Over the past few decades, America has become a gateway to immigrants belonging to different neighboring countries. As one walks down the street one can easily observe the multi-cultural environment that has arisen due to immigration.
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Where most of the people have immigrated to America in pursuit of the “American Dream” of success, others have been forced into this country as slaves of the natives. In such a multi-cultural environment it becomes pertinent to understand and respect the culture, tradition, lifestyle, rites, and norms of different communities. In this paper, I aim to discuss some of the major characteristics of African American and Mexican American communities. I would also like to shed some light on some of the similarities and differences that may exist between the two cultures.
The reason for my selecting the above-mentioned communities is the fact that people belonging to both communities are found in great abundance in almost all the states of America. At the same time, it is important to mention the fact that many of them have made themselves an important part of American life. Among the prominent ones include Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Eddy Murphy, Halle Barry, Vanessa Williams, Obama, and many more. It, therefore, becomes not only interesting but also important to understand the cultures that such celebrities and the people around us represent.
African Americans or “Afro Americans” or “Blacks” or “Colored People” are the terms used for those Americans whose ancestors have been brought into this land from Africa as slaves. Now after centuries of slavery, these people live as free citizens of America having their share in all walks of life (U.S. Dept. of Commerce, 2004). African Americans have their own traditions and foods. Most of their festivals revolve around food items. It is for this reason African American cooking is most popularly known as “soul food”.
Their foods are rich in fat and other nutrients. However, this lifestyle has made them quite vulnerable to various diseases such as cardiovascular, obesity, hypertension, and diabetes. The majority of the African Americans are Protestants and as such, they have no dietary restrictions. However, some religious groups may have some dietary restrictions such as the Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s witnesses, and others. African Americans give a lot of attention to individual’s favorite dishes.
They have their own festival called “Kwanza” which is being celebrated since 1965 and was created by Dr. Maulana Karenga. The festival is celebrated from December 26th till January 1st. Karamu is another holiday that is celebrated on January 31st. The day is celebrated with a special buffet, dresses, and ceremonies (Ewing, n.d.).
Quilt-making tradition is also a unique feature of this community. Older African American women are experts in the art of quilt making. Quilts of different appliqués and patterns are skillfully made and are often symbolic. Quilts made of patches belonging to the people of different generations are greatly valued. They are also used for record-keeping of different family events. They are often used as charms to protect against evil. A diamond shape is often used in quilt making since this shape is considered symbolic of birth, life, death, and rebirth (African American Quilting Tradition, n.d.).
Belief in the supernatural and magic is another feature of the African American community. The practice of “Conjure” and “Hoodoo” is prominent to mention in this regard. Both are practiced to regain control over the events of life, to punish evildoers, to protect oneself from seen and unseen evil, enemies, or opponents. Many African Americans are still in the habit of practicing these rituals (Chireau, 2003).
Mexican American community comprises 66% of the Hispano-Latino population (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2001). Mexican food is a combination of pre-Columbian, Spanish, French, and American cultures. Mexicans are very fond of consuming corn products, beans, rice, and bread, etc. which is a rich source of carbohydrates. Mexicans are also fond of eating protein diets such as eggs, fish, and shellfish.
At the same time meat such as beef, mutton, poultry, and pork are also consumed with great interest. Deep-fried food rich in fat is also very popular among Mexican Americans. Settlement in the US has brought some healthy changes in Mexican food. The traditional four to five times meal in a day has been brought down to three meals in a day. At the same time, milk and salad consumption has also improved among Mexican Americans. Beans and rice consumption has also gradually declined. Like Afro American community the dietary habits have resulted in several diseases such as cardiovascular, obesity, diabetes, and dental caries. Due to larger meat consumption and fewer low-fat dairy products, Mexican women and children have a high obesity rate (Warrix, n.d.).
Mexican Americans value their families greatly. Nothing is valued before family values. There is a difference in the male and female roles among Hispanics. The father is the head of the family and is responsible for the provision of their food, shelter, and clothing. Women are usually busy with domestic chores such as shopping, cooking, and taking care of children. Family responsibilities are very important and are understood by every member of the family.
Likewise, family relations are given importance over outside relations. Relatives are always there to give financial and emotional support to the other family members. Activities such as birthdays, name days, weddings, and death anniversaries are greatly valued and are dealt with with great responsibility. Where most of the Mexicans are Roman Catholics, Evangelical Protestantism is also rapidly growing and is gaining popularity among the immigrants (Garcia, 1998).
A unique feature of the Mexican American culture is the celebrations associated with the birth of a child. A ritual called “compadrazo” begins with the birth of a child. As the child is born the new parents select a Mexican couple, preferably the ones married within the Catholic Church, to sponsor their child for baptism. It is considered to be of great honor to be selected as the sponsored couple and refusal is only accepted in unavoidable situations.
The selected couple is given the status of godparents and the baptized child is considered to be the godchild by the selected couple (Garcia, 1998). Other religious festivities include the celebration of “Quinceanera” which is celebrated on a girl’s fifteenth birthday. The day is celebrated to accept the girl’s arrival into womanhood. The anniversary of Our Lady of Guadalupe and the festival of La Posadas are also celebrated with religious zeal and enthusiasm (Mexican Americans in the Columbia Basin, n.d.).
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On studying the cultures of the two communities one can find some similarities in the two cultures. Both Mexican Americans and African Americans are found to be deeply rooted in their past. Despite the fact that they have immigrated to the New World, it seems that they are not ready to ignore their roots. For this reason, the traditional festivals and religious ceremonies are celebrated with great enthusiasm which is a symbol of their separate individuality.
The love for food also exists between the two communities. Both communities give special preference to fat-rich deep-fried food. For these reasons, health problems such as cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity, etc. are very prominent among the two communities. Both communities do give importance to their families and we do find grandparents, aunts, and uncles greatly respected in both communities. Despite having such similarities both cultures are quite different and this is one of the reasons that the two cultures have retained their separate identity. Their festivals are different and the ways they are celebrated are also quite different.
Mexican American teenage girls are given lessons for sex, chastity, abstinence, and virginity before they celebrate the festival of “Quinceanera” (Gorski, 2008). Such religious lessons are not found in African American culture. Likewise, the quilting tradition of the African Americans is exclusively theirs and its popularity has forced the postal service to issue quilting pattern stamps in 2006 (United States Postal Service, 2006). Mexicans enjoy spices as compared to moderate African Americans. At the same time, both cultures dress up differently, make hair differently and speak differently which helps an onlooker in their identification.
Reading about the cultures of the two communities helps us to understand the people around us in a better way. I can apply the information that I have gathered from this assignment in the classroom. It has helped me to learn to respect other cultures and help them in preserving their cultural identity. Thus in a multi-cultural environment, it becomes easy to communicate with people of different cultures once we become aware of the similarities and differences that exist between them. Since religion is a sensitive topic it becomes easy to deal with such situations if one is aware of the cultural background of different people.
In conclusion, multi-culturalism helps people to become aware of people other than their own nationalities. For this assignment, I have chosen different websites and some books. I believe the information from the books has been particularly useful in shaping this assignment since it has brought various important issues of both cultures that I could not find on websites. It was interesting to find out about the “compadrazo” and the “Quinceanera” festivals which are quite unique.
Understanding the cultures of Mexican Americans and African Americans has been particularly useful for me since it has given me an insight into both cultures. Personally and professionally I can practically implement the information I have obtained from the research which in the future will definitely help me in respecting and understanding people of the two communities in a much better way. Professionally I would love to work in a multi-cultural environment since it brings forward different ideas and policies practiced in different countries. I believe a multi-cultural environment will also help me to help others retain their cultural identity as well.
Ewing, J. (n.d.). “Cultural Diversity: Eating in America, African Americans”, Ohio State University Extension Factsheet”. Web.
Gorski, E. (2008). “Quinceanera Rituals Divides Catholics”, Fox News. Com. Web.
“The American Community-Blacks-2004”, (2007). U.S. Department of Commerce. Web.
“The Hispanic Population in the United States”, (2001). U.S. Department of Commerce. Web.
“Postal Service Celebrates Quilting Tradition with Quilts of Gee’s Bend Stamps Issued at Largest Annual United States Philatelic Event”, (August 24, 2006). United States Postal Service. Web.
Warrix, M. (n.d.). “Cultural Diversity: Eating in America, Mexican Americans”, Ohio State University Extension Factsheet”. Web.
“African American Quilting Tradition”, (n.d.), A Look at European American Quilting Tradition. Web.
Chireau, Y.P. (2003), “Black Magic: Religion and the African American Conjuring Tradition”, University of California, USA. Pg. 57-60.
Garcia, A.M. (1998). “The Mexican Americans”, Greenwood Press, USA. Pg. 67-77.
“Mexican Americans in the Columbia Basin”, (n.d.). Web.