Irene De La Cruz: Holding on to tradition in a diverse community

There are so many things to be thankful for in this country. When we compare our laws and our social traditions to other countries, I feel we are very fortunate to live here. That’s not to say that one country is better than the other, it’s just different.

Narrowing it down from the United States to California and Merced County, the diversity that abounds allows us to observe and sometimes even take part in different cultural events. That gives us a better understanding of different cultures, and we don’t have to leave home to experience it.

One of the events that is observed and celebrated this month is the independence of Mexico, which took place on Sept. 16, 1810. Even though I wasn’t born in Mexico, I am a first generation Latina in this country who has genealogical roots there. I’ve always appreciated and respected some of the cultural traditions that my parents grew up with.

They were born there, and I have memories not just from visiting family there, but also from the stories my mom and dad shared with us over the years. For example, I remember my father once telling me that when he was young, he and his family had to flee to the mountains and live there for days because of the rebellion that took place with Pancho Villa and his group.

I have always found it amazing how my 99-year-old father can still recall some of these bits of memories from his childhood days, but it’s also amazing to me how people actually survived those times without the resources that we have today. But I guess the same theory of “you do what you have to do” to survive existed then as it does now, it’s just implemented differently.

Maintaining the culture of any race is necessary to help create that balance in a community, and Latinos have continued to do just that. The common goal is to keep the traditional culture going for future generations, not to let it die out, because what’s good for one culture, is good for all cultures.

My husband and his siblings were born in Texas, but they were brought up being proud of their Mexican heritage. They have continued to keep the Mexican heritage alive through their work, their community involvement and their commitment to social justice.

From Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 is Hispanic Heritage Month. It acknowledges the contributions that Latinos have made to this country – and there are many. It started in 1968 during the presidency of Lyndon B. Johnson, with one week being acknowledged as Hispanic Heritage Week, but was extended to a month in 1988 under President Ronald Reagan.

Here in Merced County, there are Latinos in every aspect of the social and business world who have contributed greatly to the economy of the county, the awareness of social justice and the overall framework of a diverse community. I salute these individuals – some for the arduous work throughout the years and others for having the vision to continue the dream of a better life for all.

One of the old well-known clichés of the Mexican culture is “mi casa, su casa,” which can have two different meanings. One is that it describes friendliness, courtesy, kindness, attentiveness to one’s home, which you will find to be true in most Mexican households. You can never leave without having eaten something or being offered food to take with you.

The other meaning is a bit more cynical in the sense that when Mexican landowners extended this “courtesy” to foreigners, they didn’t realize that they would be taken advantage of and have their land taken from them. Which leads me to another cliché, “te dan la mano, y quieres el brazo”! – you give them a hand, and they want the whole arm.

I’m hoping you take the time to acknowledge the richness of the Mexican culture during Hispanic Heritage Month, because there’s more to the culture than just the great food and the traditional dances.