Reflecting on Change

As I re-read some of the early journal entries I made for this project, I realize how I have changed my views of the households. As I read these entries, I realize that I had discussed my students in terms of low academics, home life problems, alienation, and SES [socioeconomic status], and that I was oriented towards a deficit model. I no longer see the families I visited that way. Since I am looking for resources, I am finding resources, and I recognize the members of the families for who they are, and for their talents and unique personalities. We now have a reciprocal relationship where we exchange goods, services and information. I have also discarded many myths prevalent in our region that I used to believe.

One example of such a myth is that Mexican immigrants have poor educational backgrounds. To the contrary, I discovered that some schools in Mexico were academically ahead of the U.S., and discipline was stricter. Instead of finding parents who do not emphasize education, I found parents who wanted more homework, more communication with the schools, and stricter discipline. All five families that I visited this year informed me that education was one of the reasons they came to the U.S. Another myth dispelled by the interviews is that of Mexicans having limited work experience. The parents of my five students had held the following occupations: grocery store owner, bank executive, carpenter, mechanic, dairyman, gravedigger, soldier, factory supervisor, farm worker, international salesman, mason, and domestic worker.

Strong family values and responsibility are characteristics of the families I visited. In every case, the household included extended family members. Fifteen family members lived in one house, including the student's grandmother, mother, two aunts, their husbands and children. My students were expected to participate in household chores such as cleaning house, car maintenance, food preparation, washing dishes, and caring for younger siblings. I learned what this insight meant when one of my students was unable to attend school drama and chorus rehearsals one day. In my journal entry detailing this project, I noted the following incident:

Wednesday (11/25/92) The music teacher commented (to me), "You know, Leticia has missed two chorus rehearsals." Before I could answer, the school drama teacher stepped in to add, "Oh, she's very irresponsible." She had signed up to be in the Drama Club and had only been to two meetings.

I said "Wait a minute...." The drama teacher corrected herself, and said, "Well, she's acting irresponsibly." I then told her how Leticia's younger brother was being hospitalized for a series of operations, and when the mother had to leave, she left Leticia in charge of caring for her two younger siblings. in fact, her missing after-school rehearsals was an act of responsibility, obedience and loyalty to her family. I believe that this episode, and many other similar occurrences, help me to separate truths from myths by relying on what I have seen and heard from my students.

Next: The Ramirez Family