Cultural Immersion Project

cultural immersion experience. The student spent time over a several week period with two Hispanic families and attended several of the functions that are associated with the Hispanic culture.

Anyone who watches the news is aware that the Hispanic population in America has grown to be the largest minority in the country. Every store has signs written in Spanish and English, every food item has instructions in both languages and there are several Hispanic radio and television broadcasts on at all times. There is no denying that the blending of the two cultures is inevitable and it is an exciting prospect.

We've heard it many times now: Hispanics are America's majority minority. Newspapers have reported the spectacular growth in the numbers of Hispanics living in the United States, especially in nontraditional locations. We've learned that from 1990 to 2000, the Hispanic population swelled 300% in Georgia, 278% in Tennessee, and 117% in Indiana (Good News from the Hispanic Church (http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/2004/julaug/9.18.html)."

Business magazines are reporting a significant increase in the Spanish language advertising revenue and companies nationwide are attempting to find better ways to communicate with the almost 20 known Hispanic sub-cultures in America today (Good News from the Hispanic Church (http://www.ctlibrary.com/bc/2004/julaug/9.18.html).

Politicians recognize the trend towards the blending of the two cultures and are competing for the Hispanic vote, both now and for the future.

With evidence mounting as to the importance of understanding and embracing the Hispanic-American culture I felt it was the right choice for my immersion project. In addition to the statistical information regarding the Hispanic culture in America, I also work within the school system and there is a large and growing Hispanic student population. I want to better understand the culture so that I can be a more effective advocate for our Hispanic student population.

THE EXPERIENCE have never been personally exposed to the Hispanic culture before this experience. I was nervous, not because I have any reason not to like the traditions and events that the Hispanic culture takes part in but because I was afraid of doing something offensive or inappropriate during one of the events and offending people who were kind enough to bring me into the fold. I didn't need to worry as it turned out because everyone I came into contact with was more than kind and willing to explain the traditions and the events to me to help me better understand the Hispanic culture.

A spent time with the family of a Spanish tutor from school as well as time with the family of a Spanish student. The tutor was from Puerto Rico and the student is from Mexico.

When I explained what I wanted to do they eagerly informed me of several upcoming important events that are within the Hispanic population and culture so that I could choose which ones I wanted to attend. In the end I decide that a family event, a church event and a cultural event were all things I needed to do if I wished to obtain a well rounded understanding of some of the things that the Hispanic culture subscribes to.

THE FESTIVAL

The first event that I attended to take part in this immersion program was something called the Festival Latino. The Festival Latino is a Mississippi-based festival that is designed to help the community understand and embrace the Hispanic population.

It was held on Saturday, September 16. My host family told me to dress comfortably as we would probably walk several miles that day as we visited all of the booths and entertainment areas.

It was held in an area called Rapids on the Reservoir and promised to be filled with Hispanic culture by way of foods, entertainment and educational events throughout the festival.

The first thing we did was head toward the music area where they had three different bands scheduled for that day. On the way to the area my host family explained to me that music is a very important part of the Hispanic culture as it depicts happiness and celebration which is something vital to all Hispanics.

We listened to a band called Vivaz and it was wonderful. Whereas the music in America is easily divided into several genres the music within the Hispanic culture can be largely overlapped from what I heard that day.

While we were in the music area the family offered to teach me several Hispanic dances including the Salsa and the Merengue. I was not very good at some of the steps but I enjoyed watching the smiling faces of the children who could dance as if it were as easy as breathing. My host family explained to me that children are part of most Hispanic events. This was interesting to me as I have grown up in America and there are many events that are considered adult only and children are left with sitters while the adults go off to enjoy themselves.

This host family told me that most Mexican families are very close knit and three or four generations work together to raise the children of the family.

In addition children are included in just about all celebratory events within the Hispanic culture.

As I looked around at the many Hispanic families attending the festival I understood what they had said to me as I watched many children laughing with delight as they darted in and out of the crowds.

While at the festival I also enjoyed many different foods that are based in Hispanic culture.

There were many Latin restaurants serving dishes at the festival and my host family persuaded me to stray away from my usual taco plate and try some other dishes. Chicken Mole turned out to be incredibly good and something that most Americans don't even realize is a common Mexican food.

A enjoyed the festival and I believe that I enjoyed it as much as I did because I was with a Hispanic family that lives in America. The family members all had ideas about what Americans don't know, or what they assume about the Hispanic culture so they each picked elements of their culture that they wanted to educate me about. The day was spent in food, music, arts and crafts and speaking Spanish as often as possible. I came away from the event with a much better understanding of the fact that Americans have a very narrow view of the culture including what is eaten and what is popular for entertainment and that the Hispanic culture is as diverse and wide spread as the American culture.

Following the festival I was invited to spend several evenings with the host family sharing dinner and after dinner family time. I accepted and during these events I also realized how similar the Hispanic culture is to the American culture. We would eat a dinner that was over with quickly and then we would all help clean up. Following dinner some of the family members would watch television, others went out and the children began their homework.

One difference that I noted in this family was the fact that a grandmother, grandfather, two aunts, an uncle and all the children lived in one home which provided a lot of noise and a lot of supervision for the children.

CHURCH attended several church services with my second host family. The family explained to me that the majority of Hispanics in this nation are Catholic but there are also many Hispanics who belong to other faiths as well. My host family was Catholic and invited me to attend mass with them three Sundays in a row. I was surprised to find out that there are Catholic services locally that are spoken strictly in Spanish. When we arrived I felt out of place not because they congregation was almost 100% Hispanic but because I have never attended a Catholic service and was unsure of what to do. My host family made me comfortable and after the service I went home with them to the traditional Sunday afternoon dinner that was made up of enchiladas, chicken, fajitas, rice, beans, and chips. It turns out that siestas are truly an element of the Hispanic culture and when most of the family laid down or fell asleep in chairs I went home.

The final event that I attended in the effort to understand the culture through an immersion process was the most exciting of them all.

It was explained to me by the second host family that when girl of Hispanic heritage turns 15 it is a very important date.

It is the age in which the heritage believes the girl changes into a woman symbolically and it is celebrated with a large, expensive long lasting coming out party called a quinceanos celebration. The tradition is steeped in the Hispanic Catholic history of the population and is one of the most important events in any family's existence.

For this celebration one of the young girls in the family was turning…