This marks the beginning of the renewed Arts and Culture column In Translation, which is all about the complexities of language! This column will feature the stories of different students who have a ‘home’ other than Canada and their experiences adapting to the verbal, physical, and cultural language of Canadian society. 

I am rather particular with my bananas, for more reasons than one. On my home island, the Dominican Republic (DR), bananas are supposed to be super sweet, smooth, dense, and bursting with flavour. When I moved to Canada, I assumed that the bananas I would pick up at the University College dining hall would equally satisfy my tropical fruit craving. Sadly not — Dole bananas are mushy and somehow grainy, with an overall absence of flavour. 

After my first bite of a Canadian banana, I was shattered. Surely, it was a bad batch that day, I thought — but it wasn’t. 

The DR talks and breathes bananas, and they are representative of the culture at large. You’ll find them used in local graffiti; they’re a staple in both sweet and savoury meals and very much a symbol of pride for our diverse agriculture. On every corner, someone is eating a banana over a lively conversation, and every so often, I wish someone on my corner was eating one, too. 

As a Dominican girl in Canada, I have experienced my fair share of linguistic mishaps, awkward hugs, and disbelief at how polite Canadians are. After two years in this country, I feel I have truly had the opportunity to draw comparisons between the culture I grew up in and the one I am in currently, and in what ways I miss it. 

The DR is a beautiful island with a vibrance beyond compare, and it makes up a huge part of my identity. Beyond the Spanish language itself, a yearning for human connection and a love of fruit are unshakeable aspects of its ‘language,’ which shapes the energy and culture of all Dominicans. 

While bananas are more of a once-a-week complaint at breakfast, my experience with Spanish affects me daily. My first language is English since I attended a mostly English bilingual school, and my mom is a gringa. Despite this, some words or sentences just don’t click for me in English. 

For example, I tend to write run-on sentences in English and sound like I’m rambling. When I started at U of T, I would get all of my midterms back with comments such as, “Why is there only one period?” It makes perfect sense in Spanish to have a whole paragraph full of commas — but those same grammatical rules don’t translate. I also tend to make up words that are a blend of English and Spanish sounds — for example, “resaltaded,” a mix of “resaltado” and ”highlighted.” Bilingualism is very much a gift, but it has unintended consequences. 

A much greater struggle than spoken language is the language of touch. One of the most negative culture shocks I’ve experienced while in Canada is that hugs here are not standard practice when saying hello or goodbye, while hugging is a major part of the Dominican love language. Every time you say hello to someone you know, even if you are not super close, you’re supposed to give them a gentle hug and a kiss on the cheek — within everyone’s boundaries and respect, of course. Even if very subtly, it really helps you establish a bond with people far deeper than a simple wave. 

I remember how back in the DR, I took physical touch for granted and even complained about the physical greetings. Admittedly, it can be super time-consuming, especially when there are over 10 people in the room you need to hug and kiss. Now, I would gladly do it 100 times. It has become part of my love language, a way I like to show care and compassion. 

Of course, there are aspects of my experience with the Dominican ‘language’ that I definitely do not miss — most notably the language of misogyny. It is all too common to feel unsafe as a woman walking on the streets of the DR. Men are far too comfortable with catcalling and treating women as inferior in social, academic, and professional circles. This has always been my biggest frustration with my home country and something I am always grateful not to encounter in my current home away from home. 

As an immigrant, there will always be parts of your home language that you miss and maybe some bits you won’t. But what is most important is remembering fundamentally who you are and remembering the bits you miss so that when you go back home, those hugs, bananas, and Spanish hellos are that much sweeter.