Cultural Identity and Personal Perspective

The Nature of Culture and Cultural Markers

Culture refers to the full range of behaviors, shared beliefs, values, attitudes, and social expectations within defined societies (Macionis, 2003). All known human societies share elements of what constitutes culture, and that is also the case for many higher forms of animals such as elephants, primates, whale, dolphin, and other mammalian species.

Typical examples of animal culture would be tool-using and hot spring-soaking primates whose unique behaviors and environmental behavioral adaptations are handed down through successive generations in much the same way that cultural traditions are reinforced within human societies. Similarly, specific pods of Orcas or "Killer Whales" have been observed to develop hunting techniques that are completely unique to their family pods and perpetuated by successive generations in the wild (Macionis, 2003).

Naturally, the individual elements that constitute a given culture differ tremendously between human societies and animals societies, primarily because of the intellectual and communications abilities of humans in comparison to even the most intelligent non-human animal species. Generally, any society-specific forms of shared behaviors and learned responses that are not products of biological processes but of social learning are considered cultural markers. In human societies, typical cultural markers include cuisine, language, architecture, art, philosophy, historical beliefs, religion, social rituals, beliefs, common practices, expectations, and social mores.

Hispanic Family Values and Cultural Identity

As a first-generation Hispanic-American female, I have become acutely aware from personal experience how significant cultural differences can be in contemporary society, especially for individuals raised in one cultural tradition and expected to succeed in another very different environment of different cultural values. In some respects, many Hispanic families maintain strong allegiances to some of the predominant social and cultural values and mores of their culture of origin even while assimilating successfully into mainstream foreign societies in many other respects (Schaefer, 2002). They may learn or absorb various American social behaviors and expectations while in public but still defer strongly to traditional Hispanic cultural perspectives, especially with respect to those that pertain to private matters and to those involving the family (Schaefer, 2002).

For example, many contemporary Hispanic females have taken advantage of the opportunities available in the United States to pursue higher education and advanced professional training to become doctors or lawyers or business executives. In some Hispanic families, even highly successful adult female family members may still be regarded as deserving a lower level of interpersonal respect from their male family members, merely because of traditional cultural attitudes about the relative status of men and women (Schaefer, 2002).

Within Hispanic-American Societies in the U.S., the Catholic religious tradition is common to even otherwise varied Hispanic cultures (Healey, 2003). While some U.S. Hispanic cultures maintain very similar Catholic religious beliefs and practices to those of non-Hispanic-American Catholics, other Hispanic-American cultures have continued extreme Hispanic variations of Catholicism such as Santeria, which actually originated in Africa but is practiced by large numbers of uneducated Cuban immigrants in particular. Just as in the case of mainstream American cultures, Hispanic cultures also reflect a wide range of religious practices in relation to the general adherence to Catholicism.

Personal Perspective

So-called "assimilated" Hispanic families often exhibit a very focused interest in becoming successful by contemporary American standards even as they maintain many aspects of their Hispanic cultures simultaneously. I am a first-generation American-born Hispanic woman who learned Spanish and English simultaneously as an infant. That has been a tremendous advantage for me socially, educationally, and professionally, as I am acutely aware how much more difficult life was for some of my older relatives who emigrated to…