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The Impact of Cultural Fluidity in The Educational System: Carmen Martin Quijada

Books provide knowledge, and light provides wisdom.

The educational system throughout the world is home to more culturally fluid educators than one might think. It is of utmost importance to appreciate multiculturalism, but many tend to overlook the dedicated teachers who may have provided that appreciation. Even fewer realize the impacts of the hidden diversity, the cultural fluidity and the diverse experiences among these educators. 

No third-culture experience is exactly identical to another. Some experience a fluctuating sense of home and identity. Others manage to make a home no matter where they wind up. Some culturally fluid people don’t even know that’s what they are! But all have meaningfully interacted with more than one culture, and each one maintains a unique perspective on both the world and the people in it.

In this series, we explored the experiences of language teachers and professors whose hidden diversity has helped them better understand the world around them, as well as make them even greater educators. Let’s look at Carmen Martin Quijada.

Black and white portrait of Carmen Martin Quijada. Martin Quijada poses for the camera in a black suit, hair down.
Carmen Martin Quijada (Photo courtesy of CSU)

Martin Quijada’s Beginnings 

Carmen Martin Quijada was born in Concepción, Chile. She hadn’t the slightest idea that 38 years later, she would end up in the United States as a Spanish professor at Colorado State University (CSU). Nor did she know how her global shift would impact her sense of home and identity.

Santiago, Chile. This image is to show where Martin Quijada spent some of her adult life.
A sky view of Santiago, the capital city of Chile where Martin Quijada spent some of her adult life. (Photo via Unsplash)

Her experience growing up in Chile was significantly impacted by a lack of cultural variety in her hometown. She says she only realized the lack of diversity in Concepción when she moved to Santiago, Chile some time later. Here, she interacted with more people from varied backgrounds and cultures. She slightly interacted with another culture via the English schools she attended throughout elementary and high school.

Martin Quijada moved to the United States with her son in 2011 to pursue her master’s degree in Athens, Ohio. She thought her many years of English classes would prove to be beneficial in her communication endeavors. Her experience taught her otherwise, but her struggles eventually impacted her cultural fluidity.

“I was sure that I was able to speak the language very well, but I was so wrong!” Quijada says. “Upon arrival, I understood that it will take a long time to really be able to communicate effectively in English.”

This realization impacts her empathetic teaching style in which she gives her students grace when learning to speak Spanish.

Melissa Lozada-Olivia recites her poem My Spanish

Martin Quijada on culture shock impact, home and adapting

Martin Quijada spent her formative years in a monocultural society. However, she spent her adult life an ocean away from her birthplace, interacting with another culture, thus making her a Third Culture Adult. She considers the United States to be her permanent place of residence. However, she also expressed that she often feels like she has no real “home.”

According to the journal of the World Psychiatric Association (WPA), individuals who migrate experience multiple stresses that can impact their mental well being. This often includes the stress of adjusting to a new culture and the impacts of dealing with changes in identity and concept of self. 

I feel that I don’t fit, that there is some sort of connection that is lost. And, at the same time, I don’t feel that I belong here. It’s like no longer having a home … that is the feeling, like being permanently in between two places.”

Carmen Martin Quijada

“The times I have been back to Chile, I feel that I don’t belong there any longer. I feel that I don’t fit, that there is some sort of connection that is lost. And, at the same time, I don’t feel that I belong here. It’s like no longer having a home,” Martin Quijada says. “I don’t mean to sound dramatic, but that is the feeling, like being permanently in between two places.”

A cultural identity that hangs in the balance

This “in-between” feeling is incredibly common among many immigrants and Third Culture Adults, according to David Pollock, Ruth Van Reken and Michael Pollock in their book “Third Culture Kids: Growing Up Among Worlds.” These people quickly learn how to adapt and readapt as their environments shift and the cultural expectations fluctuate.

This ability provides a certain edge, a leg up on those who only come from one cultural background. It can instill in them what the authors call a “migratory instinct.” An instinct that always allows them to be well prepared to pick up and go wherever the wind may take them. When someone envisions their home as this transient concept, it therein makes it much easier to move around without anything holding them in one place.

“The way I see it, it gives me some sort of freedom that I didn’t have before moving here” to the United Staes, Martin Quijada says. “Also, the sense of not having a home makes it easier to potentially move anywhere, because I feel prepared enough to adapt to different contexts.”

Becoming a teacher

Martin Quijada explored many other career options before becoming a Spanish professor, including political science, art and costume design. Ultimately, she found her passion in the educational system. Martin Quijada is currently a professor in Fort Collins, Colo. with a specialty in Latin American and Spanish literature, as well as oral, reading and writing communication in the Spanish language. She loves sharing her talent for teaching and dedicating her time and effort to every student who enters her classroom. She says that the students are her favorite aspect of teaching.

To show the importance of education and reading in Quijada's classes
A pile of open books symbolizes the cultural knowledge and understanding passed down to Martin Quijada’s students. (Photo via Unsplash)

Martin Quijada’s cultural experiences and fluidity have positively impacted her ability to connect with her students and demonstrate the importance of cultural fluidity. Additionally, she is a hopeful example and success story for any students in her classes who may also be culturally fluid.

“When it comes to cultural fluidity, I think it matters the most when it comes to interacting with a variety of individuals in a social context,” Martin Quijada says. “I think that being aware and appreciative of the many different cultures that merge here in the United States is key, and being culturally fluent enriches the experience.”

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