Mexican and American: The challenges of belonging to two cultures

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Fourteen years ago, Maria del Rosario Jasso from Coahuila, Mexico, realized her dream of moving to the United States with her husband and son. The couple had three more children after moving to the states and had to face an unexpected challenge: teaching their children Spanish and Mexican culture while residing in the United States.

Mexicans are the largest group of immigrants in the United States. Mexican immigrants to the U.S. added up to 11.4 million in 2008 (30.1 percent of the immigrants in the country), which meant about 10 percent of the Mexicans in the world, according to migrationpolicy.org.

“The main definition of American is if you were born in the United States, but now people can have dual citizenship and vote in both countries,” said Jacob Rugh, a professor of sociology at BYU who specializes in Latin American studies.

In Utah, 87.1 percent of children with immigrant parents were U.S. citizens in 2009, according to data from the Urban Institute.

The children of these immigrants can have dual citizenship and belong to two cultures. They were born in the United States, can vote in elections, and go to school where they learn American history and geography; but their heritage and ethnicity is still Mexican. They are part of a group called Mexican Americans. These children might face some challenges in living and integrating in both cultures.

“I know from some studies that people are judged by both the receiving country culture and also the home country culture, and people expect them to assimilate into both cultures,” Rugh said.

The movie “Selena” (1997), directed by Gregory Nava, portrays the story of a Mexican American singer who reached fame and success in in the United States and Latin America. It depicts some of the challenges Mexican Americans face including that Mexicans expect them to speak Spanish perfectly and know all about Mexico, while Americans expect them to speak English just as well and know all about the United States. In the movie, being a Mexican American is described as “exhausting.”

Because some immigrant parents do not speak English, their children have to take care of phone calls, people who come to the door and other tasks requiring an english speaker.

“Many children have to take a parent role, and they may sometimes know more information than their parents,” Rugh said.

Jasso said her two younger sons who still live with her find some aspects of being Mexican easy, but others increasingly hard.

“They don’t want to wear Mexican clothes and listen to Mexican songs, but they love tacos and other Mexican dishes,” she said.

David Jasso, Maria Jasso’s youngest son who is nine, said most of his friends are Americans but he feels comfortable speaking both languages. He also said he considers himself to be American because he was born here, albeit a different kind of American because of his strong connection with the Mexican culture.

The Jasso family has visited Mexico recently, but the children do not view the country in a positive light.

“There were too many dogs on the street,” said Brandon Jasso, who is 11 and attends Franklin Elementary School in Provo.

Not many Mexican Americans have the same opportunity to visit the country their parents are from, making them unaware of cultural aspects such as expressions and songs.

“Many of the Mexican Americans don’t have connections with Mexico except for the language and food, so when I make cultural jokes, they don’t understand,” said Alejandra Bradford, a Mexican from Guanajuato, Mexico, who moved to the United States to go to BYU, married an American and will have Mexican-American children.

Bradford said she and her husband will work hard to help their children love Mexico and be part of its culture.

“Me and my husband love Mexico, and we will visit it a lot so my children will feel more connected with it,” she said.

Brandon and David Jasso plan to live in the United States all their lives; that would help them avoid a problem Mexican Americans face if they go back to Mexico.

“I have read about some families who had to go back to Mexico because of the economic recession, and the Mexican American children didn’t really have an identity in Mexico,” Rugh said. “We can’t follow up to what is happening to them now, but I bet it is different going to Mexico because in here they can do karate and get trophies and in there the school system is different, so it presents challenges in a global society.”

Whether in Mexico or the United States, Mexican Americans continue to face challenges. The future will show how well the Mexican culture will blend with the American one.

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