What It Means To Be A Latino In The United States

September 23, 2013 | Chicago, IL

Sandy De Leon, Assistant Director of Adult Programs in Little Village, sat down with Maria Duran, Proyecto Cuidate participant to talk about living in Little Village, Latino Identity and what it means to keep traditions alive for her daughter, Natalia.

Maria is a current participant of Proyecto Cuidate, an Erie program funded by Department of Children and Family Services and the Chicago Department of Public Health that aims to prevent family violence and abuse, and provide an opportunity for parents to work with and support one another in a group setting, thereby reducing the sense of isolation and expanding their network in times of need.

Maria Duran, a resident of Little Village, has lived in Chicago for eight years. Immigrating from Quiroga, Michoacan, Mexico, Duran's struggles are not unique but give a powerful insight into lives of many Latinos in the United States.

What is your nationality?

I’m from Mexico. I was born in Mexico and that is where my heart is…

What makes you think of “home” the most? How do you bring "home" to Chicago?

When I think of Mexico, the first thing that comes to mind is family –family unity. Unfortunately, it is this “unity” that has been lost, here in the United States. My definition of unity is being together, memories of the parades that are made in schools with traditional dresses. I immigrated from Quiroga, Michoacan, a small town in Mexico. My memories of Mexico, that I speak of are of the nostalgic and beauty of Mexico. The way I try to incorporate my beautiful Mexico is to teach Spanish and wholesome Mexican values to my daughter, Natalia. I get excited every time I talk about Mexico; instill Mexican traditions in my daughter, who does not know her country of Mexico. I talk a lot about Quiroga and I focus a lot on the family that Natalia has yet to meet, but my purgative to introduce them through me.

Describe your culture/ country to someone who has never visited.

In Mexico, there are so many traditions, each little town has its own identity but all celebrate with parties that are made to celebrate the history of the place, the people and the beauty of our culture. The Mexican people are very close, there are very religious and they celebrate with beautiful orate presentations. We are a country of artisans, artisans that create unique and beautiful works of art and unfortunately many people do not value the Mexican crafts, tourists in particular. In Mexico there is much talent but not praised and there is tremendous lack support, which is the main reason why people migrate to the United States. I'm proud to be Mexican. The Mexican people are passionate, warm, hardworking and talented.

How do you teach your children about your culture being far from "home"?

One way that I try to teach Mexican culture to my daughter is to “instruct” while I cook. I teach her lessons of typical food of Mexico and how delicious it is to share in our delicacies. I try to keep what I learned from my mother, cook typical dishes. When I cook I try to teach my daughter names, recipes, colors, traditions and history from where the food she will be eating came from. When I spend time on Facebook, I show Natalie pictures of Quiroga and try to describe the area in vivid detail. At home we only speak Spanish, because she learns the English at school.

How has your world changed since coming to Chicago?

Since I arrived here in Chicago everything was different. Here you pick yourself up by your bootstraps. You cannot count on anyone for support, because your family is not here, and for me that was the hardest thing to realize. Arriving here I put immediately got to work. I was cashier in a convenience store without knowing the value of money and from the beginning I had to pay my through everything. Those days were difficult but courageous because I learned very quickly what it took to survive here. In those days my life changed a lot. I feel as I have matured and I thank God for the courses I have taken here at Erie House [in Little Village] because they have helped me recognize that I have much to contribute. I have a lot to offer and my leadership is vital. Erie has helped me excel, a benefit that has helped my family.

How was your cultural awareness developed?

My cultural awareness has developed by the situations and experiences I have had in the past eight years. Personally hearing (and experiencing) so many sad immigrant stories –how difficult it is to adapt— is a testament to the fact of how hard it is to come to this country. All these stories and actions, which people have lived, make you more sensitive to the issues. I have met many people and learned that the people are warm and compassionate. Perfect strangers provide support and encouragement because they themselves understand that they come from different parts of Latin America and that at one time all they needed was support and warmth guidance. These people are the cultural exchanges and development of cultural development; we transmit our culture, sayings and wisdom every day. We influence each other through our nationalities, delicious foods and festivities; our common ground: our language and religion.

How do you keep your cultural ties?

In my family we maintain our cultural ties with our celebrations like a “Tamborazos”, Mariachi and other dances. Right now we are celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, but on the 16th of September we began our Mexican Independence Day celebrations with “El Grito” or our cry for independence. At school, my daughter Natalia wore a traditional dress. Another important aspect in our culture and something that I try to pass on to my daughter is the teachings and values of our religion. Church is an important part of our life, and the basis for our traditions. These are the traditions and values that my parents instilled in me and I am trying to pass them on to my daughter.

How do you perceive the Hispanic culture growing in the United States/Chicago? What are our challenges?

The Latino culture is flourishing, and I'm glad. Teens are gaining scholarships, studying at prestigious universities and they make themselves visible for others to see it can be done. Community organizations such as Erie House and Enlace are helping teens get into institutions of higher learning. I am hopeful because of these accomplishments as my daughter wants to be an astronaut and I tell her that she can achieve anything she sets her mind towards. As another example, I have grown as a person. I was only here interested to work, it was work, work, work, but now it’s about my family, community and the possibility that the continued growth of our Latino community will bring and I have you, Erie House, to thank for showing me that there are stronger and better things in the future.

¿Cual es su nacionalidad?

Yo soy Mexicana. Nací en México y ahí está mi corazón.

¿Qué le hace pensar de México? Como trata de incorporar a México en Chicago?

Cuando pienso en México lo primero que se me viene en mente es la unión familiar. Esa unión que se ha perdido un poco, aquí en los Estados Unidos. -El estar juntos, recuerdos de los desfiles que se hacen en las escuelas con vestido típicos. Soy de QUIROGA, MICHOACAN. Esos son mis recuerdos de México, eso es de lo que le hablo, de lo bonito de México. La manera que yo trato de incorporar a mi lindo país es por inculcar valores a mi hija, Natalia. Me pongo emocionada cada vez que hablo sobre México, le inculco valores a mi hija, la cual no conoce a su país de México. Le platico mucho sobre Quiroga y me enfoco mucho en la familia que no conoce pero es mi prioridad que los conozca a través de mí.

Describa su cultura/país a alguien que nunca ha visitado su cultura/país.

En México hay muchas tradiciones, en muchos pueblitos hay fiestas que se hacen para celebrar la historia de ese lugar, la gente y la belleza de la cultura. La gente Mexicana somos muy unidos, somos muy religiosos y hay fiestas muy bonitas. Somos artistas y se hacen artesanías muy bonitas –mucha gente no valora la artesanía Mexicana, el turista en particular. En México hay mucho talento artístico pero no se aprovecha, falta apoyo y por eso la gente emigra a los Estados Unidos. Yo me siento orgullosa de ser Mexicana. La gente es compatriota, cálida, trabajadora y talentosa.

¿Cómo enseña a sus hijos sobre su cultura estando tan lejos de "casa"?

Una manera en cual yo trato de ensenar la cultura Mexicana a mi hija es por la lección de comida típica de México. Trato de mantener lo que yo aprendí de mi madre, cocino platillos típicos. Cuando cocino yo trato de enseñarle a mi hija nombres, recetas, colores, tradiciones e historia de donde viene la comida que ella va a comer. Cuando paso tiempo en Facebook, yo le enseño fotos de la página de Quiroga y le hablo de nuestra ciudad. En casa solamente hablamos español porque ella aprende el idioma ingles en la escuela.

¿Cómo ha cambiado su mundo desde que llegó a Chicago?

Desde que llegue aquí todo fue diferente, aquí uno se rasca con sus propias uñas, no hay apoyo porque su familia no está aquí y para mí eso fue lo más difícil. Recién llegada trabaje de cajera en una tienda sin conocer el valor del dinero y desde el principio tenía que pagar mi parte de todo. Fueron días difíciles pero valerosos porque aprendí muy rápido que se necesitaba sobrevivir aquí. En esos días mi vida cambio mucho. Siento que he madurado y le doy gracias a Dios por los cursos que he tomado aquí en La Casa Erie [en la Villita] porque me han ayudado mucho reconocer que tengo mucho para contribuir y porque tengo mucho que ofrecer cerca de mi liderazgo. Me han ayudado a sobresalir mucho, y mucho beneficio ha llegado hacia mi familia.

¿Cómo ha desarrollado su conciencia cultural?

Mi conciencia cultural ha desarrollado por las situaciones y experiencias que he vivido en los últimos ocho años. El conocer tantas historias tristes de inmigrantes, lo difícil que es adaptarse y el actual hecho de venir a este país es muy difícil. Todas estas historias y acciones, lo que la gente vive, te hace ser más sensible. Yo he conocido mucha gente y la lección que e aprendido es que la gente es cálida y transmite apoyo y ánimo porque ellos mismos entienden que ellos vienen de diferentes partes de Latinoamérica y todos necesitamos calidez y apoyo. Transmitimos nuestras cultural, dichos y sabidurías todos los días. Nos influenciamos por a través de nuestras nacionalidades y ricas comidas y fiestas.

¿Cómo mantiene sus lazos culturales?

En mi familia nosotros mantenemos nuestros lazos culturales haciendo celebraciones, hacemos fiestas mexicanas con tamborazo, Mariachi, comida, y otros bailes típicos. Ahorita estamos celebrando el mes de la herencia hispana, pero el 16 de septiembre se celebra “El Grito” o la independencia Mexicana. En la escuela, mi hija Natalia, fue en un vestido hermoso nativo de Michoacán La iglesia forma parte importante de nuestra vida, son mis tradiciones que mis padres me inculcaron y yo lo hago ahora con mi hija.

¿Cómo percibe la cultura hispana creciendo en los Estados Unidos / Chicago? ¿Cuáles son los desafíos?

La cultura Latina está avanzando mucho, y eso me alegra. Los adolescentes están ganando becas, estudiando en universidades prestigiosas y se hacen disponibles para que los demás vean que si se puede. Organizaciones comunitarias como La Casa Erie y Enlace están ayudando a los adolescentes ingresar en instituciones de educación superior. Mi hija quiere ser astronauta y yo le digo que si quiere lo puede lograr. Tómame a mí por ejemplo, he crecido como una persona. Estuve aquí sólo interesada por el trabajo, era trabajo, trabajo, trabajo, pero ahora estoy dedicada a mi familia, comunidad y la posibilidad de que el crecimiento continuo de nuestra comunidad latina y tengo que dar las gracias a La Casa Erie por mostrarme que hay mejores posibilidades en el futuro.




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