The Mexican-American Dilemma

What happens when you go out and live a life, then come home to live another?

LOS ANGELES, Calif. – With pure darkness covering each step she takes, nothing is illuminating her view except for the few dim street lights. She keeps walking, concentrating on taking deep breaths. Trying hard not to think of the million things running through her mind. She gets random whiff’s of food being cooked, gasoline, and once of fresh flowers. Her concentration moves to the laughter she faintly hears and the distant Spanish jokes. Her shoulders start to lower, a weight is lifted off her chest and she reaches a tree. The two lives she has to live is what stresses her out most these days. She turns around and goes back home.

The heavy Latino population in Boyle Heights results in many Mexican-American young adults. Their parents were born in a Latin American country while they were born in Los Angeles. This leads to living within the culutre and language of their parents country at home and living within the American culture at school and with friends. One of the biggest struggles these young adults battle with, is their faith in religion.

A pastor at Santa Maria Catholic Church, Father Jesse Montez said, “Obviously kids want to be like their friends and if those friends don’t have good morals then they are going to shift away from the church. The first generation (in America) you know they want to be Americans, they want to fit in," said Father jesse. Santa Maria church holds programs and events for the young people of Boyle Heights to encourage them to voluntarily be involved with the church. The word voluntary, Father Jesse specified, is of high importance since most of the youth goes to church becuase their parents are forcing them to.

Every Sunday at 8 a.m. in the morning, no matter how late she was out last night, Rodriguez can hear her mom scream out in Spanish, “Get up! I don’t want to be late to church because you guys already know we will end up standing” then ten minutes later, “I am not playing! It is an embarrassment to walk in late to church.” Rodriguez’s mom, Norma Garcia, was born in a small town in Jalisco, Mexico. In her small town, everything revolved around the church, the church was what made the rules and regulations for her town. “Church is their way of life,” said Rodriguez. For Rodriguez, not so much. She hates waking up early, sitting and standing

for an hour while she dozes off thinking about other things. Most of all, she hates some of their morals. “I don’t like the fact that they don’t allow gay marriage and they think being gay is a sin, I don’t like that they think birth control is also a sin, yet will shame you with the sin of murder for getting an abortion, or shame you for having a baby and not being married,” said Rodriguez. The teenager’s best friend is a gay male and says she has had friends who are teen moms and who take birth control. This causes her mom to lecture her often and when she stands her ground of staying friends with them her mom starts yelling at her. Rodriguez is in a juxtaposition many American born teenagers face with their Mexican born parents. Their beliefs and cultures clash, they crisscross each other constantly, both sides confused on what beliefs to change and which ones to stick to.

A religion assistant professor at USC, Cavan Concannon, says the clashes between the two cultures are inevitable. "With the immigrant parents and their kids that grew up in a new culture, there is always going to be a culture shift... Los Angeles is going to be very different from lets say the American south, if you go to the American south there is still large percentages of people that go to church every Sunday and see churches as major institutions that should structure comunial life, whereas Los Angeles is a much different context," said Concannon. The two generations are stuck in a position where they are both set on a differet set of beleifs and what they think is right, and trying to give some up to meet in the middle is where the complications start.

In order to solve these complications that commonly fall on these households is not in the youth, but in the parents says Father Jesse. "Parents need to realize they are not in a place where everyone goes to church like in their little pueblitos back home... With young adults it’s a different world, they’re not teenageers anymore, they're usually in college and in the workforce so it's very hard to deal with young adults, especially Mexican American youth. I would tell them, to look at the people around them and to figure out if they're really happy," said Father Jesse. On the other hand, a priest and religion professor at USC, Dr. James Heft, says that neither is to blame. We should actually point at the media. "There's a lot of tension, there is not a lot of enouragment and intellengent exploration in the media of matters religious, it’s a serious problem. What happens then is that young people generally do not only not get exposed to a visual idea of religion but the media doesn't even equipt them with the language to try to articulate something about it," said Dr. Heft

With the traditional Mexican cultures and morals clashing with the American culture and morals, one thing that Rodriguez and her whole family agree on is that family is always first. “There are like a hundred family parties that we have to go to but we cancel plans with friends and partners to attend because they’re our family, they’re forever,” said Rodriguez. By family they don’t just mean blood relatives but long time neighbors and family friends. The reason why Rodriguez and her siblings go to church at all is because of the love for their family and the respect they have for their values. Even though Rodriguez is not a religious person yet, the issue of what to practice when she has kids is another issue that is waiting to be unfolded. Concannon says that studies have shown that even if Rodriguez strays away from the church now, once she becomes a parent, she might come back. "You can ask how has the church shaped you in ways that you value, and overtime some of them will find that the values that they took out of these communities are things that they value enough to want their kids to try to get into," says Concannon. Rodriquez mentioned that she doesn't appreciate that the church's values don't line up with the values of today, such as gay marriage, birth control and so on. That too may change, further adding the chances she will come back to the church when she has kids. "Religion tends to change at a much slower pace than society that by the time they have kids the church has different opinions about these issues and they might find themselves back, when they have kids," says Concannon.

Rodriguez is not alone on the stress due to the two cultures wanting her to follow their seperate rules. One thing that does stay the same throughout both culutres is the idea of familiy first. Hispanics tend to be a a family oriented culture and in the end, whether Rodriguez chooses to practice Cathlocism in her adult life or not, family will always come first.