Hispanic American Diversity

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It has become common to see the term “Hispanic American” being used in scholarship as well as mainstream media. This representation of the community implies an underlying cultural homogeneity. But in reality there is much diversity within this classification on account of linguistic, social, political, economic and religious grounds. The following passages are toward supporting this thesis. The Hispanic American groups chosen for discussion are Mexican Americans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans and El Salvadorians.

Subtle differences in Language:

Although all the groups share the same language, which is Spanish, some discernible differences can be observed. For example, some groups use the word “sopa” to refer to a food item while the rest use it to denote soap. The unique geo-political circumstances of different Spanish speaking regions have contributed to the formation of regional dialects. For instance, Mexico being close to the United States of America has resulted in the importation of English words into common usage. So much so that, some cultural commentators call the Mexican language as Spanglish. (Hope Cheong, 2006)

Varied Political Participation:

Of all the four groups, Mexican Americans stand out in terms of their involvement in mainstream American politics. The dissenting voices of Mexican Americans were first heard during the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. Although African Americans were predominantly seen as the leaders of the movement, significant contributions were made by such Mexican American luminaries as V.Mendoza, Reies Lopez Tijerina and Rodolfo Gonzales. Their political activism ranged from basic rights for farm workers to rights of electoral franchise at all levels of governance. (Jokisch, 2006)

Parallels could be observed in Puerto Rican American history as well. One of the more recent immigrants to the country, Puerto Ricans are poorly represented in politics. However, to their credit, they succeeded in forming trade unions to demand for worker rights during the second half of the twentieth century. Given such an initiation, it is only natural that their worker movement graduated into a socialist one. Given the strong capitalist roots in America, this movement did not make much impact though.

Any description of Cuban Americans will have to be made in the context of Cuba’s hostile political relation with the United States. The primary reason for migration to their more affluent neighboring country is economic opportunity. Yet, the totalitarian and sometimes repressive regime of Fidel Castro would mean that the migrants are also political asylum seekers. Hence, the acculturated Americans view Cuban Americans as ‘outsiders’. This perception had not helped the community in their genuine efforts toward cultural assimilation. (Hope Cheong, 2006)

A recent survey found that most El Salvadorian Americans intend to go back home once the political situation stabilizes there. It would not be exaggeration to say that this community lives in a world of its own oblivious of the socio-political developments around them. Hence their political participation in the United States is most minimal. (Frykholm, 2007)

Education levels & Economic Status:

All the four groups, however, are similar in their levels of education and acquired skills. But the fact is, all the groups are equally backward in this regard. The Mexican American community is by far the oldest in American history; yet, their assimilation in mainstream corporate culture is quite disappointing. A recent survey reveals that El Salvadorian American and Mexican American communities are on par in terms of education and literacy. It is to be taken into account that most of the immigrants belong to the lower strata of society even in their native countries. Hence, to place the blame on American domestic policies alone, for this state of affairs, would be unfair. (Hope Cheong, 2006)

Education and Economic well-being seem to go hand in hand. Statistics show a direct correlation between academic and financial success. As most members of these four minority groups don’t even complete high-school, their incomes hover around subsistence level.

Of all the four groups the El Salvadorians are the most economically impoverished. This is understandable given the fact that most El Salvadorian migrants escape grinding poverty and a war-ravaged native environment. The El Salvadorians also maintain links with their relatives back home, for whom a regular remittance from the United States can mean life or death. The immigration policies of the United States government over the last few decades had grown considerable stringent. Most El Salvadorian immigrants to the U.S. do not gain recognition legally as a result. (Jokisch, 2006)

Cultural similarities and Differences:

Puerto Rican community is culturally distinct from other Hispanic communities in its emphasis on familial bonds. Respect for the elders in the family is expected of the youngsters. While gender roles within the family are similar to that of other cultures, women in general assume a prominent role in decision making. Puerto Rican Americans also maintain strong relations with their extended families as well. (Jokisch, 2006)

In terms of religious affiliation, Christianity is the dominant religion among these communities. Yet, almost all denominations within the Judeo-Christian theological space find their representation here. Roman Catholic or Protestant, Cuban Americans place stronger emphasis on their common geo-political roots and would first identify themselves in that designation. (Frykholm, 2007)

Also, the group had always consciously tried to retain their native identity. That explains their distinction from other Hispanic communities in particular and the American mainstream in general.

As for El Salvadorian Americans their poor English language skills have proved disadvantageous to them. It has made their integration with other communities difficult. This community is also unique in that a significant percentage of its population in the United States follows the Pentecost religion. As in other groups family bonds are very strong. The status of women, however, is still backward. They are mostly confined to house-hold chores and child-rearing responsibilities and do not factor in the El Salvadorian workforce. In fact, all these groups follow a patriarchal pattern of social order excepting the Mexican American where grandmothers play an important role in decision making. (Frykholm, 2007)

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