Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Back to the Roots
I am in Florida this week, South Florida to be exact. Part of me feels like I am in Latin America here in Florida, which is sort of nice. There’s tons of Spanish everywhere and not just the service personnel, which is all too common up north.
Yesterday I went to the clubhouse where my mom lives to run on the treadmill. I briefly considered running outside but the hot, sticky air was clinging to me like a size 4 dress – even at 9am. I knew breathing outside and trying to run was going to be virtually impossible so I retreated indoors to the clubhouse of a development reminiscent of Jerry Seinfeld’s fictional Del Boca Vista, replete with old Jewish ladies from whatever northeast city you’d like to name.
They were lovely, these girls with grey hair all pumping iron just as hard as Ar-nald. Delray Beach became Venice Beach right before my eyes. These girls of steel were not alone in their quest for physical perfection – they had a fearless leader, a tiny woman who ruled with an iron fist in a velvet glove, pushing the Jewesses to keep it moving to keep their heart rates up. She was one of those beautiful women who had aged gracefully, retaining the body of her youth in tight spandex with a faced lined with just a few tributaries of her true age.
I chatted with the gals and was quickly invited into the inner circle of exercise culture in Del Boca Vista. They asked about what I was doing and when I told them I was wandering around South America, they looked at me with a bit of shock. One asked, “You did that all by yourself? Is that safe?” I responded, “Yes and yes.”
I continued to talk about how I loved South America, how wonderful the people were and that I had about the same amount of fear wandering around Boca Raton on a dark night as I did wandering around most cities in Latin America. Velvet glove, who it turned out was from Venezuela, grinned at me. As we were walking out, she said to me, “You know, I am 55 years old and I have traveled all around the world, Europe, Asia and the US doing the same kind of thing you are doing.” She also explained how her family had come from everywhere to end up in Venezuela, so she grew up understanding just how big the world was and always wanted to know it all.
Most of our families ended up wherever they are today as immigrants, but before too long we all seem to forget where we came from. In the US, within just a few generations we are assimilated as full-blooded North Americans, leaving our curiosity about where we came from back with our great grandmas. In Latin America, all of my friends knew where their families came from and were still connected to it through culture and custom. Is this because they lack a singular national identity? I don’t think it is that simple, but I just recall how every Argentine I met would tell me about where their families came from while I have some friends here in the US who I have known for years that I have no idea where their families come from. What is it about North American culture that makes us forget our roots?