Armonía Con Una Palita De Conflicto: A ‘Latino’ Relationship as Intercultural

Martha Iris Rosas

Dedicado a mis queridos padres, Estela у Gregorio Rosas.

A few years ago, a Cuban relative took me aside at a family event. “¡Muchacha!” she said, pointing to a glow-in-the-dark rosary I wore tucked under my blouse, “¡Quítate eso, que pareces Puertorriqueña!” [Girl! Take that off—you look Puerto Rican! I. This comment created dissonance for me, a dissonance I hadn’t felt being raised in a household with a Cuban mother and Puerto Rican father, and resulted in my rethinking my childhood. Comments by extended family came to mind, such as “You need to marry a good Cuban man,” making me wonder if I was being claimed for one side of the family. Then, slowly, differences between my mother and father, specifically in the ways they talked, emerged. For the first time, I considered that although my parents were both ‘Latino’ and, more specifically, Caribbean, I had been raised by an intercultural couple.

Although I prefer the term‘Latinx,’which Salinas and Lozano (2017) explain “has evolved as [a] new form of liberation for those individuals who do not identify within the gender binary of masculinity or femininity and is used to represent the various intersections of gender as it is understood in different ways within different communities of people” (p. 10), including indigenous conceptions of gender, throughout this paper I will use the term ‘Latino.’ Salina and Lozano explain that the term ‘Latinx’ should only be used if “participants selfidentify as Latinx” (p. 11) and my parents, when they were alive, usually used their respective nationalities or the terms ‘Hispano’ and ‘Latino’ to identify themselves. Furthermore, I will be discussing implications for education in the findings of this study and have not yet found instances of the New York City Board of Education using the term ‘Latinx’ to identify student populations.

Suarez-Orozco and Paez (2008) identify the term ‘Latino’ as a construct defined within the U.S. context: “Outside the United States, we don’t speak of Latinos; we speak of Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and so forth. Latinos are made in the USA” (p. 4).This makes it evident that ‘Latinos’ from different regions or nations, such as Cuba and Puerto Rico, might identify with distinct cultures. For example, individuals could instead identify their cultures as being Indigenous or from their nation of origin. In this narrative study, I explore my parents’ intercultural relationship to determine how they perceived and dealt with issues of cultural difference. Molina, Estrada & Burnett (2004) have explained that “[i]ntercultural couples may need to negotiate their unique cultural landscapes, as well as withstand the pressures of rejecting communities” (p. 142). My research question is as follows: How do individuals in intercultural relationships address intercultural differences?

This study is relevant to educators working with heterogeneous populations of students. By focusing on two individuals who interact closely on a daily basis, I explore types of intercultural differences that may arise when populations from different nationalities come into close contact, as they do in U.S. schools, to determine possible approaches that may be used to address these differences.

Theoretical Framework and Literature Review

Biculturalism is frequently explored as a phenomena in which individuals and families navigate between a non-majority home culture and a majority societal culture (Barrios & Egan, 2002; Darder, 2011; Montoya, 1994; Olivos, 2006; Pooremamali, Ostman, Persson, & Eklund, 2011). This focus, however, usually does not explore the extent to which heterogeneity could be present within the home culture itself; rather, differences focused on are between the home culture and societal culture. Occasionally, biculturalism is explored as a phenomenon in which families and/or couples from two distinct cultures navigate these cultures within their relationship, the household, and/or extended family structures (Anderson, 1999; Blount & Curry, 1993; O’Hearn, 2008;Wamba, 1998). More frequently, though, when the phenomenon of couples or families navigating two distinct cultures amongst themselves is explored, the term used to refer to these families or couples is ‘intercultural’ (Crippen & Brew, 2007; Molina et al., 2004; Silva, Campbell & Wright, 2012). Crippen and Brew (2007), for example, explain that the “term intercultural relates to bringing together or the meeting of two different cultural backgrounds into one relationship” (p. 107). Waldman & Rubalcava (2005) expand the definition of intercultural couples to include “[p] artners with the same ethnicity” when they have “issues [which | nevertheless revolve around unconsciously grounded cultural differences” (p. 228). Whether the literature refers to relationships formed by individuals from two distinct cultural backgrounds as ‘bicultural’ or ‘intercultural,” however, potential and actual difficulties arising as a result of heterogeneity or difference within their cultures are discussed: misunderstandings related to the motivation behind their partners actions (Waldman & Rubalcava, 2005), differences in cultural practices (Wamba, 1998), separation between the two sides of the family (Wamba, 1998), mistrust of the other culture by extended family members (O’Hearn, 1988),as well as family opposition to the relationship (Molina et al., 2004).

By using narrative research to explore a successful intercultural relationship (i.e., one that persists despite the difficulties encountered as a result of intercultural difference), this study hopes to focus on ways in which difficulties dealing with intercultural differences can be successfully addressed. To use a framework open to the possibility of an intercultural relationship, this narrative study employs aspects of two poststructural theories, Derrida’s (1976) theory of deconstruction and Butler’s (1993, 2004) theory of performativity, as described by Jackson and Mazzei (2011) in addition to Butler (2008), to explore issues of intercultural difference.

Derrida (1976) uses the concept of the trace to refer to the “absent presence of sometimes imperceptible imprints on our words and their meanings before we speak or write them” (as cited in Jackson & Mazzei, 2011, p. 21). By identifying traces associated with certain signifiers, or words, Derrida allows for the possibility of using a word without “subscribing to its premises” (Spivak, 1976, xviii).This expands words so that other traces, including those not usually associated with these words, can be connected to them, thereby making them more inclusive. Sarup (1989), explaining Derrida’s views on language, acknowledges that because meaning “will never stay the same from context to context” (p. 36), language cannot necessarily be considered stable. Looking at traces therefore “prevents a closure of meaning” Jackson & Mazzei, 2011, p. 28). Deconstruction “unsettles how... categories seek to stabilize identity and arrest meaning in ways that are limiting” (Jackson & Mazzei, 2011, p. 27). In this way, words used to categorize individuals or groups of individuals can be expanded.

Butler’s theory of performativity focuses on the enactment of performative responses to undo “normative categories that place rigid structures on how people live out their lives” (as cited in Jackson & Mazzei, 2011, p. 72). Interpellation, defined as “a linguistic act of hailing, or calling an individual that initiates her into subjected status and therefore into ‘a certain order of social existence’” (as cited in Jackson & Mazzei, 2011, p. 74), recognizes individuals by referring to normative categories that invoke certain social orders. That Butler’s conception of normative categories has affinities with Derrida’s conception of traces is made evident when Butler (2008) states:

Although some would likely argue that norms must already be in place for recognition to become possible, and there is doubtless truth to such a claim, it is also true that new norms are brought into being when unanticipated forms of recognition take place.

(p. 31)

Butler believes that norms come into question when individuals are not recognized by them. If interpellation does not recognize individuals in acceptable ways, individuals can enact performative responses to reconstitute themselves. Thus, in the same way words are made more inclusive by associating them with new traces, recognition can be expanded by issuing performative responses.

It is important to note that although postmodern and poststructural theories acknowledge that individuals can enact resistance when represented in unfavorable ways, Latinx scholars such as Moya (2002) have pointed out that these theories do not necessarily take into account how these representations influence the development of a more stable sense of identity in individuals of color. Poststructuralism’s influence on postmodernism has resulted in the “conventional understanding of identity [being undermined) by discounting the possibility of objective knowledge” (p. 7). By not attending to identity formation, postmodern theories of subjectivity “are unable to explain the persistent correlation between certain kinds of bodies and certain kinds of identities” (p. 18) and could lead to the legitimacy of marginalized groups’ identities (as oppressed) being theorized away. For the purpose of exploring how two nonmajority cultures are navigated when aspiring to form a viable intercultural union, the poststructural theoretical constructs I have chosen are helpful because they emphasize how traces and norms can expand to allow for the possibility of an intercultural union. I have, however, been careful to remain focused on interactions between my parents’ non-majority cultures and not on interactions between their non-majority cultures and the prevailing majority culture, as I imagine it is during the latter type of interactions that certain types of representations of non-majority groups, if made by large numbers of majority group members, are likely to influence the development of marginalized identities in non-majority group members. Because—throughout their relationship—my parents were surrounded by family and friends from their respective non-majority groups; neither group had a persistent marginalizing effect on the members of the other group.

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