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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Although we speak Spanish, do they really share a common culture?

By Carolina MonacoSpecial to CSMS MagazineIn the state of Florida, the Hispanic students represent almost a ninety percent of the ESOL population. Unfortunately for other minority cultures, teachers and school administrators communicate in the Spanish language only when they decide to use an alternate lingo. But language is just the beginning in the process of communicating. Much more has to be said if both parts want to be understood in order to make their goals accomplishable.             Due to poor level of education on the majority of immigrant parents’ side of the communication channel, administrators and teachers have the obligation to inform themselves about their students’ parents country of origin, and not limiting their assumptions to what they think might apply for all the Hispanic community. Only then would a teacher be able to help students and their families, as they grow and progress in their new community. Politeness and diplomacy will accomplish this intricate but rewarding task.            I wanted to research a culture that was new to me, so I decided to investigate about Mexicans in the United States. I interviewed some co-workers and had chats with young elementary school girls. I even wrote some notes down remembering previous experiences as a Physical Education Paraprofessional with these kids, and the way they dress and play. Then I began to realize how little Caucasian American teachers with more than ten years of experience in front of a classroom know about the differences in my own Hispanic heritage. My focus, then, was turned into this new discovery, finding a new passion: to educate through informal conversations, about the distinctiveness of us, Hispanics from different nations and backgrounds. A very complex world, for every one of us comes not only from different countries, but also from different climates and areas.            Some of us have been raised in small towns, and some others in huge cosmopolitan cities, as they are the capitals of Venezuela, Costa Rica and Argentina. Some come from very progressive societies, as it is the Argentinean society, and others are from very traditional ones, like Peru, Chile, Ecuador, and Panama. Some students and their parents are just arrived, while others are claming to be Hispanics. But they are actually a second generation of Hispanic, with parents that still remember a society in which they lived twenty years ago. Not everybody comes here for economical reasons. Some had been pushed away by military governments; others are for mud flooding and earthquakes. The only similarity Hispanic children and families have is that they all speak Spanish, and even this is to some extent.            Out of all the Hispanic minorities that shape the rainbow of cultures in Florida, Mexicans make a good portion of it. Even though Puerto Ricans are more in number than Mexicans, at least in my community, Puerto Rican students are mainly born in New York, or have lived their lives alternating between Puerto Rico and Florida. Mexican immigrants, on the other hand, arrive mostly as illegal immigrants. So the move is done once, without looking back—a move that involves a heavy sac of psychological and sociological consequences. They represent the second minority in Central Florida.            Mexicans people are viewed as hard working and family oriented.  Students show admiration and respect for their family and extended family members. The woman rules a Mexican household, but everything else is consulted with the men of the family. Eighty-nine percent of the Mexican population is Catholic. Holidays are very special for them: it is the time to stop working and celebrate into late hours of the night. “During the colonial period of Mexican history, education was the responsibility of the Catholic Church; however, after independence, Mexicans started a public education system” (White 2004).  Education is free, but attendance is not enforced.  “This indicates that many Mexican families either do not highly value education or the children are needed at home,” continues White. By understanding these aspects of a Mexican culture, teachers would have to make an extra effort to counteract student’s lack of interest in reading more than the minimum required, and to convince parents that education is not only important but also crucial for their children to succeed in the future.            Parents of young Mexican students tell their children that the teacher is right and that they need to do their homework and stay on task in class, but hardly ever would seat with them to help, explain or read work for them. A child also, for the most part, would face a noisy home, with active kitchens and music and late conversations many nights of the month. A Mexican house, as many others of other Hispanic origins, would not count with a comfortable space with appropriate light for the child to isolate and work on their homework. Hispanic children, and at this point in our current society almost any child, have never seen their parents spending time reading a book or magazine. So they don’t do it either. A Mexican child and his family, however, respect the teacher for being an educated adult. They just believe that instruction at a higher level is not for them.            There is still the danger of stereotyping Mexicans or other cultures. Likewise, “ESOL parents and students may come to the United States with their own set of preconceived ideas of teachers and the educational system in the U.S.  We must be prepared to encounter these attitudes, both positive and negative, and address them as tactfully as possible when they arise in our classrooms” (White 2004).  Note: Carolina is a student at Nova Southeastern University. She wrote this piece exclusively for CSMS Magazine.

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