By Chantale Jimenez
CSMS Magazine staff writerMost of us know very little about the students to whom we are teaching English. Most adult ESOL classes in Arizona consist primarily of Hispanic students, although many languages and cultures are represented in our classes. People of Mexican decent represent the largest Hispanic group in the USA. Mexicans lived in what is now theUnited States before the United States’ independence, and Mexican labor migration started long before the Puerto Rican and Cuban labor migration around 1880, with the so-called bracero or “strong arm” program in agriculture, picking fruits and vegetables in the fields. Most of the campesinos or field hands fell under the amnesty law for undocumented Mexicans who became legal residents through President Reagan’s 1986 amnesty decree. A large number of undocumented aliens come from Mexico and were not from other Latin American countries. This might be the reason why, today, Mexicans without legal documents encounter much greater restrictions than other Hispanic immigrants by the Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS). All legal and undocumented immigrants are entitled to a free education in the United States. The undocumented immigrant students in our adult classes, as well as their children in public schools, are aware of being labeled a menace to society and are constantly afraid of deportation as well as discrimination. Also, Mexican immigrants have limited contact with individuals from other Hispanic groups. Presently, reasons for immigrating to the United States, especially from Mexico, are family-reunification and poor economic conditions. We become more effective teachers when we become literate in the culture of our Hispanic students, which is the intent of this study.To become more culturally sensitive toward our students, we must first recognize that there are, indeed, cultural differences between the Anglo culture and the Hispanic culture. Each culture dictates rules for certain expected behavior and shares values and beliefs. Enculturation is the natural and unconscious process by which we acquire our own native culture.The United States is a melting pot of hundreds of different ethnic groups, each in itself is a distinct culture. Most immigrants choose their relationship with their native and their newly acquired culture. It often happens that through assimilation the pure native culture is slowly lost, thus merging the old and the new culture and making them, after a period of time, indistinguishable.When immigrants experience acculturation, they adopt a second set of cultural rules, which can coexist with the rules of their native culture, replace the rules of the old, or modify the old rules so that they complement the new ones. Not too many immigrants are truly bi-cultural and maintain or use two cultures simultaneously with equal intensity. A relatively recent phenomenon is retro-acculturation, the search for ethnic identity or roots by second, third, and fourth generation Americans who have lost most of their cultural traits, including fluency in their ancestors’ language. We must become familiar with the cultural values and beliefs of the Hispanic ESOL student.The needs of the group vs. the needs of the individualIn the Hispanic society, family or group needs to take precedence over the needs of the individual. The same can be observed in an almost all Hispanic ESOL class. Hispanics tend to be brought up to be cooperative, whereas the Anglo culture typically encourages students to be more competitive and individualistic. When Hispanic students work in a group, not all are expected to do their equal share. A group member who does not happen to be working will not be offensive, while in an Anglo group of students, each is expected to do his/her share. The cooperative tendency of Hispanics can also be seen in sharing material objects and information. Sharing also means helping another student during a test, which is considered cheating in an Anglo culture. Recently, in an ESOL class composed of mostly Hispanics, a student was reprimanded by a non-Hispanic instructor for copying from another student’s test. Both students were stunned and offended, because to them, they were helping each other, not cheating.Different perspectives about present and futureFor most Hispanics, present time has more value than the future. For them, the time-dependent, ways of the Anglo, often look rather like a misappropriation of the present. Hispanics focus more on present needs and explore little change. Therefore, it would be more appropriate to expect Hispanic students to concentrate on short-term goals rather than long term ones. Mexican students are more likely to accommodate the passage of time to their needs, rather than to let time control them. This is why the ESOL teacher would be wise not to place a lot of emphasis on fast-moving and closely timed activities. This creates a very tense learning environment for the student who grew up in a relatively relaxed home atmosphere where minutes, hours, or days are rarely considered to be critical factors.Communication stylesThe communication style of Mexicans is much more formal than that of the Anglos. Respect is highly valued and shown by using formal titles. Hispanics tend to show affection through touching. Friends can kiss, but males hug, shake hands or pat each other on the back. This has somewhat influenced Anglo behavior in recent times. Hispanics tend to be very polite, which can be interpreted by Anglos as being subservient or servile. Phrases like A sus ordenes (at your command), para servile a Usted (at your service), Mi reina (my queen) or mi rey (my king) are found in the daily repertoire of Hispanic expressions.ChildrenMexicans have a very special way with children, a way that appears to be too permissive. It is very common to see small children in church, running toward the altar, and there, sitting down during a service. One hardly sees Mexicans spanking their children in public. When parents are annoyed, they tend to address their children with Usted. They also playfully call their small childrenpapito (little papa) or mamita (little mama). Also, the older children of the family are expected to take care of the younger ones. Nevertheless, the child is generally brought up to be very dependent on the parents, which affects the child’s decision making. In the traditional family, the child will have a strong sense of identity with his family, community and ethnic group.Adapting to the environment rather than controlling itThe Mexican tries to adjust to the universe and usually believes in metaphysical powers. When living in Mexico, the author observed very religious people, the majority belonging to the Catholic Church. However, that did not prevent them from believing in witchcraft and the curadora or healing woman. Herbs play a significant role in healing and bringing good luck.The Hispanic student, as a rule, thrives more in a cooperative environment than in a competitive one. The uniqueness of the individual is more important than the individual accomplishment. The good of the whole is often more important than the individual’s goals. There is also a tendency among Hispanic students to credit his/her achievement to destiny, fate and other metaphysical or religious circumstances rather than ability.
Archer, Carol. Living with Strangers in the U.S.A.: Communicating Beyond Culture. Englewoods Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1991.English as a Second Language: Addressing the Needs of Language Minority Students. Series host Henry Stewart. NASA/Southern University Industrial Application Center, Department of Foreign Languages, Southern University, Baton Rouge, Louisiana Public Broadcasting, 1991. Teacher’s Guide and Videocassette.Garcia, Eugene. The Education of Lingrustically and Culturally Diverse Students: Effective Instructional Practices. Santa Cruz: U. California UP, 1991.Grossman, Herbert. Teaching in a Diverse Society. Needham Heights: Simon- Schuster, 1995.Also seeWhy the Surrounding Ourselves with Differences is so important for our children?