different cultures, different upbringing.
The way I was brought up — it was normal for me.
The one thing he cherishes, however, is that gift of family and of culture. As author Ruth VanReken often shows in her book “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds,” there are gifts and challenges associated with this mobile way of life.
Theisen embraces it all.
“With my cultural upbringing, the gift of family is unexplainable. It’s something that’s always there, that you take for granted when you don’t need it— but you appreciate it when you do need it. Your family is your safety net.”
Knowing both German and Mexican cultures through friends, I can only imagine how it must have been to have the two as the cultures bringing one up in (almost) harmony. These two very different cultures coming together show the ways that the world is small and can be experienced by many.
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