CHILDHOOD REVISITED: An exploration of social identity in a multicultural family

Patricia Krivanek

2019 - Ongoing

Mexico; Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico

This photo series is an examination of my social identity and feelings of belonging through the perspective of my own children. Having grown up in a mixed race / multicultural family, I explore what it is like being part of a culture from the outside perspective. The feeling of being attached and familiar but never quite fitting in or being fully accepted. This series of images was taken during my children’s first trip to Mexico, documenting and highlighting their first hand experiences with my childhood memories. As second generation Mexican descendants, they are also half in-half out. It gave me an opportunity to explore my own identity through their experiences.

I have a memory of a form I had to fill out as a teenager, requiring me to fill out my racial background. Amongst the options that applied to me were ‘White, Non-Hispanic. Hispanic Non-White.’ This was a big deal to me. Is it ok to check both? How can I be ‘White Non-Hispanic’ and ‘Hispanic Non-White’ at the same time? Why does one have to exclude the other? Why does this simple question feel like a conflict?

While I hope those forms have been updated to take into account the plentitude of multi-racial, multicultural families like mine, at the time, it represented my feelings towards my identity. Confused yet proud and somehow a little defiant.

Growing up, I was always floating between two worlds: the world I mostly grew up in - my father’s predominantly white Canada - and the world that I was raised to be a part of - my mother’s colourful Mexico. Everything about our life was a mishmash of the two worlds. Language, food, friends and traditions were all heavily influenced by my mom. Somehow, being away from Mexico made her even more Mexican. She was part of a Latin folkloric dance group, owned a Latin music store and eventually opened her own Latin dance studio. It was a big part of our childhood. But all of that happened against the backdrop of living in Alberta, Canada where none of our other friends spoke other languages, ate other food or celebrated other traditions. It solidified a sense of ‘otherness’ that set us apart.

On both sides of the family, we were exotic. Embraced and accepted but never quite understood. Growing up this way made me see everything two ways; made me understand them from two perspectives; made me experience them in two contexts; and made me attached to two different places and ways of life. Sometimes all at the same time. Sometimes conflicting with one another. This is a project of self-exploration experiencing my own memories through the eyes of my children to learn more about myself.

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  • The stories of my grandparents are legendary. My grandmother beautiful, kind and warm hearted. My grandfather’s wild escape from home on the coffee plantation as a teenager. They both passed away before I was born. But they left their mark on this world with five children, thirteen grandchildren and now nine great grandchildren. On their first trip to Mexico, my children visited their great grandparents to learn a bit more about why they belong there.

  • Traveling from Canada to Mexico every summer was an intensive experience - the colours, smells, music, poverty, people, heat, sweets, balloons. Everything was different. My sons look on at the colourful balloons and cotton candy with interest as they take in the new surroundings.

  • My favourite childhood game. Hours and hours were spent playing with cousins, neighbours and my mom in our home. My son examines with curiosity and interest all of the toys from mine and my mother’s childhoods. While these toys make up the landscape of my childhood memories, the striking difference between the market stalls and the toy stores where we grew up exemplifies this dichotomy of worlds.

  • Growing up in Canada, my mother was part of a Latin folkloric dance group that gave performances around the country. It was a source of pride, a source of ‘otherness’, and a source of specialness to me. It defined my family as different from the rest, but at the same time, it was something I felt was beautiful and unique. My children watched the mariachis and folkloric dancers for the first time and learned more about their grandmother.

  • Relationships amongst cousins of different cultural backgrounds are complicated. Always a bit different, always standing out. Somehow a little uncomfortable. The ‘otherness’ of each other is often emphasised, perhaps out of excitement, perhaps out of ignorance. Often, it felt it was used as a bragging point for others to see they were special through association. As my children sit with their newly met cousins, it was obvious that the next generation follows suit. Happily accepted by the family, but not quite fitting in.

  • When we would visit Mexico as children, my siblings would always make me do all the talking. They felt ashamed to speak Spanish as they did not speak with the fluency that I had. But I clearly remember feeling very hesitant to speak to strangers. But the desire to communicate usually surpassed my shyness. Here my son is excitedly grabbing the popsicle while simultaneously feeling too shy to acknowledge the sales lady.

  • One of the main differences I remember about childhood in Mexico, was that as kids, we were free. We would leave the house in the morning to meet our neighbours, and explore the streets until dusk, just popping back home for meals here and there. The streets were filled with colour and excitement. Fruit we would pick off the trees. Big cobblestone roads. Stray cats and dogs. But most importantly, friends that showed us the way. My children run through the streets of my past exploring the colours and textures that I remember so vividly.

  • When I close my eyes, I can still smell these freshly baked rolls as they throw them into the big bins. We would go to the grocery store early so they would still be warm and I would always eat one before leaving the store. Here my son is also excitedly experiencing this memory.

  • As with everything cultural, the environmental differences of my childhood were just as stark. From winter in the north to summer in the tropics, we were always curious and interested in the world. My children examine a giant palm tree with excitement.

  • Winters were spent shovelling snow and summers were spent shovelling sand. My children play just as I did with my own siblings outside enjoying summer.

  • My childhood summer home perched in the background on top of the hill. My children are in the foreground, running down the hill I spent so many summers running up and down. Watching them experience Mexico in the way I remember validates my memories of these experiences.