Like many people living in the U.S., I’ve always thought of my culture as a mix of cultures. My mom is a first generation immigrant from Barranquilla, Colombia. She is 100% Colombiana. My dad’s family has lived in Texas since before it was a republic. They are a mix of German, Welsh, and Irish. I was born and raised in the Borderland in El Paso, TX. Most people here are of Mexican descent. My culture is a mix of la cultura Colombiana, Anglo-American-Texan culture, Chicano, and Mexicano cultural practices. This mix has shaped me profoundly; I am who I am because I grew up in this mix. The ways this cultural medley has shaped are innumerable so I’ll name the few ways that are most important to me.
1) I’m Flexible and Adaptable, ya’ll! I can Texas Two Step to Merengue and spread chismes trilingually (English, Spanish, Spanglish). In all seriousness, I know that my mixed background and experiences in El Paso help me befriend and work with lots of different types of people. Your fam is super Texas conservative all up in your face all the time? I feel you. Estas triste because you can’t talk to your familia del otro lado as well as you wish you could? I understand. You wish you could write that essay in Spanglish because then it would be perfect? I’ve been there. You want your friends of different backgrounds to chill out for a hot second and actually get to know one another instead of making misguided assumptions? Entiendo totally. Through my experiences I’ve learned how to make real connections with people from a vast array of backgrounds without oversimplifying or idealizing their experiences, without ignoring our differences, and without dismissing the goals, motivations, aspirations, and values we have in common. That is some seriously good stuff to know how to do.
2) I know that anyone (anyone!) can be a leader and make a difference in their community. My mom started out in the U.S. cleaning hotel rooms and learning English by taking night classes and watching Oprah. The people she worked for were often disrespectful and treated her like she was below them and unimportant. Meanwhile the Colombian family she was living with treated her like she had no street smarts or common sense. Because she was college educated they thought she was just a silly bookworm, that she was out of touch with reality and, as a result, would never amount to much. There people were wrong! My mom didn’t let their perceptions or expectations of her stop her from making a good life for herself. She worked hard and learned English. Then (with help from her brother, his wife, her parents, and others along the way) she found a way to use what she learned in college to make a difference in the daily lives of real people. The she is First Baptist Church of El Paso’s (a church and multi-million dollar non-profit) first Latina minister. In this position she uses her past experience and considerable skill set to help parents manage happy and healthy family and help kids know that are loved and important. That is pretty rad! My mom is one of millions of Latinos who have proved that the people who thought they weren’t useful and important to society were dead wrong. Our culture values honest hard work. And Latina women all over the world are proving that we make hard workers and awesome leaders. My culture reminds me that that is my heritage and my birthright. Influence and fulfillment are waiting for me if I put in the work and remember to use my support network.
3) The most important way my culture has shaped me is by convincing me that care for others is the most important thing we have. My abuelita, abeulito, tias, and tios all have one thing in common: they’ve worked hard to achieve what they have. My family has always thought that the best use of time and money is on education. But what is all the education and hard work for? What’s the end game here? To make big money and live a life of leisure? Uhhh, no! My family taught me that we study and work hard to bring stability to our families and communities and that we should use our resources and abilities to help build others up. But why should we give two cents about the well being of others? Well, because whether we’re aware of it or not, we are all dependent on one another. My future isn’t solely controlled by me - it is influenced by my family, educators, health care providers, scientists, and legislators. Success takes a village and we all do better when we all do better! My culture teaches me to tone down the individualist mentality that is so rampant in the U.S. today and make decisions and take actions for the good of my community. That is beautiful.
What about ya’ll? How do you understand culture - like how would you define it? And how does your culture shape the way you think about things? What does it teach you?