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Tools for teachers and parents to better understand our Mexican students

By Chantale JimenezCSMS Magazine staff writerIn the state of Florida, the Mexican population ranks as the fifth largest group of school age immigrants. Mexican-Americans have the highest dropout rates with 72.3% (DeLaParte, n.d). “Mexicans encounter stereotypes, personal prejudice, and social bias that is often part of larger anti-immigrant forces in this society” (DeLaParte, n.d.). Many Mexicans have family members that are migrant workers causing them to move frequently, making obtaining an education difficult.     Terms used to refer to people of Latin American or Spanish decent can sometimes be considered derogatory. The term “Spanish people” should only apply to people who are natives of Spain. Latino is related to Latin Americans but should not be used to refer to the millions of Native Americans. U.S. citizens from Mexico often object to being referred to as: Mexicans”. “Mexican-American” is another term that many object to. The term “Chicano” has been used recently to refer to U.S. citizens of Mexican heritage but it has a past of being used as a derogatory term so its not considered a polite term to use (Elliott, 1999). A teacher should be careful not to use a single term to refer to a person of Mexican heritage.     Many Mexican immigrants are poor. Spanish is the primary language in Mexico. Among young students, it is common to use a mix of Spanish and English. From discussions with teachers and school staff members, more often parents of Mexican children do not speak any English. Communication with parents is limited to the rare times a Spanish-speaking interpreter is available to assist in conferences.     About 90% of Mexicans are literate. The most commonly encountered books in many Hispanic homes are required schoolbooks, pictorial novelettes and the Bible (Kemp, 2006).     Verbal and non-verbal communications from Hispanics should be respectful. Unless Mexicans are familiar with you they will tend to be formal when communicating with you (Carlson, n.d.). They will usually speak softly and do not like confrontation.     Mexico is a high-contact culture (Carlson, n.d). People tend to stand close, touch frequently and maintain eye contact. First time greetings usually require a hand shake. Longtime friends may engage in a hug. Women friends may greet each other with a kiss. There is no sexual connotation in either action. Because they are a high contact people they will tend to stand closer while talking.     Gestures can take on different meanings to the Mexican. Placing your hands in your pockets can be considered impolite to the Mexican. They tend to think it is a sign of hiding something. Standing with your hands in your hips is considered challenging and hostile to Mexicans, as well.     Different types of hand gesturing can also have entirely different meanings to the Mexican. The, I love you gesture (pinkie and forefinger with the rest of the fingers down) means “Screw you” to the Mexican. Be careful using any form of gesturing, even our gesture of using the forefinger to tell some one to come here can be insulting to a Mexican (Carlson, n.d).     Dress and grooming are very important to the Mexican. Clothes are status symbols.Be careful with the use f colors. In America we use green for envy, red for anger, white for purity, and black for death. In Mexico purple is the color of death, red cast’s spells and white lifts spells (Carlson, n,d).     Families are highly valued at the Mexican culture. It is not uncommon for several family units to live in close proximity to one another. Families tend to rely heavily on each other for day-to-day functions (Kemp, 2005).     Men are typically expected to provide for the family while women are expected to be submissive to their husbands. Machismo is a defined sense of honor, vital to ones sense of self, self-esteem, and manhood (Kemp, 2005). Women are expected to be the primary caregiver and responsible for most parenting. Societal forces are changing some aspects of the roles of men and women, but among new immigrants and in isolated communities little has changed (Kemp, 2005).     Most Mexicans are Roman Catholics and their faith is a part of their daily lives. Their identity is tied closely to their family. Decisions are often made for the greater good of the family (Elliott, 1999).     Students from Mexico may have varied educational experiences. Some may have attended school regularly whereas those in families of migrant workers may have had limited school attendance (Tips, 2002). As newcomers students may feel out of place. They are straddling two cultures and find it hard to find their place in wither one. At school they may be looked at as troublesome, and at home their parents may know little about the school environment (Koss, 2002).     Some teens may suffer from depression, anxiety, aggressive behavior and drug use. In Mexico there is more control over youth. Some teens will find it difficult to communicate with American peers and teachers all day then go home to Mexican parents and families that most likely only speak Spanish.Tips for Teachers:If persons have cultural roots in Mexico, more should be learned before referring to them with any single term.Keep your hands out of your pockets and off your hips. These actions can be interpreted as rude or challenging.Gestures have different meanings in Mexico. Try not to sue them or make sure you know their meaning in Mexico before you sue any hand gestures.Get to know the meanings of the use of some colors. Purple means death in Mexico.Roles may be gender specific with men seeming to need to show machismo and women being passive.Ask parents if they would be willing to give you a lesson on ethic dances, music, or cooking. It will help build a rapport with parents.Celebrate the achievements of your ESOL or LEP students.Watch for sues of anxiety or  depression among preteens and teens,Use assisted technology to help in teaching content.Mexicans are close contact communicators and will typically stand closer to a person during conversation. Be aware of your natural inclination to step back.Arrange for parent teacher conference at times that are convenient for parents.

References

 Carlson, S. (n.d).  Nonverbal Communications in Mexico. Retrieved August 15, 2006         from http://wcuvax1.wcu.eduDeLaParte, D. (n.d.). Use of CAI to Teach/Reach Mexican LEP Students.Retrieved August 15, 2005 from http://www.coedu.usf.edu/itphdsem/emeElliott, C. (1999). Communication Patterns and Assumptions of Differing Cultural Groups in the Unites States. Retrieved August15, 2005 from http://www.aewsomelibrary.org/multiculturaltookit-patterns.html.Kemp, C. (2005). Mexican & Mexican-Americans: Health Beliefs & PracticesRetrieved August 15, 2005 from http://www3.baylor.eduKoss-Chioino, J. (2002). Culturing Psychotherapy. ASU Research. Retrieved August 15, 2005 from http://researchmag.asu.eduTips for LEP Parent Involvement. (n.d). The English Language Learner Knowledge Base. Retrieved August 15, 2005 from http://www.helpforschools.com

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