Culture Of Origin: How My Family’s Culture Has Influenced My Life

Culture of Origin

Being asked, “Where are you from?”, is a difficult question to answer. I cannot quickly and without hesitation say, “Oh, I’m from Pennsylvania”. Pablo Picasso’s paintings come to mind when I think of what the tapestry of my culture would look like. Like Picasso’s paintings, you could not deny that it is vibrant and diverse in nature, and you would agree that my tapestry is sometimes a challenge to make sense of.

To begin, I was born in Peru.

During the 11 years that I lived there, other cultural heritages began weaving themselves into my tapestry. My mother’s Guatemalan influences began weaving their hues and patterns into my life, while my father’s German heritage began threading its patterns into my tapestry as well. Once we moved back to the United States, I began to become more heavily influenced by Western culture. When my parent’s divorced, the German influences faded out, however, my mother’s Guatemalan color palette and patterns never stopped making its presence shown in my life.

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The Western and Guatemalan influences have continued to be the most prominent feature as my tapestry continues to grow. This culture of origin paper will hopefully explain in part, who I am, where I come from and how my cultural tapestry has shaped me. In summary, I culturally define myself as a Peruvian born, Guatemalan-German-American. Confusing, right?

My father’s name is Joseph John Stence. His father’s name was Leonard Eldridge Stence. Furthermore, my father was born in the small town of Ashland, Oregon in April 1960.

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His parents were missionaries in Peru for over 40 years. The majority of my Father’s growing up years and married life was in Peru and not in the United States. Tracing my father’s genealogical record was much easier than my mother’s. My father comes from a German heritage that nestled themselves in the Pennsylvania Dutch communities after immigrating from Germany as shown on our family tree on Family Search. Through research on the My Heritage website, there is record that our ancestors immigrated from Germany in the mid 1700s. This timeframe coincides with the historical German immigration pattern that happened in the 1700s due to religious tension. My Heritage has records of Henrich Lehman Stentz as the man who immigrated with his family from Germany to begin life in the then New England colonies.

Furthermore, My Heritage shows that when they initially immigrated, their last name was spelled as “Stentz”, which was shortened from the Slavic word, Stanislaw. After three generations of living in the United States, their last name was changed to “Stence”, according to the My Heritage webpage. It is believed that immigrants may have added the ‘t’ in the last name to preserve the pronouncing of their family name. Since then, the last name spelling of “Stence” has continued as that is was my maiden name until I married. Continuing to follow the family tree back on Family Search, I was surprised to find that our genealogy did not end in Germany. I was surprised because I frequently heard from my Father’s side that we immigrated from Germany. However, Family Search shows the very last person that was traced back to in our genealogy was born in Zetzwill, Switzerland in 1618. His name was Hanz Stentz and nothing more is known about him at this time. However, it does make me wonder. Did “we” come from Switzerland, or did Hanzs’ parents move to Switzerland from Germany and then Hanz moved back to Germany?

I believe further research or completing a DNA test could uncover more answers to the ancestral origins of my Father’s side. As far as family stories, I do not really have a lot to tell. My father’s side of the family are much quieter in comparison to my mother’s side. Contrary to my mother’s side, my father’s side has a longer genealogical record but a briefer oral history of family stories. Therefore, this paper will have a stronger focus on how my mother’s culture has influenced my life.

My mother’s name is Sonia Angelica Cantoral. She was born in October 1955 in Guatemala City Guatemala. My Mother and Father met in Donna, Texas and then married a year later in Ohio in 1986. About 10 months later, they moved to Peru with their first born Johanns to be missionaries in Peru for 18 years. The rest of their children were born in Peru (S. Cantoral, personal communication, n.d.). On my Mother’s side, the ancestral origin discussion is much shorter as it is lesser known. I attempted to research our genealogy using my Grandmothers’ and Grandfathers’ last names but did not achieve fruitful results. My grandmother’s name on my mother’s side is Emma Cantoral de Sandoval. She was born in Antigua, Guatemala in September 1926. My grandmother and I speak often, and she usually ends up telling and retelling stories about her past. On her side, the most she was able to give me was information about her grandparents. She told me that her grandfather, Don Juan Siliezar and his wife, Raymunda Siliezar de Arredondo moved from Spain to Guatemala in the mid 1800s. Don Juan was very rich and built a leather goods factory in the capital, Guatemala City. There, they would manufacture all kinds of leather goods such as purses and saddles. However, she said that one day someone set fire to the factory. Her grandfather became so heartbroken that he never reopened the factory again. Her mother, Egidia, grew up very wealthy. She recounted with awe that her mother had 40 pairs of shoes and 40 dresses. She said that they would always get a new dress for a party or for any occasion of celebration. My grandmother has many stories to tell about herself, her mother, and growing up.

In fact, my grandmother wrote a book about her parent’s love story and about herself growing up with her 10 brothers and sisters. My grandma Emma said that her mother, Egidia’s inheritance became forfeited once she married a poor carpenter. However, they loved each other so much that they went against their families wishes and married each other anyways. My grandmother Emma’s husband, Carlos also came from a wealthy family. My grandpa Carlos Cantoral was born in March 1925 in Coban, Guatemala. I call him “Papito”. My Papito’s father owned large coffee plantations in Guatemala. However, Papito’s father, Vicente Cantoral, was a heavy drinker and drank a lot of his fortune away. There are stories that his father would stash all the money they would make in big wooden chests and bury them. Vicente Cantoral died young from alcoholism leaving my 16-year-old Papito to work and help take care of his mother. However, once Papito got to college, he forgot about his family’s inheritance and married my grandmother. He never cared to talk about where he came from and what the status of his unclaimed inheritance was. Whenever the subject was brought up, he would not want to talk about it and would say that he did not care about money.

I was born in April 1992 to my father, Joseph John Stence and to my mother, Sonia Angelica Cantoral de Stence in Chiclayo, Peru. I grew up in a mountain town called Santa Cruz where my parents were missionaries. This town nestled in the foothills of the Andes Mountains was where I spent the first 11 years of my life. This culture became the first ethnic group that I felt I belonged to. However, coupled with my father’s German-American/Western heritage and my mother’s Guatemalan heritage, I began to identify myself with those cultures as well. It wasn’t until I visited the United States that I began to become of aware that there were different ethnic identities. In Peru, people would ask me where I was from and what the United States looks like. They would also comment on my accent. In the United States, people thought my bilingualism was a novelty and asked me to speak Spanish. It was these behaviors from both cultures that allowed me to tangibly see how I identified similarly and differently with them. As an adult, the most important ethnic identity to me became my Guatemalan heritage. At 12 years old, my parents divorced, and I ended up living with my mom and therefore adopted a more collectivistic culture and lifestyle. This is the culture I have come to know the most and have become the most comfortable in. I find a lot of value in this culture because of its value in family structure and its commitment to tradition and respect within the family and community.

My mother’s culture is important to me because it gives me a sense of solidarity and community that fosters belonging and oneness. It’s a deeper sense of belonging than what I have experienced from the Western culture. My father’s and mother’s culture have similar cultural perspectives as they were committed to providing for the family, educating their children and upholding the honor of the family name. These values are consistent with the research on German and Latino family values found by McGoldrick, Giordano and Garcia-Preto. Additionally, both family backgrounds upheld the family honor by keeping the family’s struggles and dark pasts secret, as privacy is valued consistent with the research of McGoldrick et al.. However, there are a few exceptions in how my mother’s Hispanic side lived out these roles. They are different in how they expressed emotions and how they behaved financially. Hispanics pride themselves in being emotionally expressive, something that my father did not understand. My father’s side of the family did not easily express affection and routinely showed emotional restraint. Emotional restraint is characteristic to the cultural practices found within German Heritage. Furthermore, consistent with the German cultural influences, my father was frugal to the point to sacrificing his family’s emotional well-being to provide a better future. In stark contrast, my mother’s side preferred to live in the “moment” and enjoy an ice cream or an outing that hadn’t been budgeted. I grew up very religious and legalistic and therefore grew up with a dichotomous view on gender, sexual orientation and expression.

The three cultures that influenced me growing up continued to also affirm this belief. Therefore, I never questioned my sexuality. If I was born female, was therefore heterosexual. Additionally, I grew up never talking about sex. In both my German and Guatemalan culture, sex was a taboo subject. However, as I grew, I began realizing treating the topic of sex as taboo was not the healthiest way to view sex, gender, and sexual expression. As an adult, I have realized that the taboos of my past were detrimental to the way I viewed and treated others who did not sexually express themselves like I did. I have now realized that there is value in having open minded conversations in safe spaces where questions can be asked, and perspectives can be shared without judgement. I believe these discussions will further educate individuals to make safer and mature choices that will promote healthier relationships.

My family has implicitly shown me the type of man I should marry. This man was to be someone who values family, has a relationship with Christ, works hard, respects his partner, and is valued highly in the community. My Papito really was the one who showed me what kind of husband I would want in the future. He loved my grandma, respected her, and even gave his paycheck to her at the end of every month. He would do this out of love to give her the freedom to handle the finances. Additionally, he was respected in the community, adored his family and deeply valued his spiritual walk with Christ. Lastly, our family is collectivistic in nature and therefore, we all live close to each other. We have never lived more than one hour apart from one another. When someone moves across state lines, a family member follows suite. This happened a few years ago when my grandparents and mom moved to Texas. A few years later, my aunt moved down along with my cousin and her child. It’s been a running joke that my family moves a lot. But in a way, we just migrate, and family members follow. My grandmother immigrated to the United States before my grandfather and children. Papito and her decided to immigrate to the United States because my grandpa was having some health issues. The doctors in Guatemala said that the US had more resources that could help him. My grandmother took the opportunity to come to the US when she saw an Ad in the paper sponsoring foreigners to work as maids and nannies. She landed in Ohio and began working with a family as a nanny. During the day, she worked as a nanny and during the night she took English classes at the local library. In order to better understand her employers, she would look up words in the dictionary to communicate with them. After a few months, my grandfather, my mother and her siblings followed to the United States too. In 1966, my mother arrived in the United States as an 11-year-old in Lenexa, Kansas. Since my mom did not come with a lot of clothes, she remembers her mom making her a dress from a pillowcase. Additionally, my mom remembers having to walk to the local laundry mat, the grocery store and taking the public transportation. Furthermore, my mother also remembers that she and her siblings were the only Hispanic kids in their public elementary school and then later, the only Hispanic kids in a small private college that they enrolled in. Although they did not have much, she remembers their immigration to be a happy time of adventure and contentment being together as a family.

Although my mother and her family have fond memories of Guatemala, they are happy that they live in the United States. My aunt, mom, and uncle quickly adopted a patriotic pride of the United States and believe the United States is the land of the free and the land of opportunity. My grandfather however always wanted Spanish to be spoken within the home. He was very adamant on this. Even later in life he would make sure Spanish was being spoken when family gatherings took place. He would say he did not understand English, but he secretly understood it more than he let on. Interestingly, later on in life, after my grandpa past, my grandma recounted with remorse how my grandpa burned all the pictures of their time in Guatemala before leaving for the United States. Personally, I wonder if it was my grandpa’s way to ending a chapter and starting afresh. After he died, I noticed that she began speaking primarily Spanish as well. I wonder if it was her way on keeping his desires alive or if it was her dementia becoming more pronounced. I wonder when my grandmother passes if my mom or aunt will become a primary Spanish speaker to continue bilingualism within our family. From both family’s heritage, I have noticed that the topic of oppression has not been a focal point in their cultural narrative. However, I believe my mother’s family have experienced oppression in the form ethnocentrism when they immigrated to the United States. Additionally, this oppression has continued to my generation as I have experienced this as well. There has been a linguistic attitude that if you live in the United States, you must speak English. I faced this in the school system where fellow classmates didn’t understand why learning another language was important since this was “America”. Furthermore, I definitely sensed a drive to have a homogenous culture when I felt very clearly heterogenous in cultural identity. Additionally, I have had “white” people have told me that they think I am “cultured”. They would call me this after I talked about my culture or other people’s culture. I gathered that they thought being cultured meant to have a culture that is different than “white” America. These experiences have led me to want to advocate that their “white” or Anglo-European culture is just as vibrant and “cultured” as mine. I have a desire to show people that everyone’s identity is valid and meaningful. I also want to teach my future children the value learning and respecting each other’s similarities and differences.

I firmly believe that people can show you entirely new ways of thinking if you are curious and open to listen to someone who is different from you. I find people from different cultures to be fascinating. When I went to college, I majored in anthropology because I was deeply interested in the concept of culture and how it influenced behavior on a societal level. In some ways, this fascination was fostered by my multicultural heritage. Growing up, my family implicitly taught me to respect others who were different, those who were traveling through, and those who were working hard to seek a better life. The main reason why I seek to learn about other people’s cultures is to find a common ground in which we can bridge the cultural gaps to create a foundation of friendship and collaboration. I believe other cultures view my Hispanic heritage as an outspoken and vibrant group of people. I think people believe we speak loudly, we love to party and are very traditional in our religious beliefs, gender roles and familial structure. In part, those stereotypes have an amount of truth as some of those characteristics are true of me. I am feisty, outspoken and deeply religious. These characteristics can easily be clumped into the stereotypical portrayal of Hispanic woman. Additionally, I believe these characteristics have influenced the type of friends I have. Most of my friends have belonged to minority groups such as African American and Hispanic ethnic groups. Although I have “white” friends, most of my closest and or long-standing friends have been of Hispanic or African American descent.

My multicultural heritage and ethnic diversity in friendships has helped me relate well to people of different cultures. However, I know I do have much more to learn about cultural diversity and awareness. I believe I will best gain this diversity through cultural exposure and respectful conversations that will facilitate cross cultural respect and awareness. Of all my family’s cultural practices, the most important to us are family get togethers. These family get togethers often occur around birthdays, holidays, marriages, deaths, and other life event celebrations. The main conversations are usually held around the kitchen and the living room. Attendance and being hungry at the dinner table are two important factors during meal times. Not eating, for any reason, it is considered very odd. Our mealtime ritual typically begins with a prayer, giving thanks, and then we begin eating. Throughout the meal, everyone will comment how delicious the food tastes and how the cook did a wonderful job.

Lastly, we will always ask everyone a few times if they had enough and expect most everyone to have seconds. Taking a second portion signifies that the food was delicious, and we have eaten our fill. My understanding of this practice is that we are thankful for food as it is a blessing. Additionally, eating together signifies unity as everyone comes home from a hard day or work and if there are conflicts, we put our differences aside and enjoy a delicious meal together. Eating together has also been a perfect environment for sharing stories, history, and jokes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Another cultural practice that is important to me is respect of elders. Respect in my family is shown in different ways. For example, I must greet all my older relatives when I enter a room. If I do not, that is considered disrespectful. Additionally, we are not to speak our minds and speak directly to an older relative. Speaking in a forward manner especially if our view differs from our elder is considered disrespectful. In order to speak with them about our differing view, we must speak in implied terms or in ways that skirt the issue.

Lastly, we must never speak badly of our elders and we must follow our elders wishes. If my grandmother does not want us to wear her version of immodest clothing in her home such as low-cut shirts or short shorts, we take that in mind and dress appropriately when we visit her. This may sound very rule based to some, however, this is a way of life that I have grown accustomed to. Lastly, my grandmother always spoke highly of her mother and tried to follow in her mother’s footsteps of childrearing and homemaking. In turn, my mother speaks highly and looks up to her mother. Consequently, I view and respect my mother and grandmother’s way of parenting and living life. I think this has been an implicit practice imbedded in our culture to look up to our elders and seek to learn from them to in turn improve our current or future family’s culture.

The thoughtful reflection of my family’s cultural heritage has brought light to where my biases lie, and where and how I relate to my own and other people’s culture. Additionally, this reflection has shown some ways my family does culture and how I will do culture with my family. Lastly, this reflection has allowed me to use this knowledge to limit my biases and to better serve a multicultural population in the Social Work profession.

Updated: Feb 02, 2024
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Culture Of Origin: How My Family’s Culture Has Influenced My Life. (2024, Feb 11). Retrieved from

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