Culture Shock: Southwest to Midwest

I grew up in, just as Khalid puts it, the city of El Paso. My entire life (minus a brief year when, as a three-year-old, I lived in Phoenix) was spent in a deeply rich, Latino community where the large city felt small due to the Mexican culture that resides there. 

I enjoyed the amazing food, sweet desserts, loud parties, Quinceanera courts and fun friends. I also relished the tall mountains, the smell of rain, the picturesque landscape and the West Texas sunsets (there truly are no others that top it). Local artists were a commodity, providing beauty in photography, trailer videos, music or murals that cover the city, which fed into the trendy restaurants and perfect “Instagram spots.” It was a great place for hiking and other nature activities. El Paso is also relatively diverse, which promotes cross-cultural understanding. Despite its vastness, El Paso feels so small, like a home itself, and maybe that’s because it is. It takes me 45 minutes to an hour to travel across the city, but it is never a trek. I yearn for the days I could cruise over the mountain with my windows down or consider pulling over on I-10 just to take a picture of the sky as the sun went down. I miss the smell of the rain and the understanding people had. In El Paso, everything just makes sense, and it’s hard to explain to those who are not from there. My personality could easily be summed up by telling someone I lived in the Northeast, was kind of quiet when I was younger and that I did cheer and the International Baccalaureate Program at Coronado High School on the westside. That would make total sense. 

 

While in El Paso, everything was so familiar and so relaxed. However, I never truly realized how much I love my culture until my days in El Paso were numbered, and shortly after I was in a whole new region of the country. I realized there was so much that I would miss that I had never even considered losing before. Most of my time was spent in arrogance, wondering why there was nothing to do in El Paso, why it was always so hot and windy and knowing that I wanted to eventually “grow out” of El Paso to bigger and better things. Now, I am not so sure of that.

The Midwest, where I reside now due to college, is completely different in many ways I wasn’t expecting. First off, as you may guess, the Mexican food here is not authentic (although many have told me I need to venture to the West side of South Bend). But, also, the social atmosphere is drastically different than in El Paso: a little more high-strung and little less understanding, and people are actually on time for events. My life doesn’t make sense to some people here; I have been asked if I feel safe in my hometown, if it’s dangerous there, and have been told (in a more light-hearted fashion) that I am going to have a rough winter. I was taken aback by the first two statements. My little city, where everything was comfortable (and yes, safe) was being misunderstood and had a prejudice against it, being on the border. That was probably the biggest shock — the ignorance and assumptions some people made. Others were slight cultural differences, like how timid some of the guys are (not an El Paso thing at all, the machismo culture persists) or not hugging when you meet or greet someone. The last note that really struck me was the smell of rain. In El Paso, it’s my favorite scent, but here, it smells like wet dirt. Maybe it’s because I have only ever lived in the desert and haven’t visited many places while it rained, but I wasn’t prepared for this change and I don’t think I ever will be; it’s just disappointing. 

Although, I think, or at least really hope that I will grow into the Midwest. For now, I truly miss El Paso and, at this point, cannot think of a better place to live. Warm weather, good food, family: nothing can replace it. 

Photos provided by author.