Latino Culture Of East Los Angeles Sociology Essay
In the movie, My Family, the first thing I notice, is that the setting takes place in East, Los Angeles. This is geographically separate from the rest of the city and is where primarily, Latinos reside. It is set up somewhat as an ethnic enclave, where the culture remains, strong, especially among the first generation individuals that have settled there. We see that because these Latinos have been pushed into this area, that conditions are somewhat deplorable in comparison with what you would expected to see on the west side of the bridges, leading into LA. But you also see a cultural network which includes ways of acquiring, distributing and preparing food; treating the sick; assigning names; ensuring security; relieving tension; raising children; celebrating courtship and marriage and burying the dead, among others (Diversity, Oppression and Social Functioning p.25) This cultural network is where individuals can practice and relish these beliefs, but also acculturate. We learn in Diversity, Oppression and Social Functioning (p.42) that acculturation is, when “an individual is constantly negotiating between cultural norms and values from both the traditional and host cultures in order to obtain their cultural identity.” Many of these individuals have gained a bi-cultural identity and we learn that one of the primary support systems is the family. Diversity, Oppression and Social Functioning explains this best (p. 122)” The most important concept is family and personal relationships. Minority Families in the United States also stresses the importance of the family. “Familism has been considered to be a defining feature of the Mexican-origin population. Family is one of the strongest areas of life.”(P.93)
I believe, that these bridges represented more to people than just a piece of geographic infrastructure. To the Latinos crossing those bridges, not only meant work, that they needed to support their families, but it also meant many others, unsaid and assumed things. The work, first off, was work that the dominant discourse had no desire to do. Primarily service industry jobs, with a low pay level and little room for advancement. We still see examples of this today. We see in the deconstruction of Crossing Arizona, that the pepper farmer, offers more pay and other compensation to all those of the dominant discourse, that need work, but he gets no takers. Crossing the bridge also meant that these people had to acculturate themselves so to navigate successfully in a world where they were looked upon, with some distain. We see that soon, the dominant discourse choose to act on this distain. The example from the film is when we see many Latinos are rounded up, like animals, put on trains and taken deep into Mexico Diversity, Oppression and Social Functioning refers to this treatment as stigmatizing and explains that “people with stigma are viewed as not quite human”. The justification was that the Latinos were taking all the jobs. But we must remember these were jobs that no white wanted. Still those that stayed and worked had to do so with a smile and in a subservient manner, often hiding the deep pain they felt due to the deportation of loved ones. We see that through this countries history, we as the dominant discourse have focused on specific groups (Japanese, Chinese, Europeans to name a few) that we felt threatened by and used this fear, to justify acts of discrimination. Still at this point we see that the U.S. was expanding and we didn’t feel threatened enough to wall our borders to keep these immigrants out. We however see, that this discrimination against Latinos has come full circle today. We think that they are such a threat that we exhaust resources, which equals money, to keep Latinos, primarily Mexicans, out.
This brings me to another point I noticed in the movie. We see in the movie, Jimmy is asked to marry a Latino from Central America, for the purpose of saving her life. He does so and they end up falling in love and, she gets pregnant. Her employers friend, makes the comment that “they are always getting pregnant”, a discriminatory comment based on they way this girl looked. This speaks to two things in my mind. The first is how the dominant discourse takes a very panethnic approach when viewing certain cultures we learn in the article Ethnicity and Panethnicity (p. 2) “That in the United States, there are many examples of newly forged panethnic groups, which include the Latino American. This groups encloses diverse peoples who are never the less seen as homogeneous by outsiders.” To this lady, anyone with this phenotype was Mexican. It also speaks to the qualities, values and stereotypes we place on a person, solely based on appearance. However, despite all this stigmatization because of family support and spirituality of this culture, particularly with the mother, this family remains resilient. Diversity, Oppression and Social Functioning tell us in relation to the above-mentioned spirituality, “Women are seen as spiritually more sensitive than men.” (P.123)
The movie then skips several years and we begin to observe the second and third generation begin to appear. At this time we start to see a whole new set of circumstances evolve. We start to notice; things like the language or native tongue start to decrease. By this I mean that these generations, while still practicing their native tongue and competent in their culture, they use English as their primary means of communication and are becoming “Americanized”. This is unfortunate because we come to an understanding of the importance language plays in a culture.” All aspects of nonmaterial culture are passed from one generation to the next primarily through written and oral exchange. Indeed human language and human culture are intimately linked (Diversity, Oppression and Social Functioning p.21). We see the influence that the media and the consumer American culture are having on some of the family. The games the children are playing (baseball and jump rope) are much different from the scene that takes place early on in the movie, in the small village in Mexico, when the children are creating games and using nothing but companionship and their imaginations, to have fun. We see the young men and the need they feel to have the nicest clothes and the sleekest looking car. The young women are starting to be concerned with things like body image and make-up. American culture, with its emphasis on the individual rather than the family is starting to appear on occasion and we see this when the son makes money for himself to finance this materialistic way of life, by selling drugs. We still see however the emphasis that is still put, on the importance of the family. We see that when the oldest daughter gets married that her spouse is embraced and now considered part of the family. We see this concept of fictive kin throughout the movie. We see that this concept of machismo has changed through how it is interpreted by these young men. Diversity, Oppression and Social Functioning explains it as “power and great responsibility, going to the male head of household.”(p. 122) We begin to see a skewed American view of being macho, exemplified by the male children. This view first comes to light at the wedding, when we see the gang show up and challenge some of the brothers. To be macho to this generation is to be aggressive and dominant, which they believe in turn will demand respect. We see that later in the movie that this in fact does the opposite. We see that it breeds hate and contempt as well as turmoil with in the culture, over miniscule issues or even over nothing at all. It ultimately leads to a knife fight, where one of the brothers ends up being involved in murder.
This, we see, furthers the distain of the dominant discourse, as they continue to marginalize and stereotype all young Latino men as gang bangers and trouble makers, that roam the streets as dangerous, career criminals. We see that a man hunt ensues, an the Barrio is flooded with white police officers on a hunt, with orders that they need to shoot to kill, the dangerous animal, they hunt.
This is a tumultuous time for this family as they are being pulled in several different directions. They have their beliefs and culture, but are also influenced by the American way of doing things. These internal and external pressures are faced on a daily basis.
We see that because Jimmy, witnesses the murder of his brother and has little or no outlet to funnel his emotions into a positive direction, which ultimately leads to him being stigmatized, which we are told in Diversity, Oppression and Social Functioning (p.63) is “Associated to feelings of low self esteem, depression and acting out behaviors.” His behavior continues to perpetuate the stereotypes held by the dominant discourse, as he becomes involved in criminal activity. He goes to jail more than once and is told by the guard, “I knew you would be back, your kind always comes back.” We also learn that his initial sentence, could have been curtailed, if only had the money to pay a decent lawyer.
This spoke to the poverty that this culture lived in, not because they didn’t work hard, but because of meritocracy and the fact we know it’s a myth that polarizes and justifies inequality. Diversity, Oppression and Social Function further educates us to how meritocracy justifies inequality “ Everyone is seen as having an equal chance of raising a good family and succeeding in business. Those who fail can only fault themselves.” (P.21)
The movie continues to advance several years. By this point we see that American culture and its impact on all the generations. We see the mother actively involved in soap operas and the family sitting down enjoying I Love Lucy, not realizing that these shows are educating them as to what’s expected, what is normal and what we must obtain to be accepted and successful.
We see that there are two interracial marriages within the family. We see that the family is very accepting and accommodating to the spouses of their children, accepting them as part of the family. We see however, that the son that has become a lawyer and is the pride and joy of his family is ashamed of the poverty and lack of full assimilation of his family. He is ashamed of some of the traditions and the past of his brother. He is tentative to be there, as some of the practices of his family, may be offensive to his in laws, due to the fact that they differ from practice of the dominant discourse, which his in laws are a part.
We see other issues arise for the family. We see that the level of health care they have access to, differ from that on the other side of town. We see that the next generation (Jimmy’s son) is by now fully assimilated (the best he can, because he must be allowed to) and has little understanding of both the culture and the language. We see the all to familiar scenario that as generations come to pass and are part of the dominant culture, that soon, total assimilation and loss for their culture ensues.
I experienced e many emotions watching this movie and am saddened to see the affect that the dominant culture has had on this family. We do however learn in the end that through all that happens to this family, they still hold the family unit, as key. It also spoke to me about the resiliency of minorities as well as the need for educations and social change.
In the end we see the first generation parents, sit down and reflect upon their lives. To me they sum up perfectly, those core values they have instilled in their children and continued to hold true to throughout their lives when in the last scene they sit together, ponder and then agree that, “they have had a good life.”
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