In 1978, my siblings and I arrived to the US. My mom had been here a year and my dad three or so. We were at the mercy of the Immigration and Naturalization Services, and that's how things work sometimes for immigrants to the US.
As soon as we got here we wanted to be just American kids. Despite learning English very quickly, my accent was, and is, a dead give away that I'm not a native American. Each of my siblings have less and less of an accent depending on the age they were when we arrived. Since I'm the oldest, my speech patterns had been more set as was my tastes and attitudes.
I was a 13 year old that was crazy about football, soccer for you natives, poetry, clothes, math and science. That didn't translate well to a world that saw soccer in the same light as the metric system or where early teen boys that spend time memorizing poetry were effeminate. The culture also put down those of us inclined to math and science as geeks, nerds or worse yet terribly uncool. I'm glad to say that in the years since, some of those things have changed for the better.
My siblings and I spent months trying to figure out how we could recast ourselves to fit in. To figure out this crazy country we spent hours and hours watching TV. To me it was no diversion, it was cramming. We caught up on The Brady Bunch, Gilligan's Island and every cliched show from the 60s and 70s.
Once enrolled in school, I noticed that kids in my school grouped themselves by ethnicity, culture but more importantly music tastes. I couldn't fake my way into the Disco/R&B crowd. While many Latinos were in the group, I was much too white. Also, I didn't understand what the weird repetitive talking over songs was about. Later I realized that I had seen early hip-hop, I just didn't get it.
I tried to fit in with the Latinos who were into salsa. My countrymen and all other Latinos found me lacking for I knew nothing about their music and surprisingly even less about their culture. Why? That is a totally different blog, but let's say that socio-economic reasons matter much more in Colombia than they do in the US. It was as if I came from a different place from most of them.
For weeks, I affected various regional accents trying to find one that they'd accept. That failed. I tried to fit in with the Dominicans, the Boricuas, the Argentines but I was too "white," I was told. I didn't understand what being too white meant in that context. Many of the Latinos were just as white as the Greek, Italians and Jews that made up much of the impenetrable white boy camp. I tried to be one of the white kids, anyway. I still didn't fit there but at last I did make a sort of friend, Charlie.
Charlie was an awkward chubby half-Pole, half-Irish kid. He was a redhead and was the pinkiest person I had ever met. We shared a history class together. We sat next to each other in the back of the room. While everyone gave our teacher, a first year 20-something girl, a hard time, Charlie and I chatted away about this and that. He liked that he finally had someone to talk to and I liked that he wasn't puzzled about who or what I was.
One of his favorite topics was The Beatles. Of course, I knew who they were. I had heard their music for as long as I had been alive. Up until that point it was just background noise to me. I had never paid much attention to them. Charlie's fascination was contagious. I started thinking about what I knew about The Beatles.
My earliest memory of The Beatles was my mom listening to Rubber Soul sometime in '68 or '69. I remember looking at the record cover and thinking about how odd were the elongated faces of the four boys. Yet, I had very little recollection of the music.
I brought Charlie's stories home and somehow, I don't remember how but perhaps my sisters may remember, a copy of the Red and Blue Albums arrived at our apartment. Just like the TV shows, my siblings and I began to listen to these records obsessively. Quickly we picked our favorite songs. Strangely, my sisters and I decided we each had to pick a different Beatle to like too.
I chose Paul, while my sisters chose John and George. My brother, who was 5 at the time, was assigned to Ringo. He didn't seem to mind; then again I think he was too busy with his Rubber Ducky to worry about it. I have thought about this for a long time and have noted that our choices were very evident of who we were or wanted to be. I was "a poet" and preferred sappy sentiment, just like Paul. I still love Paul and while I'll admit he was the lamest of The Beatles, without him they would have never gone anywhere.
Quickly, we bought copies of Beatles albums; my sisters favoring the earlier stuff, while I focused on the later stuff. The Beatles opened a flood gate that changed how we became to fit in, or in many cases how we chose not to fit in, in our new country. More current music was purchased, first in hit collections from "As Seen On TV" advertisers and quickly replaced by albums from people like Steve Windwood to David Bowie.
The introduction, or re-introduction, of The Beatles to our home sent all four of us into a love affair with popular music that continues to this day. We moved from one genre to another, quickly cramming just like we did with TV. As the 80s came to being, we settled on an eclectic mix of everything from country to German techno.
Just as the popular culture at large, there are so many things that are important to me that I attribute back to The Beatles. Without The Beatles I may have become a fan of Man U. That would be awful. I don't know if The Beatles ever followed football or if they were Everton or Liverpool fans, but I'm a huge Liverpool FC supporter because of them. George's interest in Eastern Religion was a catalyst for my interest in the subject and my very flimsy Buddhist leanings. Paul's vegetarianism was in a small part one of the reasons I tried it. Sixteen years later I'm still a vegetarian.
We can debate whether the Fab Four were real Mods or not, but because of them I like to say I'm one too. At a minimum, I like Mod music and Mod aesthetic.
Finally, The Beatles made me into a life-long Anglophile. Please don't think that means I love the Royals or that I like Simon Cowell. It simply means that given the chance I prefer English things. Their telly is many times better, at least their comedies. They have better sports, although a multi-day cricket test sounds more boring that a baseball series. They have Tories so they are as idiotic as we are with the GOP. Not even England can be perfect.
As for Charlie, we attended the same school for four more years. I'd see him in the hallway from time to time and we'd smile and say hello. The last time I saw him was at our High School graduation. I think of him rarely, but I'm glad we crossed paths. I wonder what ever happened to him.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad 2 (The last one I won)