The purpose of this paper is to develop a better understanding of African American and Mexican American cultures in my region and their importance to United States society, as well as relating their similarities and differences to each other and my own culture. This will be done in an effort to develop skills that assist me in providing my future students the opportunity to value diversity and overcome cultural barriers and biases. This paper covers various aspects of each culture, beginning with the beliefs and traditions of each culture.
In addition to those areas, the facets of religion, holidays, and foods of great significance to each culture are explored. Finally, the most meaningful area in relation to my teaching success is analyzed. The area of education is considered, focusing on educational aspirations as well as the professions of members of these cultures due to their educational backgrounds. After examining all of the aspects, the cultures will be compared and contrasted in an effort to learn how to overcome cultural differences. African American Family Life Family life is one of the most important aspects in the African American culture.
This belief stems from both their African roots and early slavery. Keeping family members close was important in both tribal Africa and among slaves. Your family is believed to give you strength and support; this belief is still widely practiced today. African American families frequently visit both immediate as well as extended family. In fact, neighborhood barbeques and parties are a common occurrence. African American families also hold family reunions yearly, which include several surnames of families who may be closely related or as distant as fourteenth cousins or more.
Often times, non-relatives are also invited and treated as family. Many African American neighborhoods are close-knit communities who often spend much of their spare time socializing with one another. Because of this closeness, many non-relatives become known as “play” family. These “play” family members have become such good friends to the family that they are treated as members of the extended family. The elderly are regarded as the head of the family and are given the utmost respect. To the African American culture, living a long life means the person is very wise and is often the first source for advice.
An elder is believed to have led a fulfilled life and the funeral, therefore, is often celebrated as a joyous occasion. To the African American culture, death is simply passing from one realm of life to another. They believe their loved one is leaving the evils of this world behind for a utopia, so there is often a party after the burial service. African American Hairstyles and Names Many African American beliefs and traditions can be traced back to their original African roots. Locks and braiding are two of these. They are widely practiced hairstyles among African Americans today. Both types of hairstyles were started by tribes in Africa.
Locks, commonly called dread-locks, are common among the tribes of South Africa. Because water is scarce and dust is prevalent in that area, locks are popular due to their ease of maintenance. Braiding, on the other hand, is an aspect of worth among Western African tribes. Often, the men of tribes there receive a braided lock for achieving a substantial accomplishment. Both of these traditional African hairstyles made their way to the United States with the slaves and are still of great importance to African American culture today, as a method of displaying pride in their historical roots.
Another aspect of African American culture with ties to Africa is naming children. Children are often given names with African roots. However, the members of the African American culture have also developed a set of names, which are uniquely African American. They often add the prefixes of La-, Le-, and Da- to their children’s names, which is exclusive only to their culture. African American Music African American culture has given United States society various styles of music in the form of religious hymns and spirituals, jazz, blues, and hip-hop.
Spirituals began with slaves on the plantations. They were often used to send secret messages between each other because the plantation owners could not understand their meanings. These songs were religious folk songs based on African music styles and were improvisational. The spirituals used various musical aspects from smooth flowing styles, which led to the sensual sounds of jazz, to sadness and despair, which led to the blues, to spoken-word singsong, which eventually led to hip-hop.
“Ethnomusicologists trace hip-hop’s roots to the dance, drum, and song of West African griots, or storytellers, its pairing of word and music, and the manifestation of the painful journey of slaves who survived the middle passage” (McBride, 2007, p. 102). African American Language The American English language was also greatly influenced by the African American culture, especially in the Southern United States. “African American Vernacular English (AAVE) is a variation of the American English language closely associated with the speech of African Americans” (Coulmas, 2005, p. 177).
AAVE is considered by many as slang, and it is in prevalent use by African Americans, as well as other cultures, all over the United States today. African American Religion The Black Church has historically been a source of hope and strength for the African American community. Religion is an essential and integral part of their lives, with approximately 85 percent of African Americans belonging to a Protestant denomination. In the African American society, God is viewed as the source of both good health and serious illness. The most common method of treating illness in the African American culture is prayer.
It is expected in most churches that an individual should present their best appearance for worship. African American women in particular are known for wearing vibrant dresses and suits. The Black Church is one of intense enthusiasm and high emotion. African American author W. E. B. DuBois perhaps captured the spirit of the Black Church best by stating, “Even in the midst of preaching, the worshipers carried on a dialogue with the preacher by shouting approvals or calling out remarks aimed at encouraging him to work harder to reach his point” (DuBois, 2005, pp. 184 – 185).
It is not uncommon to hear an African American congregation shouting “Amen! ” or “Preach it, Brother! ” or “You tell ‘em, Reverend” in agreeance with their pastor or to hear the choir echoing “Well? ” behind the pulpit to advance the pastor’s next words. The entire world could learn from the African American culture’s passion for Christ. African American Holidays The African American culture has several holidays which not only help its members connect to their historical roots but assist the rest of society in identifying the significant impact African Americans have had on shaping the United States.
One way this is done is through Black History Month. Each February, television networks and schools throughout the United States celebrate the contributions of various African Americans to the world. One of the individuals focused on during Black History Month is Martin Luther King Jr. , whose quest for equality, peace, and civil rights was so powerful in shaping American society that his birthday is another important holiday in the African American culture. Now recognized as a national federal holiday, Martin Luther King Jr.
Day is celebrated nationwide on January 15. Another significant holiday is Juneteenth. The news of the Emancipation Proclamation signing reached the slaves of the South on June 19, 1865, and the slaves responded by having a huge celebration. Today, Juneteenth allows African Americans the opportunity to celebrate freedom and is celebrated all over the United States with food, storytelling, games, music, and African American culture. “Each year, over thirteen million African Americans celebrate Kwanzaa” (Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences, 2003, p.
57). This holiday uses customs from the harvest celebrations of Africa and was developed to help African Americans celebrate their heritage. This holiday lasts seven days and focuses on seven principles of the Swahili people. Upon a unity mat sits a candleholder with seven candles, and one candle is lit each day to represent one of the principles. Christmas is another important holiday for African Americans because of the Black Nativity play performed in many churches.
Originally written by Langston Hughes, it is a retelling of the classic nativity story, only with an entirely African American cast and gospel style Christmas carols. A major performance of this play is held yearly in Boston at Tremont Temple by The National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA), who refer to Black Nativity as, “a legendary Christmas event and the Black community’s Christmas gift to the world” (NCAAA, 2008). African American Foods The foods of the African Americans also play an important role in most cultures of the United Stated.
These foods, commonly referred to as soul food, have become widely popular throughout the United States. Many of these foods such as black-eyed peas, cornbread, greens, sweet potatoes, macaroni and cheese, and deep fried foods were originally eaten in Africa and made their way to the United States with the slaves. While others, such as chitlins, neck bones, and ham hocks, were created by the slaves out of necessity. During their time in captivity, they were only fed the scraps that their owners would not eat, ant they had to discover methods of cooking these items in such a way that they would be edible.
African American Education and Employment African Americans in Mississippi unfortunately live in one of the poorest states in the country, and their education is influenced by that factor. The poor economic state of Mississippi greatly hinders the public school system here due to lack of funding. In the Mississippi Delta, where the population is almost entirely African American, “the economy is so depleted that obtaining a quality education is extremely difficult” (U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2001, p. 36).
The lack of a quality education hinders Mississippi’s number of high school and college graduates, but for African Americans the number is extremely grave. Only 47. 3 percent of African American students in Mississippi will earn a high school diploma, and of that percentage, only 8. 8 percent of them will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree or higher” (U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2001, p. 36). It is a widely known fact that not graduating high school greatly influences a person’s financial and professional future.
With less than half of the African American population of Mississippi graduating high school, the poverty level among these individuals is obviously high. The number of African American families living below poverty level is tremendous, especially in majority-black communities like one would find in the Mississippi Delta. “The percentage of black families with incomes below the poverty level runs from a low of 46. 4 percent in Washington County to a high of 68 percent in Tunica County, and most Mississippi counties are marked by double-digit unemployment rates” (U. S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2001, p.
1 – 2). The individuals who are employed are most likely employed in a position that pays the federal minimum wage rate, such as fast food or retail chains, due to the low high school graduation rate. Overall, the African American culture in Mississippi is at a great disadvantage when it comes to educational and professional success. Mexican American Family Life Family closeness is an important aspect of Mexican American culture, as well. Not only do the members of this culture spend a great deal of time with their families, but they often all live together under one roof.
It is not uncommon for grandparents, parents, children, cousins, aunts, and uncles to all live in the same home. The entire family is involved in all aspects of each other’s lives, with the elders being the most respected and revered members of the family. Children are expected to honor their families no matter the circumstances. Their actions must never bring shame to their family, and traditional Mexican American families are very strict on their children in an effort to keep them from participating in dishonorable acts.
These values of honor, respect, and family endearment are carried out in death as well. When a loved one passes away, they are dressed in special clothing and stay in the family home overnight. While in the family home, a wake is held, and friends and family bring food to serve at the wake. Only the family then accompanies the body to the grave. No service is held, but the family members sing religious Spanish hymns. “Most significant is the perspective on death held by many Mexican American Catholics that, rather than an end, death is seen as a new beginning” (Diaz-Stevens & Stevens Arroyo, 1998, p.
73). Because of this view, for years after the original wake, on the same date, those who attended it will reunite to celebrate the life and passing of their loved one. Mexican American Names and Language For the most part, Mexican Americans stay true to their original Mexican heritage and culture. While a few Mexican American families choose to name their children more traditional American names, the majority of parents choose names with Mexican ties and meanings, like Javier, Joaquin, Carmen, and Rosa. Another way, Mexican Americans stay connected to their heritage is through their language.
Even fluent English speakers tend to speak Spanish with other members of their culture, as opposed to English. Mexican American parents who choose to teach their children to speak English teach them Spanish as well and most often speak to them in the Spanish language. Mexican Americans also choose to incorporate Spanish music and television into their daily lives. In fact, the interest is so high among Mexican Americans to have Spanish television in the United States that cable and satellite providers have special packages created especially for the Hispanic people, which include channels from Mexico such as Telemundo and Univision.
Mexican American Quinces Another tradition of Mexican American families is a quince. “No matter how Americanized a Latina is, chances are she will look forward to her quince. No matter how economically tight her parents might be, they will maintain the tradition” (Figueredo, 2002, p. 152). A quince is the Mexican equivalent to a sweet sixteen party combined with a debutant ball. The quince takes place on a girl’s fifteenth birthday and is very formal. The birthday girl has several female maids and male escorts in her court.
The court makes its grand entrance, and the birthday girl and her father begin to waltz. Soon, the entire court joins in, and once the waltz is complete, the party continues, as would an American sweet sixteen party. Mexican American Religion Religion and prayer are very important to the Mexican American culture. “Approximately 80 percent of the Mexican American population is of the Catholic faith” (Figueredo, 2002, p. 166). Mexican Americans are a very superstitious people, frequently wearing medallions or amulets for protection.
The prevention of illness and unfortunate events is believed to be accomplished with prayer, wearing religious relics, and keeping religious charms in the home. Many homes have shrines for prayer in them; these shrines contain religious statues, pictures of various saints, and prayer candles. The family members gather at these shrines, light the prayer candles and rigorously pray. Mexican American Holidays Holidays are of great significance in the Mexican culture, and many of the holidays celebrated in Mexico are still celebrated by Mexican Americans in the United States.
Semana Santa celebrates the Christian holiday of Easter and runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday. The most essential aspect of this holiday is attending mass on both Good Friday and Easter Sunday. “Live representations of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion take place in many communities…people from the communities assume the roles of Jesus, Virgin Mary, St. Peter, St. John, and many other characters” (Michigan State University, 2008). Cinco de Mayo is celebrated yearly on May 5 and commemorates the defeat of the French army by the Mexicans at The Battle of Puebla in 1862.
“This victory gave the Mexican people pride in their country and the spirit of freedom and is celebrated in various parts of Mexico and in U. S. cities with a significant Mexican American population” (Michigan State University, 2008). The Day of the Dead is a celebration that represents the unity between life and death. On October 31, relatives decorate the gravesite of their loved ones in preparation for the return of their loved one’s soul. They also decorate an altar at their home with photos of the loved one and some of the loved one’s favorite items.
The Feast of Our Lady Guadalupe is a very important religious holiday among Mexican Americans. It is believed that a female appeared to an Indian, outside of Mexico City, and said she was the mother of God. She left an image of herself on his cactus-cloth. “It [the cloth] should have deteriorated in twenty years but shows no sign of decay 477 years later” (Michigan State University, 2008). She has become a prestigious religious figure for Mexican American Catholics, and her holiday is celebrated on December 12 each year by attending a special mass service.
The Christmas holiday season for the Mexican American culture runs from December 16 through February 2 each year and is combined with traditional Christian aspects as well as special Mexican festivities. The first of these is Las Posadas, which is nine consecutive days of candlelight processions and parties. Neighborhood families gather to reenact the holy family’s night in Bethlehem. The breaking of the pinata is a very important aspect of this holiday. The second of these is Noche Buena, which is the peak of holiday festivities, with the celebration of a midnight mass on Christmas Eve.
After the mass, the families enjoy a traditional Christmas supper, common to the United States, of turkey, ham, and other common Christmas dinner items. The family then opens gifts and celebrates with a pinata and sparklers. Christmas Day is traditionally set aside for rest. The final of these celebrations occurs on January 6 and is called Dia de Los Tres Reyes Magos. This day celebrates the arrival of the Wise Men in Bethlehem. Mexican American children wake up to toys and other gifts.
Rosca de Reyes is served on this day, which is a crown-shaped sweet bread decorated with jewel-like candied fruits and a tiny plastic baby hidden inside. Whoever finds the baby in their piece is required to host a party before the Christmas holiday season ends on February 2. Mexican American Foods “Tex-Mex is a term used to describe a regional American cuisine that blends food products available in the United States and the culinary creations of Mexican Americans influenced by the cuisines of Mexico” (Barrios Trevino, 2002, p. 3).
Many dishes such as chili, fajitas, salsa, quesadillas, burritos, and nachos are not true Mexican dishes but were invented in the United States by Mexican Americans. Even dishes cooked here that originated in Mexico, like tacos, are not prepared in the same manner they would be in Mexico. While Mexican American Tex-Mex dishes are cooked to be hot, topped with tons of cheese, and served in large portions, true Mexican dishes are exactly the opposite. Therefore, Mexican Americans coined their own style of cooking and created some of the United States most loved dishes.
Mexican American Education and Employment Unfortunately, the graduation rates for Mexican Americans are very low. The language barrier between the Mexican American culture and the English speaking population of the United States combined with the obligation on many Mexican Americans to work to help support family in Mexico no doubt contribute to this. “Only about half, 48. 7 percent, of the Mexican American population complete their high school education, and a mere 15. 4 percent of those students earn at least a bachelor’s degree” (U. S.
Dept of Commerce Bureau of the Census, 2003 p. 5). The majority of Mexican Americans gain employment at blue-collar jobs such as construction or in the restaurant industry. Many Mexican Americans come to the United States illegally, which causes them to look for employment with employers who will look past their status. Being here illegally or working a blue-collar job means that most Mexican Americans must settle for low wages of minimum wage or slightly higher. Similarities Between the Two Cultures Conducting this research led to the surprising discovery of several similarities.
Both cultures desire to remain close to their families, both immediate and extended, by not only seeing each other often but also buy having parties and get-togethers. Both cultures rely greatly on the elderly members of their culture for their knowledge and advice and treat them with the utmost respect and endearment. While the actual proceedings of the funeral are quite different, the cultures are the same in that they see death as a new beginning and, therefore, a cause for celebration. Both cultures are also proud of their heritage.
This can be seen in everything from their celebratory traditions during certain holidays to giving their children names, which are unique to their culture. Another similarity is the strong part religion and prayer play in the lives of the members of each culture. In both cultures, prayer is believed to provide comfort and protection. Finally, the most disheartening theme which is common among both cultures is the high dropout rate among high school students and the fact that most members of each culture are employed in low paying positions either due to a lack of education or opportunity.
Differences Among the Two Cultures As suspected, the research also led to the discovery of many differences among the cultures as well. As previously mentioned, the burial process of a loved one is quite different among the cultures. African Americans tend to have elaborate, celebratory services honoring the life of their loved one and invite all friends and family members to the burial service. The body is usually sent to a funeral home for preparation and burial. Mexican Americans, on the other hand, keep the body in their home and invite friends and family to pay their respects during a wake.
The body is initially prepared by the family for the wake, and only family members attend the actual burial. Although African American families work hard to keep their families close, only their immediate family lives in the home with them unless circumstances cause otherwise, while Mexican Americans quite often live in a home with many relatives of both their immediate and extended family. Their religions and religious practices are also very different. Most all African Americans are of a Protestant denomination, while most all Mexican Americans are Catholic.
The Catholic services of Mexican Americans tend to be very quiet and solemn, while African American services are very loud, emotional affairs, with frequent shouts of praise and singing. Shrines are also very important to Mexican American prayer, while African Americans choose to pray almost anywhere. They do not feel the need to pray at a particular place or around particular items. Another major difference is in the types of foods each culture consumes. African Americans tend to eat a lot of vegetables and fried foods, heavy in salt.
Mexican Americans, however, eat meals, which include a lot of meat and tortillas with very few vegetables, which include tomatoes, onions, and hot peppers. Applying the Project to the Classroom Recognizing the characteristics of each culture, along with the similarities and differences in each culture, will assist one in overcoming cultural barriers and biases. The information in this project will prove to be very useful inside a classroom. It could be used in several ways, the first being to teach students about each culture. The second way would be to teach students how the cultures are alike or different.
The final way would help students compare the cultures to their own. One way this information could be applied is by teaching students about a holiday unique to one of the cultures. For example, on or close to December 16, the teacher could ask the students to come to school dressed as a character from the nativity story such as an angel, a Wise Man, or a shepherd. Then, after studying about Las Posadas and even having a Mexican American student tell a story about the holiday if possible, the students could parade up and down the hallways of the school and end their festivities by taking turns trying to break a pinata.
Another way this information could be applied is to have the children write a story about a family celebration or gathering and then having each student read their story aloud. By doing this, each child will have the opportunity to see similarities and differences between each cultural group represented in the classroom. This would also help minority groups such as African Americans and Mexican Americans identify with majority students and move toward forming bonds. A final way this information could be applied is by studying the foods eaten by both cultures.
The teacher could read a story about the foods of both cultures and explain the origins of each culture’s foods. During this lesson, the students should sample various foods from both cultures. By doing this, the students will not only be learning about another culture and receiving the opportunity to try something new but will also most likely discover that they have already had many of the foods from both cultures but were unaware of it. Each culture has aspects, which are unique only to that culture. However, both cultures also have aspects, which can be related to one’s own culture.
In any event, both cultures are uniquely beautiful and contribute to the United States society and culture as a whole and should therefore not only be respected but also treasured. In its own way, each culture, combined with all of the other cultures of the United States people make our nation the greatly extraordinary country that it is. ? References Barrios Trevino, D. (2002). Los Barrios family cookbook: Tex-Mex recipes from the heart of San Antonio. New York, NY: Villard Books. (Primary Source) Coulmas, F. (2005). Sociolinguistics: The study of speakers’ choices.
Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press. (Secondary Source) Diaz-Stevens, A. M. & Stevens Arroyo, A. M. (1998). Recognizing the Latino resurgence in U. S. religion. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. (Secondary Source) DuBois, W. E. B. (2005). The souls of black folk. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster. (Primary Source) Figueredo, D. H. (2002). The complete idiot’s guide to Latino history and culture. New York, NY: Alpha Books. (Secondary Source) McBride, J (2007, April). Hip hop planet. National Geographic, 211(4), 100-118. (Secondary Source)
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