My Cultural Identity Look
Be culture, love your culture, keep your culture.
Culture. History. Identity. Heritage. Blood. Lineage. Ancestry. Roots. Birthright… I could keep going on-and-on-and-on with different names for the same concept. I could go on-and-on-and-on about what it means to me and how I show mine… well, actually, I will. Because it took too many years for me to realize the importance of my identity—my culture—numerous years that I am embarrassed to admit here now, but will.
My journey first took me from Tucuman, Argentina, to Damascus, Maryland. I talk about this first move a lot. The change in scenery, in cultures, in attitudes, was big. Not something I totally understood as a 10-year-old, but something I now look back on and see with astonished eyes. I partly blame my surrounding, and partly my incapability to understand the importance of my culture, for the way this all happened.
Growing up in a vastly contrasting places in the States, I had been beaten down to loose my culture—my identity—throughout the years. “Beaten” might be a strong expression, but throughout the years I was made to feel like I had to hide it because it was outside the norm, outside the uniform of the United States of America that I was growing up in. But my name kept my strings close to my lineage, my name kept reminding me who I am, and my name kept me grounded to the roots that were embarrassingly close to withering.
Nahuel Fanjul-Arguijo. To this day, I can’t say that anyone in the States has pronounced my name the right way. That is not entirely their fault, many have tried with sincerity, and most just don’t have the muscles in their tongues to pronounce the rolling “R” in Arguijo or ignore the silent “H” in Nahuel. But what is actually troubling, and the focus of this piece, is that most who I’ve come across in my early years in the States, have dismissed my name, jumbling it into something easier for them to pronounce, and most have ignored my constant reiterations of “Nah-Well,” morphing my name into Noel, or Nolle, or Na-who-ell, or even Noah, time-and-time again, because it was the (little) effort they cared to make to understand my name—my birthright.
As a child, having people of importance not take my name seriously is very disheartening. It made me place the blame on myself, on my “weird name,” instead of their incapacity to understand my background and my heritage. Teachers, coaches, best-friend’s parents. People who I looked up to, and who took part in my upbringing, wouldn’t put in the effort to let me be who I am and teach me to be proud of where I come from.
My name is the first thing I was given in this world. After my name came my family—my blood. Then came my home—my roots and my ancestry. And finally came my self—my identity. When I moved away from my home, leaving my family behind, I had to become a new self, surrounded by new history and new customs. Unfortunately, the new culture I was brought into was one that knew nothing about Argentina or my culture, and worst of, cared not to learn. The new world I was brought into was one where adults believed Argentina to be in Europe, where most didn’t know if I spoke Spanish or Portuguese, and who just thought our culture was just “soccer” and nothing else.
Now, I can’t blame the people because of the educational system that they are burdened with, but I can blame them for choosing to be ignorant. I can blame them for continually asking me about Brazil even though I’ve corrected them a thousand times that I am from Argentina (a mistake that hurts even more considering that Brazilians are our bitter rivals in the football world). So, after countless run-ins with these questions, with this ignorance, I would break down. I would start to just nod my head when asked about Europe (even though I had never been), I would continually answer to every random way my name was pronounced (even by adults who I would know for years). I would quietly lose my culture day-after-day.
I moved to Damascus, Maryland, in the third grade. Sophomore year of high school I transferred to a private school in Bethesda, Maryland. I went off to college in Providence, Rhode Island. Then moved to Los Angeles when I graduated. That was more than a decade of my name being trampled on, my culture being pushed aside, my identity being molded systematically by groups of people that chose not to understand, that chose not to care.
Of course, I have to remember the many friends I came across through life that loved my culture and helped me see glimpses of why I should show it off. But those were few-and-far-between. A drop of trueness in a sea of conformance is hard to grow on. I always had those peeks of cultural awareness that I needed in my life, but then someone who I believed to be close to me would come out and call me “Noel” and I would remember that my culture was too hard for them to understand, was too hard for them to take in.
After I-don’t-know-how-many years, I broke. Some time between those years I stopped caring, just how they cared not. I began to mold myself to fit in. I stopped listening to Charlie Garcia and picked up Blink-182 (nothing wrong with Blink, but it was another step away from my cultural sound). I started paying attention to baseball and American football, because my version of football was not popular. And slowly, but surely, I kept loosing my identity, creating a new one that would fit the mold of the American dream that I apparently came here to chase.
This is all very hard for me to admit, it’s hard for me to open up about. It’s truly embarrassing to announce to the world that I gave up my culture for years because of my new surroundings and what these new surroundings believed to be “important.” It’s hard for me to share that I was weak and that I took the road most traveled, because everyone else took it and I wanted to be accepted. I hate that it took cultural awareness to become so crucial in the States for me to realize that I should be wearing my colors proudly, and I praise anyone that grew up in the times I did and kept their culture as a priority.
When I moved out to Los Angeles I began to realize how important culture and heritage is. I began to emerge myself in my history: listening to music from Argentina, watching films by Argentineans, falling back in love with Boca Juniors (the greatest team in the world). I started to realize what had happened, and also realizing that it is okay to keep my culture and my heritage while surrounded by people with theirs. Just because there are more of them, doesn’t mean that I have to join, I can keep my own, celebrate mine, while they celebrate theirs.
I had lost so many years of celebrating my culture and I had to make a change. I started pushing people, sometimes aggressively, to say my name right. I started talking more about my heritage and showing everyone the merits of what my people have created. And when I decided to leave Los Angeles, I took off to spend a year back in my home town, drowning myself in what I missed out for so many years: my family, my culture, my roots, my home.
The year in Argentina gave me time to find artists that were historic to my country but new to me. Writers who I always heard of but never read. Music my father listen to, but that I never gave a chance to. And although a year is not a lot of time, considering the decade I spent hiding from my culture, it was a necessary start. It was a beginning I had been waiting my whole life to start. It was a resurgence that I had paused for over a decade and it was now flowing out of me with speeds hard to keep up with. It’s the beginning of something beautiful—a beautiful birthright that is actually alive in me now.
My culture is rich. My country celebrates its bicentennial the weekend this magazine is released. I could not be more proud of myself for breaking free from the system that tried to make me be like everyone else, that tried to make me hide who I was so that I would fit in. The timing is primed for me to celebrate like I now know how. With an albicelete flag draped around my shoulders and the colors running through my blood. With Los Piojos blasting through my speakers and my voice hoarse from screaming “O JUREMOS CON GLORIA MORIR!”
– Nahuel F.A.
This piece is the feature article in the latest issue of quarterly magazine R Culture: Mixtape Blue. An art and culture magazine produced by Anthony Gaskins of PCP Media and myself, R Culture aims to open the possibilities for artists, writers, and other creative people to feature their work, while focusing on teaching students how to take part in their culture, art, and social movements. The theme of Mixtape Blue was “Be Culture,” so my article spoke on how my culture was slowly taken away from me systematically, throughout my upbringing in the States. The article is framed with photos and a small blurb about my day journaling the pre-game festivities at the Argentina vs Chile Copa America Finals. The aim is to show everyone to keep your cultural ties, to grow with them, don’t dismiss them—and if you already did, do what you have to do to get back to your roots, it’s important.