I have lived in Florida my whole life. I’ve had many interactions with lots of different cultures in my eighteen years of living here. The one culture besides my own that I’ve intermingled with the most is Hispanic/Mexican culture. The 2013-2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates found that Mexicans make up 3.4% of the population of Florida, and this doesn’t even account for all of the undocumented Mexicans (DADS). This is why I’ve chosen to study Mexican culture for my ethnographic research; to give a much deeper understanding and translate this culture. This Ethnography will be about describing the contents of Mexican culture to help give a deeper understanding of it. I will have many interactions with Mexicans and their culture while I continue to live in Florida, so I need to gain a fuller understanding of their culture so I can respect their values and understand their way of life, especially as a Christian and possibly future school teacher. I should understand this culture so I can assist in building bridges between people. Many of my future students may be Mexican and doing ethnographic research on their culture can help provide insight into teaching these students.
One of these interactions with another culture in a school environment allowed me to make a good friend. I am close friends with someone of Mexican descent. He is a first-generation Mexican-American. His name is Alonso Zurita. I asked Alonso if he could be my middle man during this study of his parent’s culture, and he willingly agreed. I asked if I could do my fieldwork at his home and have his parents, Jaime and Maria Zurita as my informants. We decided to do the shadowing of my informants and interview them at a traditional family dinner. It was with him, Mr. and Mrs. Zurita, and his two sisters, Alondra and Aracely. Alonso told me this way it would be more casual and authentic.
Before I conducted my in-field ethnographic study, I researched the background of Mexican culture, so I wasn’t coming into it clueless. I went back to the beginning to understand where modern Mexican culture gets its roots. According to “Cultural Traditions, Beliefs, and Values,” Hispanics can trace their ancestry back to the indigenous people of North America as well as to Spanish/European, Asian, and African roots. The culture has been influenced by the indigenous peoples of Mexico, which includes the Nahua, Otomi, Maya, Zapotec, Tzeltal, and Tzotzil, and also by European colonization in the 16th century. Because of the European colonization, now 92.7% of Mexicans (in Mexico) speak Spanish, while only 5.7% speak their indigenous languages (Moveonnet). The diversity of Mexican culture is influenced by familial ties, gender, religion, location, and social class. All of these factors have brought many diverse traditions and customs. Mexicans closely identify with their state, rather than the country as a whole. Regional and local identities have given rise to the idea that there exist 'many Mexicos.' This is why Mexican culture is so diverse (Countries and Their Cultures).
One huge contributing factor to Mexican culture is religion. The Spanish brought Roman Catholicism with them to Mexico. As of 2010, 95.6% of the population was Christian (CIA). The most important icon of Mexican national culture is the Virgin of Guadalupe (The Virgin Mary), which shows the influence of Roman Catholicism on the national culture. She’s seen as the 'mother' of all Mexicans. Their dark-skinned Virgin is the Mexican version of the Virgin Mary and as such represents national identity as the product of the mixing of European and Meso-American religions and peoples (Countries and Their Cultures). In the cities of Mexico, the main church is usually found in the zocalo (central square). This shows how important religion is. Is in the culture. Family is another major value in Mexican culture. Mexico has traditionally been home to a patriarchal family structure. There are defined roles for mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters in Mexican families. Everyone had a role. The men taught boys their roles and responsibilities. Girls learned from the women (García). This was one value I saw clearly while doing my ethnographic research. These values from Mexico have been brought to the U.S. with families who have migrated. The Zurita’s are one of those families that brought their culture with them.
Maria and Jaime moved to America from Mexico in 1998. They moved here separately and met in 2000 at a rodeo. They both came to the U.S. to have better opportunities for work so they could send money back to their families in Mexico. Jaime grew up on a rancho (ranch) in Puebla. Both of his padres (parents) were “granjeros” (farmers). He went to “escuela” (school) for a time but eventually stopped because of the distance and to help his parents on the rancho. His upbringing was much more secluded than Maria’s. Maria grew up en un pueblo cerca de San Luis Potosi. Her mother worked as a nanny in the states, sending money back to them from there. Maria and her sisters both went to school in the city and graduated “de preparatoria” (high school). She did dance and basketball. Although Maria and Jaime lived different lives in Mexico, they had the same goal of moving to America to build a more fulfilling life.
I arrive at Zurita’s house. The outside of their home is covered with beautiful, exotic-looking plants. Some I recognize right away, such as orchids and morning glories. One I didn’t recognize was, which I later ask and find out, a Dahlia pinnata, Mexico’s national flower. I then knock on the door and Alonso greets me. He welcomes me inside their home. I immediately smell the strong scent of various spices as I walk in. I also notice that I’m not asked to take off my shoes. I ask Alonso if I should, and he says it’s not necessary and that they normally don’t, except for his and his father’s work shoes. I leave them on. As I walk through their front room, I see a large amount of little Mexican statues and decorations placed around them. The frames of pictures are decorated with flower molding. Underneath one large picture frame is a wooden tray topped with a pitcher. The pitcher is covered with a design of a man drinking alone at a table. The wall facing the door is covered with a ton of little butterflies. I think it looks beautiful. The front room is the brightest in the house and feels the most inviting because of the colorful decorations and seafoam green walls. Inside the front room, there are also many flowers, but they’re fake. On all the walls of the front room are pictures of his eldest sister, Alondra, quinceanera, which is a girl’s 15th birthday party. One thing I did come into this research knowing is how important quinceaneras are in Mexican culture. I attended Alondra’s a few months prior to this. It was a fascinating event that had lots of care and attention poured into it. This is because a quinceanera marks a girl’s passage from girlhood to womanhood. There are 5 large pictures of Alondra in various outfits.
We walk out of the front room to their living room. I notice right away all of the statues of dancing women above their TV. They’re each wearing a vibrant blue dress covered in fruit and plants. Alongside them is a giant clay pitcher covered in the same decoration. Watermelon, grapes, and pears cover its surface. Next to it are six cups covered with the same design. The living room is larger than the front room with lots of furniture to sit on. It has a soft, warm feeling to it. It gives off a more comfy and relaxing feeling.
My friend continues showing me around his home. Despite his house’s exterior and layout is reminiscent of my own home, the decorations make it much more unique. You can easily tell this is a home of a different culture.
Connected to the living room is the kitchen. Alonso tells me these two rooms are central to their home. They host people a lot and throw many parties, so there are always people in those rooms. Whether it’s the women cooking or the men and children sitting down to eat at the dining table in the kitchen or on the couches in the living room. There are red and green jalapeno decorations hanging up against the wall in the kitchen. I later ask Mrs. Zurita what the significance of these are, because I see them in many Mexican restaurants or homes, and she says it’s just commonly used decoration. There’re pear-shaped clay coffee cups that Alonso says were sent from Mexico. My favorite decoration was the rooster sitting in the middle of their dining room table. I had its wings shaped in a way where it could hold salt and pepper shakers. I’ve seen roosters a lot in the decorations of other Mexican places too.
There was one decoration that I found interesting and I asked Mrs. Zurita about it. I saw a horseshoe on the wall of the front room, and I remembered seeing one in their car when I had gotten a ride with Alonso once. Mrs. Zurita said that the horseshoe brings Buena Suerte (good luck). This got us talking about superstition and other things similar to what they had in their home. She told me that none of the beds are in a corner because it brings mala suerte (bad luck). There’s another superstition that I found interesting, which is if you have a fly problem in your home you can hang bags of water filled with pennies from the ceiling to keep them out. Mrs. Zurita said the reflection of the pennies confused them and the flies don’t want to get near them, so it draws them out of the home. She told me that her Madre was extremely strict about not sleeping at night. That’s believed to also bring bad luck into a home. I asked her if leaving our shoes on in the house had to do with superstition and she said that walking around barefoot will bring bad luck too. One other superstition in their culture is that it’s believed if you put a cup filled with water on top of your fridge, it will absorb “Energia negativa”. I created a taxonomy of these superstitions in Mexican culture, which is the last page of this paper.
After the house tour, Alonso brings me over to Mrs. Zurita to say hello. She was in her bedroom and come out to the kitchen which is right across from it. We make small talk and catch up since I haven’t seen her for a bit. She asks me how school is going and things like that. Shortly after, around 7:30 p.m. Mr. Zurita gets home from work. He works every day from 6 a.m. until 7 p.m. as a construction worker. The whole family goes to greet him at the front door.
Mrs. Zurita and I go back to the kitchen and begin to prepare dinner. She decided to do enchiladas for dinner. We stuff the already cooked and shredded chicken into the tortillas and roll them. We place 4 onto a plate and pour the red sauce on top of them. We then pour the grated queso fresco onto the enchiladas. We put them into the microwave for about 30 seconds to melt the cheese and we take them out and put a squirt of sour cream next to them. We place all the plates around the table and call the family to dinner. Mr. Zurita sits at the head of the table and we all sit to the side. Mr. Zurita drank a beer along with his food while we drank some homemade agua de melon his mom made before I arrived. It was sweet and tasted good.
I noticed Mrs. Zurita didn’t sit down to eat with us. She stood standing and walking around, getting us more to drink, and offering more enchiladas. She didn’t sit to eat until Mr. Zurita asked her to. Alonso and I talked about this later, and he said that in their culture the wife and the mother of the family have to always attend to them and usually don’t eat or sit down until everyone else is finished. She serves everyone their food and their drinks. Alonso says that she also sometimes eats standing up by the counter. He said that his mother always says the role of the woman in a household is to attend to the family and clean, while the father shouldn’t have to work at home since he spends his day at the workplace. Eating at a Mexican household isn’t too different from what I’m used to, other than different flavors. Mrs. Zurita told me there’s no particular way to position yourself at a meal, you just enjoy the food and have a conversation. Dinners are considered a social event, where you can talk about anything, and just enjoy the food.
Throughout the meal, I was able to talk to Mr. and Mrs. Zurita about multiple topics. Mr. Zurita’s first question to me was, “Hablas Español?” which translates to, “Do you speak Spanish?” I reply with, “Un poquito,” which means, “a little.” They found this hilarious, and for the rest of the night, it became a lighthearted joke. During dinner, Alonso playfully begins to poke me, and I respond with, “No me toques!” which translates to “don’t touch me!” The hardest part about that night was not knowing what they were saying when they spoke exclusively in Spanish to each other. Despite this, I tried my best to translate little phrases here and there, along with help from Alonso. At one point they pointed out that it was raining outside by saying “Wow, esta lloviendo bien duro.” Having taken Spanish in high school, I was able to translate this for myself, and figured they meant “Wow it’s raining hard.” At times, Mr. Zurita would say something in Spanish, not realize that I couldn’t understand, then laugh to himself and translate it to English.
After dinner, I help my friend’s mom clean up and my mother’s friend begins to play some music on a small speaker. They said it’s called “musica ranchera” which is translated to ranch music. I couldn’t understand any of the words but the instruments I could pick out were an accordion, piano, drums, and a guitar. The lead singer sang with passion, and a lot of the songs were very different, some being fast and others being somewhat of a ballad.
Alonso suggests we play a game they call Loteria which in English means Lottery. The best way I can describe it is like Bingo. Instead of numbers and letters, we use pictures with its name underneath. Alonso says there are about 50 or so pictures. The pictures are hard to describe but they included a bell, a heart, a barrel, a moon, a rooster, and a bunch of other stuff. Alonso hands out the tablas which are 6-inch-tall boards that have a 4x4 grid covered with these pictures. Every tabla is different, and the way you win is to get a straight 1x4 line across the board whether it be horizontally, vertically, or diagonally. We begin the game, and Alonso begins to pull a card from a deck. He yells out the picture’s name. I have the picture on my board, so I use these little brown wooden circles to mark it. We continue to the game and I actually begin to cover my board but still don’t have a straight line. Alondra wins and she yells the name of the game, “Loteria!” and we begin another game. We play a few more. It’s easy once you get the hang of it and was a good way to learn a few Spanish words. It’s a fun game, and despite it being as simple as Bingo, I was very confused half the time, mainly because I couldn’t read in Spanish.
After we clean up we all move to the living room. We sit down and begin to watch TV. Aracely plays on the floor. Alondra and I sit on the love seat while my Alonso, Mrs. Zurita, and Mr. Zurita sit on the long couch. Mrs. Zurita puts on a Mexican TV program on Telemundo. I can’t remember the name of the show, but it’s called a telenovela. It was a dramatic show and had a lot of crying. We watched it and talked, and Alonso said how silly he thinks the telenovelas are and how they’re all basically the same. We were all talking, and I asked Mr. and Mrs. Zurita about their cultural values. They talked to me about how important work is in their culture. Mr. Zurita said it’s the most important part of a family dynamic, the man must work hard to provide for his family. They also believe the woman’s role is to be the mother and take care of the home and family. They both fall into those norms of their culture.
After lots of talking, Mr. Zurita eventually fell asleep on the couch. This seemed like it was time for me to head out. I got up and kissed Mrs. Zurita on both cheeks, something I learned earlier is a custom of theirs. The whole family walked me to the door, except for Mr. Zurita of course. I thanked them for sharing their home and food with me and being so open to my questions about their culture, customs, and values. We said our goodbyes and I left. On the way home I felt enlightened. It was enjoyable to experience another culture. I was able to be a part of it and not just look and research. I learned a lot more this way. Ethnographic research is an extremely valuable exercise for people interested in Intercultural Communications. It’s a great way to broaden your understanding and get rid of stereotypes. I believe if we all accepted each other’s cultures, and maybe dabble in them too, we would have much less discrimination in our world.