The Culture Conflict

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The thought of enjoying a pork-fat laden Cuban toast with a strong cafecito while feeling the wind of a rotary fan as it pushes humid air in my face makes me smile with nostalgia from my Miami-upbringing. I consistently tell stories to my wife from my adventures in Nicaragua, where I used to spend my summers chasing chickens, helping the local grocer with her shop, and climbing trees so I could fill my stomach with mangos. The beats from Caribbean music coming from my headphones get my legs tapping even in the stuffiest of environments and I long for the chance to show Isabella how amazing it is for a whole village to gather together to celebrate a single holiday with tons of traditions, food, and conversations.

But as I further venture into fatherhood and my daughter begins to act and behave more and more like a miniature adult, I am beginning to question whether the culture and Hispanic identity I’ve always identified with is something I want my daughter to also have. My wife has Iberian and Brazilian cultures to share with her as well, do we just assume that raising her in a mixture of all these cultures will give her a great basis for her future? What I’ve realized is that it’s important for me to not be blinded by the potential shortfalls of our cultures, often hidden through the aspects of culture that we don’t see and can sometimes be the cause of internal conflict, particularly for those in first and second generation households making the jump from executing generational ideologies that were passed down to us from our Latin upbringings into a new multi-ethnic and diverse country.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of my roots and my ethnicity, but I feel like it’s not necessarily my responsibility to pass on everything back to my child– instead, I have to be cognizant in exposing her to a culture that is better positioned for her to succeed in a multicultural environment where she will be among people from all walks of life and have many differences. I want her to be able to make decisions for herself and not based on an expectation that can come from an underlying component of cultural identity. The parts of the culture that we see are external- those are the parts we tend to love: the food, the festivals, the music, and games.  But the parts we don’t see are our beliefs, values & thought patterns, which are internal, implicitly & unconsciously learned, and difficult to change.

The best way to illustrate this is the concept is the Iceberg Culture. It’s typically used in volunteer programs such as the Peace Corps as part of topics on cultural integration and developing programs with potential cultural-resistance. The Cultural Iceberg showcases the variety of schemes that are difficult to see as the heavy, larger, and less visible part of the iceberg:

Just based on this list, I am already very much in a different alignment with ideals that were passed down to me. I have issues with ideologies surrounding gender roles, family roles, religion, conceptions of beauty, etc. that I feel like have been areas of opportunity and self-growth for me, and I don’t necessarily want to pass down the raw generational-version of these items. It’s important that we constantly grow, and in doing so it means that we may have to recognize parts of our life that we do not want to carry on for either ourselves or our kids. I was raised in what I felt was an amazing environment because of what I could see with my culture, but internally it was also very much traditional, hyper-masculine (machismo), collectivistic, and in many ways very constraining to the concept of “self” and my ability to truly be myself.

The challenge with this is that these items are out of awareness and are passed through observed behavior, expectations, and communication. This means that if I am to show my daughter a difference in upbringing, I cannot behave, expect or speak the same way as what experienced in my childhood from my own upbringing. She needs to see that a household needs to be divided equally, that a father’s role is not just to provide financially, that we need to be open to let in people that are different to us, and that she’s not responsible for holding on to aspects of her life that she does not agree with. I want her to be okay expressing her emotions, decide what her own concept of beauty will be, and be happy with her own self, regardless of how different it may be from our cultural “norm”. As for me, understanding all aspects of my culture will allow me to deeper understand and appreciate the aspects of my identity that I can be immensely proud of.

In short, we’ll show her the aspects of our cultures that we love. We’ll travel and expose her to other cultures we are inspired by. We hope she’ll learn from a diverse group of friends. But ultimately, we hope she is able to feel a connection to a culture that is her own– one that she is free to explore and modify as she grows and understands her true self.

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