Special to CSMS Magazine
The 2000 U.S. Census reported that the Mexican population of Texas was roughly 5.1 million people, which accounted for about one-fourth of the state’s population that year. Of this population, it can be concluded generally speaking, that about 1 million Mexicans were of school age (ages 5-18), which accounted for just under half of the states overall school age population (roughly 2.2 million). With that said, understanding the cultural values of Mexican culture should be prerequisite for any teacher aspiring to guide a Texas classroom. The purpose of this brief report is to promote an awareness of Mexican culture and interpret it implications in the classroom. This paper will focus on the ethnic background of Mexican culture and its general values and norms. It will also consider familial influences on Mexican life and how this translates in their interactions within the community and particularly in school.
In order to better understand Mexican culture and utilize this insight within schools, it is necessary to focus on the ethnic background of this particular group. It is crucial to differentiate how those of Mexican origin view themselves versus how they are perceived by others in society. It is also important to identify the diverse ethnic origins within the Mexican community. This approach seeks to avoid categorizing all “Mexicans” together as one people, with the same history and culture. This will also ensure that such differences are not misunderstood in the classroom.
The term “Mexicano” is often used to universally describe those of Mexican descent. This categorization does not accurately identify the ethnic origins of the people it describes, despite its widespread use. This does not differentiate between those Mexicans who were born in Mexico, or Mexican Nationals, and those born in the United States. According to Niemann, “Chicanas/os… refer to people of Mexican descent who were born in the United States” (p. 57, 2001). She states that most literature on Hispanics, “does not distinguish between Mexican nationals and Chicanas/os” (p. 56, 2001). This type of distinction is important because it considers the difference of culture that the two groups may include. Chicanos/as were raised within American culture and are likely to be more assimilated than Mexican nationals who recently moved to the United States. This cultural distinction likely affects the view that each group has towards overall American cultural values and norms.
Along with this distinction between those Mexican Americans born in the U.S. and those foreign born, another consideration would be the history of their Mexican predecessors. There are some Mexican Americans who stem from families that “lived in what was Mexico and become U.S. territory following the U.S.-Mexican War of 1848” (Hurtado, Gurin, Peng, p.130, 1994). Other families come from [Mexican ancestors] “…who immigrated to the U.S. later in the 19th Century” (Hurtado, Gurin, Peng, p.130, 1994). Since that time there have been continuous flows of immigration from Mexico even to this day. This deep history of immigration reveals that the roots of Mexican Americans can range from those whose family lines have been in the United States for over a century, to those who’ve just arrived to start a new life. Another consideration is the proximity of their ancestral home to their new location. Mexico borders the state of Texas and many other states where Mexican immigrants flock to. This close proximity “promotes the ease with which first-generation immigrants from Mexico can renew the psychological meaning of Mexico through visits” (Hurtado, Gurin, Peng, p.130, 1994). This ensures tight family bonds between Mexican nationals living in the U.S. and their family in Mexico. Understanding that the term “Mexican or Mexican American” describes a diverse people with a rich history will ensure that teachers and faculty in schools will be less likely to practice stereotyping and misunderstand the cultural differences within this group.
Congruent with ethnic identity, it is important to understand the familial influences that take part in a Mexican American’s life. Understanding how family life is perceived and how Mexican American’s view their interactions with their community, is crucial for effective interpersonal communication of teachers with Mexican American students and their parents. One study considered, sought to evaluate the “…social constructions of the ethnic identity Mexican… with self-described Mexicans in Houston, Texas…” (Niemann, Romero, Arredondo, Rodriguez, p. 48, 1999). This study considered how the Mexican Americans interviewed, perceived their own ethnic groups in comparison to others. It also reviewed some of the cultural values and norms of its sample group.
The Mexican Americans interviewed within this study, reported that they “…like to keep their children close, physically and emotionally, and to teach them through discipline” (Niemann, Romero, Arredondo, Rodriguez, p. 52, 1999). It was also reported that they perceived other ethnicities as less strict than their own. Their perception of family was a tight-nit group with little interference from those not belonging to the unit. They “…believe that parents alone should decide how to discipline their children, with no nonfamily interference in parents’ disciplinary decisions” (Niemann, Romero, Arredondo, Rodriguez, p. 52, 1999). They also value the importance of communication within the family, citing that it is uncommon for their adult children to go for months without speaking with their parents. These familial values identify potential obstacles and opportunities for teachers interacting with Mexican American students and their parents. One obstacle may be lack of trust for the educator and school system, but also the opportunity in this would be the immense support and involvement that Mexican American parents may offer their children. The teacher has the responsibility to navigate a balance between the two and, if they consider the implications of this study, they will be better equipped for such an endeavor.
This sample group also noted the importance of celebratory occasions in the Mexican American community. They enjoy big celebrations, “such as the Day of the Dead (Halloween), and big birthday parties with piñatas, mariaches, a lot of festivity, and ‘not just a little birthday cake’” (Niemann, Romero, Arredondo, Rodriguez, p. 53, 1999). They stated that being Mexican was a source of pride for them, citing both their Indian heritage and their Spanish heritage. Despite this healthy appreciation for their ethnicity, the respondents of the study also described their perceptions and experiences of being a minority in U.S. society. The Mexican Americans in the study reported that they received discriminatory acts while in public places, such as being treated rudely or not receiving assistance when shopping or even receiving unjust tickets and citations from the local police. These were reported perceptions that they held regarding the society around them and this helps to understand how it may affect their perceptions towards other public places and institutions such as schools. They also reported that they felt there is still much workplace inequality for their ethnicity and cited that they “…must work harder than Anglo-Americans for the same paychecks or other rewards” (Niemann, Romero, Arredondo, Rodriguez, p. 54, 1999). Once again, this type of perception may impact the view that parents have towards their children’s success in the U.S. education system.
Just from examining the ethnic background of one of the largest (if not the largest) minority groups in Texas, teachers can be better equipped to experience positive intercultural communication with Mexican American students and their parents. The insight that the term “Mexican” is not just one type of people, but a variety of people and culture rich in history, can also help teachers avoid stereotypes and cultural misunderstandings. Educators have the responsibility to understand the cultural norms of the students they instruct because this will enable them to foster a positive learning environment for the student and open productive dialogue with their parents. It is likely that Texas classrooms will often have a significant number of Mexican American students and therefore it is crucial that this ethnic group and its values be considered by any aspiring teacher in Texas.
Note: Micah S. Hill is an education major at Nova Southeastern University.
Hurtado, A., Gurin, P., Peng, T. (Feb 1994). Social Identities- A framework for studying the adaptations of immigrants and ethnics: The adaptations of Mexicans in the United States. Social Problems, Vol. 41, No. 1. p. 129-151.
Niemann, Y. F. (Jan 2001). Stereotypes about Chicanas and Chicanos: Implications for counseling. The Counseling Psychologist, Vol. 29 No. 1. p. 55-90
Niemann, Y. F., Romero, A. J., Arredondo, J., Rodriguez, V. (Feb 1999). What does it mean to be “Mexican”? Social construction of an ethnic identity. Hispanic Journal of Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 21 No. 1. p. 47-60
U.S. Census Bureau. (2000). Fact Sheet: Census 2000 Demographic Profile Highlights: Selected Population Group: Mexican.