La Cultura Cura
Students and faculty share their outside view on keeping their cultural customs alive.
April 15, 2021
Here at Juan Diego, we have the wonderful opportunity to have students and staff of different ethnic backgrounds attend our school and participate in various sports and activities around school. Yet, they are facing a constant battle of keeping their backgrounds alive when they don’t speak, do, or learn the same ways while at school. Luckily, they don’t have to assimilate to “American Standards” and can be who they choose to be.
South Africans have a very special word — ubuntu — which is hard to translate to an English word, but loosely translated it refers to compassion and humanity. I try to embody that part of my culture here at JD”
— Cecilia Gilbert
Testing Coordinator, Cecilia Gilbert, the way she shows her culture is held within the attitude she approaches students everyday. “South Africans are very caring and friendly and you generally see that in the way they interact with other people, ” said Mrs. Gilbert. Mrs. Gilbert is the friendliest face here at JD, she is always looking out for students and gives hugs to make everyone’s day a little better. “South Africans have a very special word — ubuntu — which is hard to translate to an English word, but loosely translated it refers to compassion and humanity. I try to embody that part of my culture here at JD,” continued Mrs. Gilbert. Regardless of how long you’ve known Mrs. Gilbert, she is always there to cheer you on and keep students in a positive and impactful mindset. “I think this is most noticeable in how I interact with students. Many people notice that I refer to them as ‘honey’ or ‘babe’ or ‘my love’ and that’s just my way of showing I care, in addition to touching people (I am known for hugging students, or touching their arms or putting a hand on their shoulder). Human touch is very common in South African and often a sign of caring about others.” finished Gilbert. Mrs. Gilbert is the most genuine person here at JD and glad that she is able to embody a part of her culture here at JD.
Likewise, international student senior Mateus Rohden strives to keep his traditions alive everyday especially when there are no other Brazilian students here at JD. “I left Brazil but Brazil didn’t leave me. Everyday before I go to school, I will eat the classic Brazilian breakfast, a lot of fruits, scrambled eggs, one cup of coffee and maybe one cheese bread,” said Rohden. There is nothing like a traditional meal which can make your stomach feel at home when you are 5,302 miles from home. “I love to give hugs, in Brazil we hug all the time, it is also culturally accepted that we kiss each other’s cheeks to greet each other(although I don’t get to do that here at school), we like that kind of affection. At school I try to keep those Brazilian vibes with me all the time,” finished Mateus Rohden. A few accepted gestures and delicious food are more than enough to make someone feel at home.
Unlike Mateus, junior Lisa Zhu has the wonderful opportunity to have a community of people who are from the same culture she is from but adversity still arises. “[Sometimes] it’s hard to talk deeply with my American friends since we have big differences in culture, so I feel lonely sometimes, ” says Zhu. “But I am not alone, there are many other Asian international students at school. Since we come from Asia, we understand each other better. I have a sense of belonging and they are the ones who stand at my back and support. This makes me more confident and comfortable at school.” Zhu thankfully continues. Nevertheless, this doesn’t stop her from spreading her culture to people around the school. “I also try to spread my culture and show it to others. For the cultural assembly, I added Chinese fan dances into our dance mashup. I chose the fan dances which have modern elements, so people would accept and enjoy it more easily.” finished Zhu. Like Lisa Zhu, International students are an important element to the diverse culture that is established here at Juan Diego.
Being a part of a different culture isn’t something to be ashamed of. It is a part of who we are in society which makes it a much more beautiful place not only here at school but also within our daily lives. Whether you are the only one within a school environment, don’t be afraid to show your true colors.
My Self Perpetuated Myth
The model minority myth that plagues the minds of Asian Americans is deeply rooted within.
I am the smart Asian girl, or rather, that is what I have been told to be. I am a first-generation Filipino, the first to be born in the United States. Despite growing up in a family that is still so close to their culture, I never knew what it was like to be Asian, that is until I was in middle school. It was in school when I suddenly adopted the idea that I had to act a certain way. And while I could try to blame my peers or the environment I was in on this idea, there was only one person who was perpetuating the model minority myth for myself: me.
The model minority myth perpetuates the idea that Asian-Americans are more successful in comparison to other minority groups and thus have proximity to whiteness. This myth is rooted in stereotypes that state that Asians are good at math, play piano, and will go to an Ivy League school to become a doctor. While these stereotypes seem like it should make us feel better about ourselves, it ends up creating a variety of problems.
In the moments that I felt that I was performing well academically, I had genuine breakdowns thinking that I was not a “good enough Asian”. On the other hand, when I was doing well, I was disheartened to hear my classmates only attribute my success to my race. It even got to the point where my nickname in middle school was just “Asian”. Honestly though, I just let it continue. I laughed along and told others that they were right, I was just good at school because I am Asian. However, when I would sit in my bed at night trying to figure out why I felt so uncomfortable when I would be praised or why doing poorly in school made me feel so invalid in my identity, I could never point fingers at someone else. Rather, it was the tapes that had been playing in my head since I was just a little girl that stemmed from the model minority myth and colonialistic mindsets that flood my culture.
Since I was young, I was called “Miss Made in the USA” and was complimented for having the lightest skin in my family. But as I got older and my skin progressively became more tanned from sports, I saw that the way my mother looked at me changed. I heard comments from my siblings asking me what happened to my skin, and I began to feel dirty. When I started to see what they were saying in myself I got angry. I should love my skin and culture and what I have is beautiful. I nearly became defensive of myself asking: “Why would you think that?” But I got to the point where the tapes were stuck on rewind until they choked me.
When I imagine someone becoming successful, I cannot clearly imagine myself. I see what I have made in my mind as a whiter version of myself. I’ve almost fully come to think that a person who looks like me can’t be successful when there are so many “better” candidates for the job. But the only thing that’s distinguishing me from the person that I feel is “better” is the color of their skin.” — a quote from my diary in 2017
When I imagine someone becoming successful, I cannot clearly imagine myself. I see what I have made in my mind as a whiter version of myself. I’ve almost fully come to think that a person who looks like me can’t be successful when there are so many “better” candidates for the job. But the only thing that’s distinguishing me from the person that I feel is “better” is the color of their skin.”
— a quote from my diary in 2017
Unfortunately, this was not just an idea that played through just my head. My sister has said to me once that she wants to raise an American baby, not a Filipino one. I have heard Asian classmates say to me that they feel like they have to try harder just to keep up with this unreachable finish line. There are advertisements that target Southeast Asians to buy soaps that bleach their skin.
I always envied those who were so connected to their culture. All my attempts to follow my culture ended up just being me trying to mold to the model minority myth. Yet, as I write this, I can confidently say that the tapes that once held me in a chokehold have loosened their grip. The only way that this became possible was to practice self-love. I had to put in the effort to fight against what my head was telling me about myself and rewrite the narrative. It will take years for me to be in a more confident place, but at least I now know that the model minority myth is just that: a myth.