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De Parte del Maestro
By Josh Flores

Know your roots
As an educator, I am fortunate to be able to entertain classroom discussions related to a number of different topics.  Among my favorite are those centered on culture and history. 

Cultural awareness and knowledge of history are two crucial factors in insuring that you are a well-rounded person.  Often overlooked is true knowledge of ones own culture and personal/familia history.  Generally, people are aware of their ethnicity, be it German, Mexican, Lebanese, Korean, Nicaraguan, and so forth. 

Yet many lack an in-depth understanding of what fruits being of your particular ethnic background yield.  If you are Mexican, where is your family from in México? Tienes sangre indígena?  If so, what kind yaqui, azteca, maya, mixteca, olmeca, tolteca?  These same types of questions are universally important regardless of your ethnic background. 

One thing that I have noted as a teacher is that when discussions about ethnicity are occurring, many young people are relatively unaware of what it means to possess the ethnic background that they do.  Of course, I am not saying that all young people are ignorant of their cultura, but we can all learn more. 

So why do many young people lack a deep sense of Culture?  I have a few theories. 

First, I teach in a school where the majority of Latinos are third and fourth generation U.S. citizens.  Meaning, it was their grandparents or great grandparents that first came to the United States. What does that have to do with knowing your cultural history?  Simply put, it means everything.  When mexicanos first migrated to this part of the country it was primarily in search of work that was driven by the automotive industry, the railroad, construction, or perhaps they were migrantes passing through in the planting-thru-harvest seasons and they saw better opportunities para sus familias

Whatever the reason they came here, they quickly found themselves in an environment that required them to assimilate, adapt to an unfamiliar environment—in order to fit in and ultimately survive.  This assimilation meant that they had to speak English, learn the social traditions and norms, and essentially sacrifice some of who they were.  I have heard countless stories of familias that truly lived double lives, one para la casa and one outside of it.  This often meant no Spanish outside of the home.

This type of environment can easily lead to a sense of shame for not being of the majority culture.  I know from my personal experience that mi padre, who was born in México, faced immediate persecution upon entering the U.S. school system because he did not speak English. 

This type of experience can result in deep wounds that many people never recover from.  As a result, parents will often try to shelter their children from enduring similar experiences and perhaps the only way they know how to do this is by not fully educating them about their history, language, and culture.  Thus, some sense of their culture is lost in the next generation.

Another related theory is rooted in language itself.  Language is a huge component of culture, and without it, it is very difficult to have a true understanding of that culture.  Personally, I experienced some of this growing up.  My first language was English.  Mi padre, who raised my siblings and I as a single father, spoke primarily English in our home growing up.  However, I was exposed to Spanish through mis abuelos, and other family members, who played a large part in my upbringing. 

I made it my mission to become fluent after beginning my study of Spanish as a freshman in high school.  I was able to accomplish this after a number of years throughout high school and college studying the language.  Yet, this is often not the norm.  I have a number of friends, whose parents did the same with them and they are unable to speak the language. 

As a Spanish teacher, I see the importance of reversing this trend and stressing the importance of learning ones native language. 

Despite not having Spanish as my first idioma, I was able to develop a very strong sense of cultural identity through family interactions, particularly with mi abuelita.  This is what I am encouraging all of you to do if you aren’t already doing so. 

Genealogy: Preserving family history
Here is an idea that I have pondered for a number of years. Sit down with the eldest member of your family and interview him/her. Use a tape recorder, video camera, or both, to document the experience. Take notes and ask them to gather as many family photographs as possible. Write down a number of questions that you want to ask; create somewhat of a script.  Here are some preguntas that I suggest. 

Who was the first in the family to come to the United States?  When did this happen?  Why did they come here?  Where did they settle first?  Why? What were your parents’, grandparents’, great grandparents’ full names?  Ask them to go back as far as they remember and be sure to get both last names—in the Spanish-speaking countries (over 20), Latinos use both the father’s last name first, followed by the mother’s maiden name. My daughter, for example, would be Paula Alicia Flores Ibarra,…Flores after my last name and Ibarra after her mother’s.   

Ask, what were their occupations?  What were their blood lines, such as Spanish, indigenous, French, African, and so forth?  How did they meet their spouse? Be sure to also include questions about family traditions and other family items. 

Then, put it all together and create a family history album that includes pictures and your family’s story—this is also a tremendous account to take to a family reunion as there will undoubtedly be people there that can add to its history.

If you do this, you will be doing a great service at preserving your culture/family history for future generations, as well as gaining true enlightenment into tus raices (your roots). 

I recently thought I was going to lose mi abuelita; thankfully it was not her time and it reminded me that I had wanted to do this for my family for some time.  Mi abuela is the last of her siblings and life is unpredictable so I also almost waited too long to do this. 

I hope that your research is fruitful and fulfilling.  

I would love to hear from you about my column; please send me feedback or let me know if there is something you would like me to write about.  You can e-mail me at [email protected]. ¡Gracias por tu apoyo! ¡Hasta la próxima vez!   






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