Education and the Multi-Cultural Society: Latin and African Americans

Since the birth of the United States of America, the country has remained a multi-cultural society. Beginning with the Western Europeans who came for colonization, people have continued to immigrate to America in pursuit of freedom, happiness, and economic security. Today, Americans represent different ethnic groups from around the world. The US Census Bureau separates these differences into categories to include Whites, Blacks, Native American, Asian, Pacific Islander, and Hispanic (2013). While Whites represent the majority, Hispanics and Black Americans represent a large minority. Diversity is expressed throughout society, specifically in the American school system. Here, students from all backgrounds come together to learn. The educational system is important to all people. One’s education can predict one’s health, income, and overall quality of life. “As the demographics of the US population become more diverse, the need to provide multicultural education experiences in organized youth programs increases”, (Faison, Dorsey, & Ingram, 2003). Therefore, to encourage a homogeneous society, improve student learning, and reduce inequalities, instructors should be aware of cultural differences. While Blacks and Hispanics represent one of the many cultures that make up society, it is important to be informed of cultural similarities and differences to encourage an inclusive classroom and improve the quality of education for all students.

Multi-Cultural Society

To better understand and relate to cultures that make up the student population Black and Hispanic culture is researched and analyzed. These two ethnic groups are the largest segment of ethnic minorities in both the United States and the state of Georgia. The U.S Census Bureau confirmed that while 55% of the Georgia population is White, Blacks make up 31% and Hispanic Americans make up 9% (C2013). While the Hispanic population is considerably low in Georgia, this differs from the rest of the country. Across the U.S Hispanics make up more than 16% of the population while Blacks make up only 13% (Census, 2013). This indicates that Hispanics represent the second largest ethnic group and continues to grow. Therefore, it is important for instructors to be informed of cultural differences. This can effect and influence learning outcomes and reduce stereotypes, bias, assumptions, and prejudice that may occur in the classroom. By learning different cultures, instructors are able understand the “learned system of knowledge, behavior, attitudes, beliefs, values, and norms that is shared by a group of people”, (CDC Health, 2009).

African American Culture

Blacks or African Americans represent the largest minority group in the state of Georgia (Census, 2013). Depending upon the county and school district, Black students may represent the majority within the multi-cultural classroom. African Americans represent people of African descent and origins. Their population is due to the effects of African slavery which occurred from the late 1500’s to the late 1800’s. During slavery, Africans participated in forced migration to locations around the world. This includes parts of the Caribbean, South America, and the U.S. “Part of the central mechanisms of slavery was to strip African Americans of identity, language, and culture of their homeland”, (Barbarin, 2002). As a result, decedents hold little to no knowledge of their original heritage, origins, and language. In the slave institution, Blacks created a new culture becoming a fusion of traditional African customs and European culture. Slavery also created different racial identities. While some may identify as Black, others identify as African, Jamaican, Haitian, and other parts of the Caribbean, and Americas. “In the 1990’s a large influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and parts of Africa has changed the face of the African American community… tensions of assimilation and cultural identification to recent immigrants and African Americans who have been in the U.S for generations”, (Barbarin, 2002).

Hispanic Culture

The Hispanic or Latino culture represents the largest minority group throughout the U.S and is the 3rd largest in the state of Georgia, (US Census, 2013).  The majority of Hispanics live in high populated states and those bordering Mexico to include, California, Texas, New York, Florida, and Illinois. While some use the term Hispanic, the word Latino is often used interchangeably. “Hispanic is a term created by the U.S federal government in the 1970’s in an attempt to provide a common denomination to a large, but diverse population with connection to the Spanish language or culture from a Spanish speaking country”, (Clutter & Nieto, 2013). They come from a variety of different countries, islands, and regions. This includes Cuba, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, and other parts South and Central America. Despite the different ethnicities within this community, 66% of all Hispanics identify as Mexican. Many Latinos have lived in this country for generations. These families are less likely to maintain their language or relationships with others living in their native land. Those who are newly immigrated or first generation born are less assimilated to American culture. In this way, it is important to “differentiate between U.S born and non U.S born” Hispanic Americans, (CDC Health, 2009). This is especially important in the multi-cultural classroom. It can reduce assumptions regarding language barriers and communication.

African American Family Structure

The African American family structure is a union between traditional African customs, European structures, and the effects of African enslavement. “This was done by undermining and replacing family structures with transient ones built around identity as slaves”, (Barbarin, 2002). It changed African American family formation, marriage ideals, gender roles, and parenting styles. Recent trends indicate that marriage has declined within this community, (Scott, 2005). It has spawned a high rate of children born out of wedlock and single mothers. Statistics suggest that as many as 54% of African American children are raised by single women, (Barbarin, 2002).  In addition to this, Black culture establishes close relationships with extended family members such as grandparents. This is because they are more likely to care for elderly parents and grandparents, while grandparents play a direct role in raising children. Black children are provided with, “strong support and affection” within this community. Despite this, children are often raised with strictness regarding behavior and disciplined physically in this hierarchal family structure.

Hispanic Family Structure

The Latino family structure is unique and different. Significantly, the family unit is strongly influenced by the church and patriarchy. As such, spirituality and Catholicism strongly influence family structure and gender roles. They maintain a patriarchy system as males are the head of house and make decisions for the family. If the father is not present, than the oldest male is considered the man of the house and provided authority. This may be the oldest son or an uncle. In this way, it is clear that the “Hispanic family is a close-knit group and the most important social unit”, (Clutter & Nieto, 2013). While many American families include just parents and children, the Hispanic family unit maintains close ties with extended members that make up the family. With this close connection, members are morally responsible to take on additional obligations to maintain the unit. This includes being financially responsible, caring for sick relatives, or helping out with other problems families may face. This system is defined as “collective culture”, (CDC Health, 2013). It means responsibilities are shared among members and everyone is accountable for the family’s well-being. Additionally, most activities are done collectively as a family from running errands to special events.

African American Income and Education

Research suggests that, the African American family is plagued by, “under achievement, underemployment, teen pregnancy, divorce, health problems, and problem with psychological adjustments… [that] weave together to form a net of adverse social conditions”, (Barbarin, 2002). This is observed as the average Black household income stands at $32,000. All the while, the White majority earns an average of $68,500, a 61% difference, (Higher Education, 2007). This leaves 24% of African American families living in poverty (US Census, 2013). Poverty is influenced by one’s education, income, and job profession. As many as 82% of Blacks graduate with a High School diploma. Of these, only 18% go on to continue their education to earn a Bachelor’s degree. Education, skills, and trades allow African Americans enter into many careers and professions. 30% of employed Blacks work in the education and health service industry (Dept of Labor, 2012). Another 38% work in other industries to include areas like business, management, science, and the arts (Dept of Labor, 2012). This is observed as 37% of industries are Black owned such as repair, maintenance and social services. While there remains a significant gap between Black and White income brackets, “the racial income gap for master’s degree holders closed substantially”, (Higher Education, 2007). This is because Blacks and White professionals earn similar incomes by a difference of more than 10%. Although Blacks are most effected by high unemployment rates and poverty, there is a significant rise in African Americans receiving a higher education, up by  more than 70% since the 1990’s, (US Census, 2013).

Hispanic Income and Education

Statistics indicates that 22% of American students are Latino. Despite this, only 63% of Hispanic adults have a high school education. Like many young people across the nation, Latinos are continuing their education earning undergraduate and advanced degrees. Most who participate in higher education go on to graduate. This is seen as 14% of college students are Latino and 13% earn a Bachelor’s degree (Cardenas & Kerby, 2012). However, studies show that only 67% of Hispanics participate in the labor force (US Labor, 2009). They work in various industries across different career fields. When observing Latinos in the work force, unequal opportunity and social injustices are apparent. Hispanics are “overrepresented in industries such as construction and manufacturing… [and] underrepresented in education and health industry”, (Cardenas & Kerby, 2012). Furthermore, Hispanics who are foreign born are more likely to participate in the private sector ranging from personal and laundry services to warehousing and waste management, (Dept of Labor, 2012). As a result, the average households earn only $38,000 annually. However, some strides are observed that helped to improve career and income outcomes. This is seen in increased college enrollment and higher education. In addition, more Hispanics are becoming business owners, especially women. It is suggested that 1 in 10 female business owners are Latina, (Cardenas & Kerby, 2012).

Similarities

There are many similarities observed between Hispanic and African American culture. The obvious similarity is that both Blacks and Latinos represent the ethnic minority. They are negatively impacted by social stratification, barriers, and bias seen throughout society. Not only do Hispanics and Blacks suffer from a high rate of unemployment, underemployment, and poverty, they are also impacted by “new racism, convert discrimination that is subtler but with more deleterious effects”, (Scott, 2005). In addition to this there are also cultural similarities that are unique and significant. “Hispanics are a mix of European, African, and Native American people”, (Lampkin, 2012). This is the result of European exploration and exploitation, African forced migration, and the intermarrying of these different groups. This is also observed in the African American community, especially those affected by slavery. Many Blacks are of mixed racial decent of the same ethnic groups and for the same reasons. Incidentally, there are individuals who are both Black and Hispanic, individuals of African descent from Spanish speaking countries. This is specifically seen of Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Dominicans.

Additional similarities are that both African Americans and Hispanics regard time in the same manner. Being late to social events is socially acceptable as time is used loosely and with flexibility. Furthermore, Blacks and Latinos are both heavily influenced by their religion and the church community. Within the Black community, “spirituality, mutual support, ethnic identity, adoptive extended family structures and church offers both ideological and instrumental support”, (Scott, 2005). This is also expressed in the Latino community. Within the family structure, lifestyle and community effort, Latinos are strongly connected to the Catholic Church.

Differences

Although Latinos are of different origins, colors, backgrounds, and identities, they are united by the Spanish language and cultural influence. African American’s on the other hand are united by their African descent and slavery. “While enslaved Blacks from all parts of Africa were diverse in experience, language, culture… it was their common experience as slaves that served as a foundation for the cultural value system”, (Scott, 2005). With these differences in mind, they both celebrate and observe different holidays and traditions. While Hispanics celebrate Cinco de Mayo, Blacks celebrate Juneteenth. Juneteenth is recognized as the “first Negro holiday” (Faison, Dorsey, & Ingram, 2003). It commemorates the day slaves were set free. Although Pres. Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation declared slaves free January 1, 1863 it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that the message reached the slave states of the south, (Faison, Dorsey, & Ingram, 2007). As a result, Black’s across the country celebrate this moment with festivities, such as music, food, and entertainment. Mexican Americans celebrate Cinco de Mayo, or 5th of May. The origins of Cinco de Mayo go back to the French-Mexico War dating 1861-1867, (History, 2013). In this war, Mexico was able to subdue French armies attempting to take parts of Mexican land. Although this event is given little notice in Mexico, “in the United States Cinco de Mayo has evolved into a celebration of Mexican culture and heritage”, (History, 2013). In cities across the country, Mexicans come together to celebrate with festivities such as mariachi performances, food, and street festivals.

Other differences include how African and Hispanic American celebrate heritage month.  The National Hispanic-Latino Heritage month is celebrated from September 15th to October 15th. During this time, Hispanics and non-Hispanics observe the contributions of Latinos in society. Although it was first observed through the weekend starting in 1968, it has expanded to a month long event. Hispanic Heritage Month represents the “la Raza movement”, (Heritage, 2013). Translated as “the race”, la raza is a movement that encourages pride, community, and unity among Latinos. They were given parts of both September and October to honor their heritage as it “commemorates two key historic events, Independence day, honoring the formal signing of the Act of Independence for Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua… and Mexican Independence Day”, (Heritage, 2013). Black History month on the other hand is celebrated during the month of February. It was “originally known as Negro History week established in the 1920’s”, (Bureau of Labor, 2013). This was done to raise awareness of African American history and contributions to society. However, it wasn’t until 1976 when Negro History week became Black History Month. Important people and events throughout African American history including famous leaders and inventions are promoted. February is the month Black history is observed because it honors the birthdays of two individuals that positively influenced African Americans, Abraham Lincoln and Frederic Douglas.

Appling Multi-Culturalism to the Classroom

“Public education for most African Americans has delivered the message that the history and culture of African Americans are not integral to the real learning that goes on in educational institutions”, (Scott, 2005). This is also true for Hispanic Americans. To encourage and stimulate learning in the classroom it is important to acknowledge cultural differences of students. This not only includes students in the learning process, it also recognizes the significance individual cultures. Consequently, gaining information about different cultures and ethnicities representing the classroom is essential. When teachers take the time to learn more about different cultures, the information found can be applied to the classroom. This improves instruction as well as encourages healthy relationships among students. In this way, “educators need to be more appreciative of and adaptable to the acquired experimental backgrounds that students bring with them… and should accommodate and capitalize on the lifestyles of students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds”, (Scott, 2005).

When teaching Hispanic students, applying cultural information can help develop the relationship between teacher, students, and their parents. Knowing norms and customs like the fact that Hispanics converse in close proximity to one another, or that eye contact is observed as a non-verbal form of aggression, can help teachers communicate with Hispanic students and their parents. Furthermore, “teens respond best to bilingual messages as it mirrors their own usage patterns” (CDC, 2013). This can easily be done by using Spanish terms and words. It keeps their attention, acknowledges cultural differences, and also mimics the communication style of this community. Doing this will help students “to fully engage its audiences in the learning process, giving particular attention to gaining and maintaining trust”, (Clutter & Nieto, 2013). Although Hispanics have different language skills, levels in education, and cultural values, applying useful information to the classroom can help improve educational success.

Working with African American students, cultural information can also improve the learning process. For instance, knowing that African American families hold strict behavioral expectations on their children can help with classroom management and communication. With this information, teachers are further encouraged to maintain appropriate relationships with parents regarding classroom behaviors. Parents then become a useful tool to help maintain conduct when students are disorderly. Furthermore, the African American family structure helps instructors understand the role of students in the home environment. Teachers are more likely to communicate with mothers regarding student progress, achievements, and behaviors. They should not be discouraged from communicating and establishing relationships with extended family members such as grandparents. Within this culture, grandparents, aunts, and uncles play a significant role in the family structure and influence.

 

References

(2007). Higher education is the major force in closing the black-white income gap. Journal of Blacks in Higher Education55(4), Retrieved from http://www.jbhe.com/news_views/55_closing_the_income_gap.html

Barbarin, O. (2002). Characteristics of african american families. Unpublished raw data, School of Social Work, University of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC, Retrieved from http://ssw.unc.edu/RTI/presentation/PDFs/aa_families.pdf

Cardenas, V., & Kerby, S. (2012, August 8). The state of latinos in the united states. American Progress Newsletter. Retrieved from http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/report/2012/08/08/11984/the-state-of-latinos-in-the-united-states/

CDC, Center for Disease Control, Healthy Communities Program. (2009). Building our  understanding:Culture insights communicating with hispanic/latinos. Retrieved from CDC Healthy Communities Program website: http://www.cdc.gov/healthycommunitiesprogram/tools/pdf/hispanic_latinos_insight.pdf

History. Cinco de mayo. (2013, July 23). Retrieved from http://www.history.com/topics/cinco-de-mayo

Faison, N., Dorsey, M., & Ingram, P. (2003). Guide to exploring african american culture. Informally published manuscript, College of Agricultural Sciences, Penn State, University Park, PA, Retrieved from http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/FreePubs/pdfs/agrs92.pdf

Heritage month guide. (2012, September 11). Retrieved from   http://www.diversitycentral.com/calendar/heritagemonthguide.php

Scott, H. (2005). Commentaries on the quest to improve the life chances and the educational lot of african americans: The african american culture. (Master’s thesis, Pace University)Retrieved from http://www.pace.edu/emplibrary/VP-THEAFRICANAMERICANCULTURE_Hugh_J_Scott.pdf

United States Census Bureau, United States Department of Commerce. (2013). Country and state quick facts. Retrieved from U.S Census Bureau website: http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/13000.html

United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2010). African american history month: Spotlight on statistics. Retrieved from Bureau of Labor Statistics website: http://www.bls.gov/spotlight/2010/african_american_history/

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About Russia Robinson

I am an independent freelance writer and free thinker. I strive to use my writing talents to benefit the greater good of society, one word, one sentence, one page at a time. Originally from Richmond, California I attended San Francisco State University receiving a BA in English Creative Writing and American Literature in 2004. After this I attended post graduate studies in 2008 at Georgia’s Kennesaw State University in Technical Writing. With an academic background in English, I have spent more than 10 years’ helping young people succeed. This can be seen in my career background in education and mental health. I am a certifiable Language Arts teacher for the state of Georgia. I also worked in social services including juvenile mental health treatment services and counseling. As a result, I understand the diversity of problems people face in their everyday lives. With words put together like so, I promote equality and a healthy society for all people regardless of individual differences. Conducting research, writing articles, essays, and blogging, I push to educate others about various issues that affect people. I also do this creatively through short stories, poems, pictures, and a novel in progress. My hobbies and interest are reading and learning. I enjoy all things art and all things nature. From camping and astronomy to photography and cooking, I enjoy sighting seeing and socializing just as much as I enjoy curling in bed with a good book or binge watching TV.
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