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Community and Culture


Cultural Awareness in Our Society

— Victor Velazquez, Jr. Senior Project at Forks High School in 1997

ThriftymartImagine for a moment, that you were submerged into a society where nobody spoke your native language. In this new community you were constantly teased, harassed, and tormented because of your cultural background. The community ends up changing you to abide in this new society, in which you lose your culture, heritage, and perhaps your identity. Most people in small communities do not realize that one racial slur to a minority can often be the cause of aggressive behavior against the offender.

Racism is strong today and is constantly increasing the more diverse our nation becomes. "According to the US Bureau of the Census, the resident population of the United States..267,178,523." They continue to say "An immigrant increases the United States' population every 40 seconds" (US Census Bureau), which is basic proof that our nation becomes more diverse each day. With more minorities coming in, racism increases, which damages immigrants badly, and pushes them to assimilate into the mainstream culture and deny their heritage. This action seems extreme, but it does happen every day, possibly due to the lack of cultural awareness.

Cultural awareness is composed of a variety of constituents. The first would be how cultural awareness in a diverse community affects everyone. That would be followed by the fact that within our community, people need to accept each other for who they are. Another aspect of cultural awareness is that the education of each other's culture helps with people accept each other.

There are different degrees to how Hispanics handle their transition of living in a foreign society. Some Hispanics in today's predominant society try to educate the community about their culture, but frequently there are Hispanics who assimilate into the mainstream. There are also Hispanics who are not active in educating their community about their culture, and don't assimilate either. Then there are the Hispanics who are active in their culture by participating in traditional customs to maintain their identity.

Some of these traditional customs are Cinco de Mayo and Diez y Seis de Septiembre (5th of May and 16th of September). One of the most important aspects of cultural awareness is that when others become more culturally aware and learn about each other's culture, they become more open to each other's beliefs, consequently reducing racism.

Being culturally aware is not an easy task, and is more easily said than done. Being culturally aware has many degrees. You can be culturally aware up to a point where you allow someone their right to practice traditional customs, or you can be so culturally aware that you know how to communicate effectively with various people from many different backgrounds. Someone's culture is the history of how their ancestors lived their lives.

Some people's cultures are very different from the Anglo-American culture that is seen in today's society. It is hard for some people to admit that they are not culturally aware. Our nation consists of a variety of different races, which makes it very diverse. This nation is constructed so greatly that immigrants come from all places of the world to live in this diverse country. Our nation should be proud of itself for all of its fine qualities, which lure immigrants from all over the world to live amongst us.

Cultural awareness does affect everyone in society in some manner, good or bad. Most people can think of a minority that they work with or knew from school. For a moment, think of our nation populated only by Anglos and no minorities. It seems that most of us take our diverse society for granted. There are people in our communities, who walk on our streets and maintain pride in their heritage.

Aztec Dancing in MexicoMost of the people in this nation are born US citizens and most of their parents were born US citizens as well, but everyone except Native Americans, from some point in their family line, migrated here. From the countries of Europe, the United States has been populated with people who have different cultural backgrounds. Every resident in our society has a culture that they should be proud of. If someone has Spanish, Irish, or Scottish blood in them, or even all three, people do have a line of a foreign identity. It is in a diverse community, such as ours, that we can be proud of our heritage and show it!

Cultural awareness is a needed thing in today's predominant society. "We need to have a cultural awareness class in our schools to achieve peace with one another." (Rodriguez, Interview). Though absolute peace within our communities seems rather far fetched, it is something to look forward to. Ramon Rodriguez continues to say "We need to secure the future of our children's children, by allowing them to be acceptant of each other." Being acceptant to other's beliefs is a large part of being culturally aware.

In the community that we live in, it is essential that people need to make an immense effort to accept each other for who they are. This not only happens with Hispanics, but with everyone in society. Each person is their own unique self, and some people in our society will not accept others because they are different. This often happens to people of different sexual preference, overweight individuals, minorities, etc. When someone doesn't accept a Hispanic for who they are and deny them, it is a practice of racial discrimination. In the Webster's New World Dictionary, it states that the definition of racism is "the practice of racial discrimination" (805). Even though it may sound extreme, if we see people of a different race and don't accept them for who they are, then we are being racist.

Acceptance in our community is strongly needed, and really is not an easy thing to do. If someone doesn't share another's opinion on certain issues they will disagree and argue their point. If, after they debate, each of them maintains their original opinion, they might not accept each other for what they believe in. It's quite simple to not accept someone for little reasons, for we all do it to a certain extent. It should still be an effort, however, to accept everyone in our community for who they are, not whom we want them to be, regardless of race, gender, religion, or personal beliefs.

Educating each other about their own heritage helps minorities with tolerance of racism. It is selfish of a minority to expect the predominant society to learn all about them to become culturally aware. It is imperative that many of the minorities living in our society make an effort to educate others about their culture. Just being around individuals of a different race will make people more culturally aware. In the article Border Culture by Ricardo Chavira it states "Some might be touched by the border only because they work Americans or employ a Mexican. But inevitably, bits and pieces of the culture rub off -- exposure to another language or lifestyle, a sketchy knowledge of history of another country, a familiarity with its holidays and traditions" (Chavira, 1983 pg. 398). Learning bits and pieces of knowledge about a minority's culture, makes people more culturally aware, regardless of how much they already think they knew about that culture.

There are several ways that people can educate each other about their culture. Being expressive in your beliefs and ways of being raised, you naturally show others how your lifestyle is. This is referred to as being active in your culture. There are many people all over the world that shut themselves out when they hear about culture. There will always be those kinds of people everywhere, who discourage people from sharing each other's heritage. However, there are those minorities who aren't discouraged to present their heritage to the community.

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It is very hard for some minorities to actually assemble a way to educate our community. There are many obstacles to overcome, along with hard work, to organize a traditional presentation that will be accepted by the community. They really put all of their effort into trying to be appreciated for what they do and who they are.

Sadly enough, there is an immense population of minorities who completely assimilate into the mainstream culture. Hispanics in every part of the United States suffer discrimination and racism to a certain extent. To avoid this from happening on a daily basis, some Hispanics deny their heritage and become "Americans," not Hispanics. Even some Hispanics in the Forks community deny being Mexicans, because they want to be "Americans" to avoid discrimination. All immigrants have to assimilate to a certain extent. To adapt to our society, minorities must submerge themselves into society to learn the ways that they must abide by.

The Hispanics who deny their heritage and assimilate into the mainstream culture normally do so because of constant racist experiences. The fear of not being accepted for who they are is also a cause of people assimilating. The problem with assimilation is that it allows people to deny and forget their native roots. Within their second generation, their kids are United States citizens. However, the question will be raised about their family line someday. The curiosity of their heritage could lead to a time of depression, denial, and guilt for the assimilators and their family. Many of the Hispanic families who have moved to Forks, and many minorities who migrate to this nation, do so because they want their children to be happy. Some parents encourage their children to assimilate so they won't go through the racism that they went through.

Assimilation is something that no one should be proud of. Even the most racially bias people agree that denying your true heritage is not a good thing. One of the worst consequences of assimilation is the loss of their native language. Being enrolled in the school systems in our society allow Hispanic children to receive an education. Using helpful assistance programs such as ESL (English as a Second Language), they allow people to maintain their native language, while learning English at a quick pace. Without those kinds of programs, assimilators will learn English in their own ways, but will normally forget their native language. These upsetting facts are what makes assimilation a bad thing. To put it bluntly, Hispanics who assimilate into the mainstream culture often lose their cultural identity.

There are also some Hispanics who aren't active in educating their community about their culture, and don't assimilate either. This group is made up of Hispanics who live in our society and have little or no contact with the mainstream culture. They avoid adapting to society and live in their own traditional ways. With very little or no interaction with society, they have little or no interest in changing the mainstream, the world, or society. They just pass their lives living the older, traditional ways.

This can be good and bad at the same time. It is good to maintain your culture and your older traditions. However, it is bad to live in a society where you seclude yourself without the tools to survive on your own. These Hispanics are usually a small population who do not choose to learn English because they believe that they can live their life without it, or they just think it's too hard to learn.

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This small Hispanic population is proof that little assimilation should be necessary for immigrants to undertake. However in small communities if the minority population is low, then discrimination will definitely occur. That is normally when complete assimilation or total rejection occurs. These people believe that they will live just fine without functioning with society. With a few bilingual translators in their community, they feel that learning English isn't necessary. There is an immense population of Hispanics in the United States who lose their culture and identity. This mostly occurs because they do not participate in the traditional customs of their culture. Once a Hispanic has immigrated to a foreign society, there are an abundance of changes that they have to undertake. For whatever reason they came, they need to adapt to the customs practiced here. However, there are many Hispanics who are active in their culture by participating in their traditional customs. Every chance that some Hispanics get, they sing and dance to maintain their identity. Heritage is quickly and easily lost if minorities are submerged into a foreign society where they must learn the new ways that they must adapt to. It is essential that the minorities who wish to stay intact with their heritage be given a chance to practice traditional customs without being condemned for it.

Given the opportunity to sing or dance at a traditional celebration is a great privilege that most Hispanics get, even though there are a number of Hispanics who turn it down immediately. Reasoning for them to refuse to be a part of the celebration could be that some are afraid of being laughed at by their friends from the mainstream culture.

There are many celebrations that a Hispanic can participate in to maintain their culture. Some traditional customs are Cinco de Mayo, Diez y Sies de Septiembre, and El Doce de Deciembre. Cinco de Mayo is the holiday that most of the Hispanics in the United States recognize. In most places in Mexico they don't even celebrate it there, for fundamentally it has very little meaning. Here in United States however, Hispanic communities all over the nation come together in unity to celebrate their holiday with pride.

Cinco de Mayo is commonly mistaken for Mexico's Independence Day, which it really isn't. Cinco de Mayo is the battle that Mexico fought and won on the 5th of May. The battle was fought with ill-equipped, starving, and poor Mexican farmers who fought for their freedom against the strongest nation in the world at that time, France. Under Napoleon III, the French invaded Mexico by the command of General Zaragoza, outnumbering them 3 to 1. Mexico fought for freedom and defeated the French under the organization of Benito Juarez, the 1st president of Mexico. This event showed the rest of the world, the power that Mexico could wield.

Cinco de Mayo is an opportunity that the Hispanic community embraces once a year to undergo the education of the dominant culture with food, dances, and fun. We live in a small community where many people are not usually acceptant of learning about other people's culture.

Just like on the 4th of July in the United States, Mexico celebrates it's Independence Day with pride. "Mexico, like the United States, has a great celebration on it's Independence Day. On September 16, 1810, the people began their fight for freedom from Spain." (Ross, 1964 pg. 130). This holiday is definitely celebrated by Hispanics in the United States and the whole population of Mexico. Just as the 4th of July is celebrated with fireworks and pride within our nation here in the Unites States, Mexico is just the same with their independence day. Mexico's independence day is not recognized as much as Cinco de Mayo in the United States, which seems odd to many Hispanics.

The 12th of December is a holiday that is rather religious, but is practiced by most of the Hispanics around the world. Since approximately ninety-eight percent of Mexico is Roman Catholic, most of Mexico celebrates this holiday. Many Hispanics celebrate this holiday and in the work system there is often compromise. "American and Mexican co-workers find that the key to success, is compromise. Each 12th of December, when Mexico honors the Virgin of Guadalupe, the boss shuts down production to throw a party for workers and their families" (Miller 1992).

Many Anglo-Americans recognize the celebrations of the holidays that Hispanic people celebrate. In the school systems the Anglo community normally allows the education of Cinco de Mayo. One of the most commonly accepted Hispanic holiday in the United States is, celebrated even in our community each year. This is one of the great chances that the Hispanic community has to educate others who are interested about learning the culture of Mexico. During the celebrations each year we try to serve authentic Mexican food, and perform traditional folkloric dances.

These are important holidays for the Hispanics in North America. Just as it would seem unthinkable to skip Thanksgiving, 4th of July, or Christmas; it seems hard for Hispanics to not be able to celebrate their holidays. Hispanics who don't assimilate dramatically into the mainstream culture celebrate these meaningful holidays.

When others become more culturally aware and learn about each others culture they become more open to each others beliefs, consequently, reducing racism. Even as people read this paper, they become more culturally aware. Little by little we learn about other peoples culture if we keep ourselves open to learn about it. Understanding someone's culture allows you to be open to their beliefs, not necessarily agree with them, but accept them.

Racism does occur around us frequently; though many do not really notice it. An immense population of people who say derogatory comments, amazingly, are not aware that they are being racist. Most racial slurs are said by people who were raised by culturally unaware parents. Once a person learns about someone else's culture they are less likely to make a racially prejudice comment about the culture they just learned.

Racist individuals aren't born that way. They were raised with a closed mind and have not been taught to be open to people's beliefs. However, most people who actually keep an open mind about other cultures learn plenty, and are usually more acceptant of the people around them.

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In small communities many people ask questions to themselves about minorities. Kyle, of Forks High School, questions "Why do so many immigrants come to this community" and "Why don't non-English speaking Hispanics learn English?" (Kyle, Interview). People from many small communities will often wonder about the minorities in prejudice ways, until they become more culturally aware. Hjelmeseth continues to comment, "I now feel culturally aware because I communicate with many people with different cultural backgrounds" (Kyle, Interview). After some communication with others from a different culture, people are usually not disappointed to have a friend with a different cultural background.

Some people, however, don't allow people to be culturally aware sometimes. In the one-act play "Los Vendidos" (sellouts), written by Luis M. Valdez, Valdez dramatizes an example of not keeping an open mind about culture. In the one-act play, a salesperson tries to sell a robot to an Anglo-American. In the play, the American does not want anything cultural about the robot.

Secretary: Does he speak English?
Salesman: Well, no, but...
Secretary: No!
Salesman: He has other features.
Secretary: NO! He just won't do!

Throughout Valdez's piece, he makes fun of American and Mexican culture. He attempts to show the ignorance of people who are close-minded.

The construction of our United States Constitution is on the basis of our nation being a democracy. It is that democratic principle that holds us together. People have the right to be themselves. In being ourselves, we allow each of us to remain happy which is the key to peace in our nation. The 1st president of Mexico, Benito Juarez said "El respeto al derecho ajeno es la paz" (Respect to other's rights is the peace) (Barragan, Interview). This is Benito Juarez's most famous quote.

Racism is rather strong, but even though it increases every day, we can make it decrease also. In the daily magazine the Hispanic, it states "Is it racism, or are Latinos merely up against ignorance? In either case, reeducation seems necessary..." (March 1997, pg. 50). Education is important for the youths of today and tomorrow. We should educate them about different cultures as much as we teach them about Science and Math.

We live in such a diverse community that I can say how proud I am to be a Hispanic American. In the Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia, it states that "The Spanish-speaking citizens of the United States who were incorporated into the country as a result of the Mexican War are called Mexican Americans. . . . and immigrants from Central and South America, taken together these people are called Hispanics, or Latinos." Regardless of what the United States stole from Mexico during the Mexican-American War, I love the United States. It allows my people, the Hispanics, to come into a beautiful country where they can live. They can reside here and work, get an education, and live in harmony amongst other cultures.

Cultural awareness in the dominant community is a complex thing. It is very difficult for many people to put trust into the community, to allow us the minority, to educate our fellow community members about our culture. If this can happen, then we should be able to accept each other and respect each other's rights. This, in Benito Juarez's words, is peace. Our community in peace someday? What a wonderful thought that I really believe in. It is only a dream to most people, but I see our diverse nation in happiness and unison someday soon.

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Works Cited

  • Chavira, Ricardo, Miller Marjorie. "A Unique Culture Grows in the Desert" San Diego Union 398 (1983).
  • Esparaza, Elia. Tragic Comedies. Hispanic March 1997 pg. 50
  • "Hispanic Americans". Compton's Interactive Encyclopedia 1995 Compton's NewMedia, Inc.
  • Hjelmeseth, Kyle. Personal Interview. 17 April 1997.
  • Miller, Marjorie. "A Clash of Corporate Cultures" LA Times 15 August 1992 Column One.
  • Ross, Patricia. Mexico. Sacramento; California State Department of Education, 1964.
  • "Racism". Webster's New World Large Print Dictionary: Simon and Schuster, Inc. 1989.
  • Rodriguez, Ramon. Personal Interview. 1 May 1997.
  • Valdez, Luis. "Los Vendidos" Rereading America Second Edition: BedfordBooks of St. Martin's Press 1992.

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