Let me introduce you all to my “little” brother, Bill.
I say “little” because he is six feet tall and he hasn’t been smaller than me since he was 13 years old. Alas, I am older and obviously wiser than him, that’s why I knew I needed to expose him to the world.
My brother and I had a very different upbringing, despite being raised in the same household. Maybe it was our personalities, or maybe he was just the “baby” of the family (which is my guess). Either way, I was always the one who was taking the subway to get from A to B, when he was getting a ride from our parents. I’m still not convinced he knows how to read a subway map.
I had a more independent spirit than my brother and I didn’t see much of a desire in him to explore more. He didn’t know much about the realities of the world around him. I knew I needed to take him out of his comfort zone, just a little bit. When thinking of a destination to take my brother I knew it couldn’t be a complete culture shock. I feared that if he was put into a situation where he felt too uncomfortable he would always remember it as a negative experience and not branch out ever again.
Costa Rica became the clear winner to me. I wanted to take my brother to Latin America, as he was the most disconnected from his Latinx culture. I wanted him to have fun but also to feel somewhat uncomfortable to the point it pushed him to do things he normally wouldn’t. Spoiler alert, it worked!
Landing in Costa Rica, I was so proud to be the one sharing in my brother’s first trip abroad. We leave the airport and I see his mind working trying to find similarities with Costa Rica and home. I remembered having that same feeling on my first international trip. We got to the hostel and immediately started exploring, going to the local mall, supermarket, and just walking around San Jose so he can get a sense of the lifestyle there.
What was important to me was to work on my brother’s appreciation of our shared Latinx culture, and especially his use of the language. Spanish was never expected of my brother growing up. He would simply answer our grandmother’s questions in English and she would respond in Spanish. My brother’s key phrases up until this point were “claro que si,” Yo no se,” and a handful of curses, of course. I tried to make sure for the majority of the time the time I would speak in Spanish and let his mind work through the years of high school Spanish to translate real-time.
Until we decided to go zip lining…
In the tropical forest of the Guanacaste region, what better way to give my brother a touristic experience than to zip line. We get to the location, get our gear on, and listen to the safety instructions. I’m translating this because of course, safety above all, and I don’t know how I’d explain to our mom that I made him do something dangerous and something avoidable happened.
Well, my brother’s like “I got this, no big deal.” Great! Except he didn’t, and decided to remove the gloved hand that serves as a break while zip lining. All I see is him headed straight at us on the tree platform and *bam* him and the much smaller guy who was trying to catch him go flying into the tree. My brother was super apologetic,
“Mea culpa, mea culpa”
Except he was speaking Latin, not Spanish. The guy looked up at him like he probably hit his head too hard, y yo muerta de la risa! The next 6 lines someone had to be clipped to my brother the whole ride; he was like a kid in a toy store, not allowed to touch anything.
Needless to say, we survived that experience. Hopefully, that sparked my brother to realize the value of knowing Spanish. Something must have motivated him because now he can sing any Bad Bunny song and answer back in Spanish – beyond curse words.
The other important thing I wanted for my brother was to expand his picky palate. Bill never did like trying new food and was comfortable with what he knew to be good. Well in Costa Rica I tried my hardest to nicely-but-forcefully change that mindset. We went to a bar one night in Tamarindo and what better to eat after a night of drinking than pinchos (aka meat on a stick). While I was digging in I forced him to take a bite with threats of never taking him abroad again. It worked and, surprise surprise, he liked it. Then again, what’s not to like about street meat at 4 am!? While he certainly still limits himself, I have seen my brother at least venture to take a bite out of new and different food before completely dismissing it.
It was important for me to show my brother other sides of reality, not just the one he is used to. We spent full days walking or biking around, getting lost in neighborhoods and checking out random restaurants. I took him to Tamarindo so he can say he’s been to the west coast and the Pacific Ocean. We island hopped and it was the first time I went partying with my brother, and the first time I realized I can’t drink like I used to.
It was important to make sure he understood that not everyone has the same benefits and privileges at birth as he did as a U.S. Citizen. You may be thinking, “Well Costa Rica is one of the better countries to live/study/be born, etc.,” you’re right. Costa Rica was not the country to show my brother the poverty, the hunger, the instability in the world. This trip was more if an introductory chapter in what I hope is to be a big book of my brother’s experiences in the world. It was the push to show him that there is a world beyond his home, and why he should never limit himself. He ate new food, he pushed himself to speak another language, he tried things that he would otherwise have turned down. If we didn’t go on this trip, he might still be limiting himself in life. Instead, he is eager to learn, he thinks about a new situation before he just says no, and most importantly he is immersing himself in other cultures and learning about the world.
Now, my brother is eager to explore – even if it’s just a day trip to Philly. He jumps at the chance to experience something new. He thinks about the places in the world he wants to visit. I am so proud of who my brother is turning out to be, and I hope he continues to accept every adventure that comes his way.