BELLSPIRATION CLUB – Tania Gonzalez: It’s hard to describe California, but it’s definitely more than what we see in movies! (Part 2/4)

1) Dear Tania, from the first hand, tell us more about California, life and people?

California is a melting pot. What does that mean? It’s a mixture of cultures, religions, languages, food, people and so much more. It’s hard to describe California, but it’s definitely more than what we see in movies. There are small towns, big cities, mountains, flat lands, green lands, dry lands, tall trees, grape vines, beaches and the list goes on! Visually, it can be beautiful or boring depending on where you live. The culture in California varies from North to South. I live right in the middle, The Central Valley. I can drive about 2.5 hrs to get to San Francisco, 4 hrs to Los Angeles, 2.5 hrs to Yosemite National Park or 3 hrs to the nearest beach.

The city culture of California is very different from people living in small towns. I’m from a small town called Kerman and have family in the city of Los Angeles. We live in the same state but have different experiences and views of California. The city life is always on the go as if there were an hourglass to their time. It’s that mentality in where you need to do all these things before your day ends. In small towns, at least from my experience, time goes by a little slower. People still hustle but we stop and breathe a little more I would say.

Because of California’s history with immigrants, we have all kinds of languages and cultures everywhere. In my small town of Kerman, the dominant ethnicity is Mexican, then Punjabi, White and Arab. And in Fresno, a city nearby, there are a lot more ethnicities such as Hmong, people from Central America, African Americans, Italians and the list just goes on. Because of that, I can go to a grocery store and hear Spanish music, Bhangra (Punjabi music) and buy products that originate from their homeland. I can buy food from different parts of the world and hear languages that are not English, and I find that to be SO BEAUTIFUL. I can go to Starbucks in the morning, eat Chinese food for lunch and finish my day with tacos.

2) You lived in Bosnia for a while. Can you share your experience? What did you like the most?

My first time in Bosnia was about 8 years ago. This was the start to my coffee addiction. Through coffee, I got to experience conversations that were longer than 30 minutes for the first time and got to hear and experience people hearts. I used to think I knew people and I was good at having conversations but no, my Balkan friends taught me otherwise. I learned through these conversations about how beautiful it is to be genuine, present, and to be intentional with my time and the people around me. I’m extremely grateful for that lesson because it has made me a better person in so many ways! In the western world, there’s this saying that, “time is money and money is time,” we are constantly on the go and packing our schedule with things that make us hustle and “successful” in life. Sometimes in this “hustle” lifestyle people forget that humans are all around and miss out in the beauty of life because there’s no real connection with the people. This is one of the many things I brought back home from BiH.

Also, my love for walking and hiking is something I learned in Sarajevo. Living in a small town and having to commute by car to the city daily made me forget I also have legs to walk on. In Sarajevo, I lived in Bjelave student dorms. I would have to go up and down that hill every day to meet with people, give courses with EUS, go to church, and go to my favorite pekara. I won’t lie, at first, I hated it! My face would be covered in sweat once I arrived to my final destination. But it taught me the importance of taking care of my body and the beauty and blessing I have to have a body that is capable of moving. I also learned to enjoy hikes because of the beautiful sunsets Sarajevo has. I always preferred to watch it from high elevated places like Trebević, Žuta Tabija or any place that acquired hiking. Every time I came back home, I tried my best to continue those good habits because it made me feel good.

But from all the coffees, life lessons and beautiful nature scenes Sarajevo has my heart always accelerates for the Balkans. I really admire how genuine, loving, humorous and spiritual they can be. I can talk about my day, make a joke about it and see that God is good. Balkans may think that I drank too much of the cursed water and that’s the reason I keep going back, but no. My heart for the Balkans is big and I just don’t know how to let go.

3) Can you compare life in California, USA, and here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Balkans? People, lifestyles…

I can find more similarities within my Latino community with the Balkans than in the overall American culture. Balkans are very family orientated and there’s the “man” of the house culture but we all know the woman is the real ‘Jefa.’ The same is in the Latino community. There’s also that culture in where many want to move to the North and find a better future for themselves and their families. A lot of the Latinos that live in the US are immigrants from Latin countries that have arrived seeking the American dream to have a better life not only for them in the US but also for those family members they left behind in their homelands. We can be loud, enjoy our food, have some good music, and invite our neighbors to a good barbecue. Instead of having Ćevapi, most of the time we have Carne Asada or tacos. In my last visit I was able to see that I am able to understand a lot of my Balkans through my Latina identity and that’s the beauty of diversity. We are all different but can find similarities through our experiences and the way we love others.

4) Follow Tania: Fb: IG: @tania.gee @half_orange_ @vivredamour_weddings