Special to CSMS Magazine
Within the last few years I have consistently had children in my classroom that have emigrated from Peru, an important country in South America. Peru is a culture I was unfamiliar with and only learned about from the parents in my class, co-workers, neighbors and friends. When I speak to parents and others, I usually begin my inquiry by asking about the upbringing of the children, the family traditions and religion. Their responses are always very interesting. The main language in Peru is Spanish, even though other indigenes languages like Kechua, Aymara are also spoken there. Although the predominant religion that is followed in Peru is Roman Catholicism, Peruvians also visit fortune tellers or spiritual guidance leaders, which are a reflection of the native Peruvians beliefs.
To my surprise, parents use old fashion discipline when a child is not demonstrating proper behavior. It is very common for the parents to give their children a cold shower when the children have been disrespectful or do not obey them. Everyone that I’ve spoken to mentioned the cold shower as a consequence for unacceptable behavior. This method of discipline has passed on from generation to generation.
A very poor family in Peru lives on a day to day basis and does not necessarily have a consistent job to depend on. These lower class citizens cannot afford to leave Peru and adapts to the circumstances in their country. The children may or may not attend school. The local schools that are available are understaffed and because the teachers are underpaid, they very frequently go on strikes. When this occurs, the schools may close for several days.
The best form of education is attending a private school. Private schools are expensive and therefore are available mostly to the upper class. The children of the rich are usually raised by a Nana. The Nanas wear a uniform so that they can be easily distinguished from the family members. In the home environment, the children are not to visit the kitchen area were the servants make the meals. If he or she would like to eat or drink something, the child requests it from the Nana. Nanas also attend gatherings with the family to assist with the children. If the family is invited to a birthday party, the Nana stays with the children in a different area while the parents enjoy themselves among the adults. The social differences are noticeable and the upper class tends to be a bit arrogant and demanding with their servants.
Peruvians who lived a privileged lifestyle in their own country face cultural shocks upon arriving in the United States. After being accustomed to these privileges, it becomes a challenge to manage their lifestyle in the United States. There are several barriers to consider. The language is a definite factor, not being able to afford a Nana to manage the children is another and finding an adequate position in the workforce is difficult. All of these issues took a heavy toll on a family. It is important to take them into account when having a parent teacher conference, during Open House or just the brief conversation you have with a parent every morning.
Many Peruvian families migrate to the United States in an attempt to find a better future for their children, yet I have personally met three families that after having lived here for a number of years and even owned a home returned to Peru. It is unfortunate that they could not adapt. I have made every effort possible to adapt to the needs of the children in my classroom regardless of their culture, and I hope that I have made a difference in helping them and their families during the time spent in my classroom.
Note: Barbara Valdes is a teacher who lives in the South Florida area.