Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I've been giving this concept some thought lately. This is partly due to comparing Mexican culture to American culture. One thing I've noticed is how Mexican culture is more family and community oriented, while America tends to breed an independent streak. Look at how we became a nation. It is in our blood.

Hmm, I'm having trouble organizing my thoughts well. Sorry if this comes out a little choppy.

It is interesting to look at how this cultural difference plays out generationally. For example, in America, we encourage and expect young adults to move out on their own. It is often considered a sign of maturity, or a way to attain maturity, if someone in the 18 - mid 20's range moves out of their parents' place into an apartment. In Mexico, on the other hand, it is extremely rare for a single adult to move out of their parents' home, and oftentimes newlyweds continue to live at home for the first couple of years. There's no negative connotation for doing so, but rather is expected.

At the other end of the spectrum, in Mexico it is expected and understood that the elderly will be cared for by family. Widows are supported by their children. I've never seen or heard yet of nursing homes or adult care facilities there. In contrast, many Americans struggle with the issue of how to care for the elderly. Either the elderly person is determined to maintain their accustomed lifestyle for as long as possible, or their children look for ways to provide them care without it having too big an impact on their own lives.

I've been giving thought to both ends of the spectrum in my own life and family lately. My remaining grandmother is 94 years old, and has stubbornly lived alone up to this point. She can hardly entertain the notion of leaving her home, has blocked almost every attempt we've made to offer help (for example, canceling Meals on Wheels within the first 48 hours). She's been in the hospital since Saturday; there's a diagnosis of congestive heart failure. Where walking was slow and difficult for her before, it's dangerous now. We can't send her home to live alone again, but we are equally sure she will protest any other option.

I've been thinking about the changes in my own life recently. A year ago (well, up to a few months ago), I lived alone. I was an elementary school principal. I was very action oriented, a problem solver, decision maker. Now? I live with my family. I am at the bottom of the totem pole at my workplace. I'm soon to move to another country, but the timing of said move is out of my hands. Interestingly, realizing the changes in my position have made me more trusting of my fiance.

I don't know how well all that makes sense to anyone else, but I needed to write it out. I'm curious to understand the cultural difference better as time goes on, and the impact those differences have in people's everyday lives. And I am glad I know the One who is in control of it all.


Anonymous said...

Dear Sheila,
I agree with you that it is in the family blood that keeps one close to family and soon you will learn how that closeness has been a big help to you. Even tho you were away from home for a couple of years, your oneness with family was in you and it shows when you are with family how close you are with them.
It is a heritage that will always be with you and you be able to pass it on to your children in time. Glad you feel the closeness with your family for it is important and will always alert you to the goodness of life that our Lord has shown you Sheila. It is something you willnever lose. Our Lord speaks to those who love His word of the honor that one shows to father and mother.

OTRgirl said...

It's funny to read (is that Papa Joe?) the previous comment. I was just reading in Luke where Jesus says, "Who is my mother...?"

I've thought about that dynamic tension of independence vs family for a long time. Korean culture is very similar in not sending the elderly to nursing homes and having single adult children living with parents. Yet the dark side of that is how dictatorial the 'honor your parents' demand can become.

When I read that line in Luke I realized that Jesus, in a culture much more like Korean or Mexican culture than American, 'rejected' his mother and her authority over him. He's without sin, so there was something more important than 'honor your parents'. Yes he did make sure his widow mother was cared for by John later on, but he also showed the balance that the only one who should be in 'control' of your life is the Father.

Don't know if that makes sense. It's early in the morning for me...

scarp said...

Papa Joe it is.

That's an interesting point you make about Jesus and his mother. Where is that verse in Luke? I remember having wondered about His response, without ever really reaching any conclusions.

I have not yet seen the darker side you mention play out in Mexican culture, but the point you make there reminds me how often the idea of a submissive wife becomes twisted into something it was never meant to be.

All in all, not bad for an early morning comment ;)

Inkling said...

I'm not sure if I can even begin to be articulate here, but I'll try. My comments aren't exactly on the topic you mentioned, but deal more with going from one culture to another. Hope that makes sense.

I think, for where you are going and the kind of change you will soon be making in your life, that you will have many more cultural changes to deal with than I have. Yet with that said, I'd like to let you know one thing that I'm still learning......

Each culture has differences and similarities. You'll love some and dislike some, and some will completely confound you. Learn to accept and find appreciation where you can. And always know that it IS okay and even good that you came from whence you came. Don't ever be ashamed of being an American, though it is perfectly acceptable to say that we haven't always been perfect as a nation. But who has? Be active in learning about your new culture, and learn how to meld it with your own.

I have no idea if you'll ever need what I just wrote, but it just dawned on me today that I needed someone to tell that to me before today. (No one did, and now I'm dealing with emotional aftershock.) Lately, so many around me have made such derogatory comments about where I've come from, and I began to feel like I should apologize for my very heritage. But then I realized that I don't need to do that. It's okay to be glad to have been born in America, despite her faults and foibles. I still don't know how to respond or what to do with those who feel the need to re-educate me and rid me of my American-ness. I'm learning.

But my doctor who is helping me begin to get out of a deep hole I've recently discovered around me, encouraged me by letting me know that my feelings are normal and okay. He said that the first year of living in a new culture is about finding commonality and exploring the newness of it all, living on adrenalin and excitement, so to say. He acknowledged that the second year is tougher in some ways because the differences begin to be highlighted, and those around you no longer offer the grace of "she's new and green and doesn't know anything", but expect you to have assimilated completely.

I have no idea if any of this makes sense, or if it is at all helpful. Basically, I just want you to be okay and to be able to plant really good roots in your new home. And I don't want you to have to deal with the emotional pit I've fallen into unwittingly.

As for taking care of our elders, I have to say that I wish America and Canada had better ways of loving and caring for their elderly, rather than shipping them off to colorless nursing homes. Our independence has hurt us in that aspect, I think.

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