As one of ten children, my family structure reflects my unique cultural background. All ten of us were raised by my mother alone; we struggled financially but rarely emotionally because of the immense love and support given to us by my mother. Having a strong maternal influence in my life might also reflect the Hispanic and Christian culture in which I was raised. Both Christianity and Puerto Rican culture impacted my world growing up. For instance, my mother imparted her religious beliefs to her kids, beliefs that were strongly rooted in the Christian tradition. In addition to my mother, I had various role models who helped forge my identity and behaviors. Christianity also serves to link our otherwise oppressed minority community with the dominant culture in America. Although I grew up in an environment that supported bilingualism and respected Hispanic culture, I occasionally met with biases and prejudices in the real world. Church was one of the only places in which my family and I felt completely removed from cultural oppression. I understand the irony of clinging to a religion that has systematically and historically oppressed indigenous people, especially in the Caribbean from where I am from. However, in the present time, Christianity imparts messages of love and unity that should hopefully transcend some of the evil ways in which the doctrines of the religion have been distorted. Combined with my Christian heritage and identity, my ethnic and cultural background has influenced my values, behaviors, beliefs and norms. From the foods we ate to the language we spoke at the dinner table, our Puerto Rican heritage gave us a cultural and linguistic identity that we shared with others like us. Being Puerto Rican also means we were different from the dominant white culture and we were constantly reminded of stereotypes about our culture on television and the media.
From my Christian heritage I derived a sense of interconnectedness with millions of persons around the country and around the world. Linked by our mutual beliefs in God and in the Bible, Christians create certain cultural norms and beliefs that powerfully influenced me as a child. The belief in God as a savior helped our family get through troubled times, such as when we could not make ends meet. The focus on disenfranchised and poor people in the Bible also helped my family find solace within the Christian community. Therefore, three of the main beliefs and values that I inherited specifically from Christianity include a belief in a deity that could and would help me, a belief that poverty can actually bring us closer to God, and the value of family and friendship. These beliefs and values influenced my interactions with others in many ways. For example, my brothers and sisters followed the commandment to honor our parents and still remain close with my mother and with each other. We also learned to treat our neighbors and friends with respect and tolerance and we were taught how to share our belongings with others even though we were poor.
The values, beliefs, and norms I inherited from my Puerto Rican culture sometimes differed from those I received from Christianity. For example, although women are honored and revered in some respects, in Puerto Rican culture, the male is considered to be dominant. Without a male head of household my mother was forced to play both the role of father and mother. She therefore taught us boys to act like men from a very young age. Puerto Rican culture is "macho" and as a youth I was taught to act a certain way, to follow cultural norms and expectations of male behaviors such as aggressiveness. Much like Christianity, however, Puerto Rican culture emphasizes community involvement and cooperation. This value as consistently influenced the way I deal with others and was probably an underlying reason for my wanting to be a social worker. Social work therefore reflects the values and beliefs of both my intersecting cultures: Puerto Rican and Christian.
The values and beliefs of my two predominant cultural heritages were imparted to me in a number of different ways. I cannot deny the influence of the media in my psycho-social development, as the dominant culture's stereotypes and expectations were transmitted to us from an early age through television, films, books, and the news. However, my mother, my relatives, my friends, my teachers, and my religious leaders also imparted their visions of Christianity and/or Puerto Rican culture onto me. Of all these my mother was undoubtedly the strongest influence and therefore most powerful transmitter of cultural norms and social values. It was she who verbally instructed and scolded us children, who through her own actions taught us how to behave and how not to behave. My mother's example and her lessons had a huge impact on my psycho-social development and on my identity. Besides my mother, my peers had a large influence on my belief system. Peer group pressures and the desire to fit in caused me to absorb many notions of culture such as the "macho" nature of Puerto Rican culture I referred to earlier. Relatives like aunts, uncles, and cousins also transmitted their individual beliefs. Some of my extended relatives, especially the older ones, taught me a lot about the values inherent in Puerto Rican culture, including family and community involvement. Younger relatives served a similar role as my peers in conveying value systems. Teachers and coaches sometimes shared their beliefs, either directly in their lessons or indirectly as role models. Religious leaders primarily transmitted the values and beliefs of their particular version of Christianity.
Because Christianity and Puerto Rican culture are intimately linked, I never felt a conflict between these two identities. In fact, I consider them as two sides of the same coin. Christianity complements Puerto Rican culture and vice-versa for many reasons. As I mentioned before, both emphasize charity and cooperation, teamwork and community service. I was raised believing that we should help others and sacrifice our own needs if necessary. My mother exemplified self-sacrifice and service when she raised us all on her own. As a social worker, I attempt to emulate persons like my mother. I view the intersection of my two cultures in a mainly positive light. However, I occasionally witness some negative repercussions of the two, such as when young unmarried couples refuse to use birth control for religious reasons, even though they cannot afford to support a child.
Nevertheless, I embrace both my Puerto Rican and Christian heritages and identify as members of each. I retain much of what I learned throughout my childhood and early development. For example, I still highly value tolerance of others, charity work, and community service. I still feel that family is the most important thing. As a practicing Christian, I retain many of my religious beliefs as well, although I think I have reshaped some of these beliefs to fit my lifestyle in a modern American society. Moreover, living in America and learning from cultures other than my own has taught me to expand my boundaries and be more open-minded to other beliefs and value systems. Because I have friends from a wide range of backgrounds, I have been able to incorporate the value systems of others with my own. As a result I have created a new identity for myself, one that combines my indigenous cultures with the dominant American culture. For instance, although I retain some of the machismo that is characteristic of a Puerto Rican male, I am much more respectful of women than earlier generations in my culture.
Because American culture has become more diverse and, I believe, more tolerant of differences, I do not feel as much dissonance with the dominant culture as my mother must have. For the most part, I feel my…