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Mexican American Cultural Group: Background and Current Experience

Helpful Information About the Cultural Group

There are several aspects characteristic of the Mexican American cultural group. One aspect is the group’s family relationships. The group has extensive family memberships and strong family values. Such a factor contributes to the group’s collectivist mindset, were helping younger siblings and relatives, in general, is part of the culture. Accordingly, collaboration and cooperation is vital element of the culture.

Another factor distinct to the Mexican American cultural group is the extensive funds of knowledge. The children connect with different networks in their communities – adult relatives, uncles, and learn many different crafts in their communities. Accordingly, students serve as their household’s linguistic and cultural brokers (Rubinstein-Ávila, 2009). The language usage of such groups can be filled with code-switching, alternating the use of language, which is a characteristic phenomenon of Mexican American families.

The religiousness of the Mexican American group is another characteristic cultural factor. Changing countries and cultures, religion can be seen among the aspects that remained the same for migrant families. Similarly, religion can be seen as a source of comfort for children too (Gonzalez-Ramos, 2001 #3365). Events, characters, and stories from biblical narrations are known to children.

Additionally, one cultural characteristic of the Mexican American group can be seen rooted in the prevalence of migrant workers in such group. Combined with the patriarchal family structure, it can be stated that it is difficult to engage fathers to participate in education. Focusing on employment, fathers are often busy working or searching for a job, being physically exhausted to participate in any learning initiatives. Accordingly, many of the fathers in Mexican American communities are not bilingual, while at the same time “getting a job may be viewed as more important than literacy or ESL” (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2002).

The Role of Cultural Background

Such information can help establish communication between the teachers and communities. Helping teachers identify the contradictions, parallels, and disjunctures in the practices between the class and the community will be helpful for teachers in their relationship with students, avoiding the creation of conflicting situations (Gitlin, Buendía, Crosland, & Doumbia, 2003, p. 97). Such conflicting situations might be seen in cases where the learned material will contradict the students’ family values.

Additionally, an important element of such cultural background in the teacher-student interaction is avoiding misinterpretation of students’ actions. One example is the case of Mexican American cultural group is the view on individual and group works. When a student helps another student, the teachers might interpret such action as cheating. The same can be said about praising one’s accomplishments, which might lead to students’ embarrassment and confusion. Finally, it can be stated that in general the utilization of students’ cultural background might lead to strengthening the class harmony, increasing the knowledge of different cultural groups about each other, and increasing the participation of Mexican Americans in-class activities.

Literacy and Language Experience

Children might have pre-existing linguistic experiences that should be utilized. Such experience, in addition to code-switching, might include the experience of reading in Spanish. As with other second language learners, Mexican Americans already have a range of linguistic repertoires and prior background experiences. For many of the students, whose parents are immigrants with no knowledge of the language (Gitlin, et al., 2003, p. 112), students might act as interpreters. Teachers might utilize students’ knowledge of their first language, and thus, making the classroom more culturally responsive (The Education Alliance at Brown University, 2003). An example of the latter can be seen through identifying students’ reading comprehension strategies in their first language and transferring them from their native language to English.

The Role of Teachers

The role of the teachers is to learn and utilize the learned information about the group’s cultural background, in a way that helps teachers understand cultural differences and acknowledge how students learn best, and at the same time keep their language and culture. Incorporating students’ funds of knowledge will help student s bring elements from their culture to school. For example, learning about the fact that Mexican American students know carpentry from their community, the teacher might utilize such knowledge in constructing a reading or writing lesson that utilizes such information. The collectivist mindset of Mexican Americans can be utilized in making the typically individual activities like group work. For example, the teacher might construct a lesson in which students will collaborate to write a story together, and in which the appraisal for the work will be collective, rather than individual.

Additionally, students’ knowledge of Spanish can be utilized in learning English. Students might identify students’ reading strategies in Spanish and build on the same experience in English reading. Other approaches can be seen in integrating discussions in Spanish about English texts. The students’ code-switching linguistic experience can be utilized as well through the use of content area cognates. The teacher might use cognates, i.e. the words which are similar in pronunciation and meaning in English and Spanish, to build students’ vocabulary.

The religiousness of the cultural group can be used in constructing the curriculum, where a selection of stories, events, and narratives can utilize the biblical descriptions. Such a method might make students engage in tasks constructed on familiar topics, and at the same time receive the approval and the support of the communities.

Focusing on the integration of the male role model in the curriculum should be important for the Mexican American group. One way of utilizing the cultural characteristics of the group is to engage the father more in the education process, including such aspects as modifying the educational activities so that fathers will be able to participate, e.g. before work, weekends, evenings, etc (US Department of Health and Human Services, 2002).

In all of the aforementioned aspects, it can be stated that seeking cooperation and offering help to students’ communities will facilitate the teachers’ mission. Machismo is one of the cultural values of the Mexican American group, for which asking for help can be seen as a sign of weakness. In that regard, the teachers should take the initiatives into their hands, especially when dealing with Mexican American fathers.


Gitlin, A., Buendía, E., Crosland, K., & Doumbia, F. (2003). The Production of Margin and Center: Welcoming-Unwelcoming of Immigrant Students. American Educational Research Journal, 40(1), 91-122.

Gonzalez, Norma, Luis C. Moll, and Cathy Amanti. Funds of Knowledge: Theorizing Practice in Households, Communities, and Classrooms. Mahwah, N.J.: L. Erlbaum Associates, 2005.

Gonzalez-Ramos, G., & Sanchez-Nester, M. (2001). Responding to Immigrant Children’s Mental Health Needs in the Schools: Project Mi Tierra/ My Country. Children & Schools, 23(1), 49-62.

Perez, Bertha, and T. L. McCarty. Sociocultural Contexts of Language and Literacy. 2nd ed. Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum, 2004.

Rubinstein-Ávila, E. (2009). Connecting With Latino Learners. In M. Scherer (Ed.), Engaging the Whole Child: Reflections on Best Practices in Learning, Teaching, and Leadership (pp. 309 – 320). Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD.

Trumbull, Elise, and Carrie Rothstein-Fisch. “Cultures in Harmony.” Engaging the Whole Child: Reflections on Best Practices in Learning, Teaching, and Leadership. Ed. Scherer, Marge. Alexandria, Virginia: ASCD, 2009. 321 – 28.

US Department of Health and Human Services. (2002). Learning from our Partners: A Summary of the Dialogue. Hispanic Fathers and Family Literacy: Strengthening Achievement in Hispanic Communities. Web.

Weinstein, Carol S., Saundra Tomlinson-Clarke, and Mary Curran. “Toward a Conception of Culturally Responsive Classroom Management.” Journal of Teacher Education 55.1 (2004): 25-38.


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