Oftentimes representations of cultures are boiled down to stereotypes. Just take a look at a middle school history book. The only thing that most people can associate with my Swiss heritage/culture is Ricola, lederhosen, and hot chocolate. In the transition between a first generation immigrant and their children’s children, cultural icons are clung to tenaciously, allowed to fall to the wayside, and otherwise selectively (or not so selectively) passed down the generations.
My mother married a Puerto Rican man long before I was born and he remained a part of my life for a very, very long time. Through my association with him and many others I began to understand that leaving one’s own country required a certain leap of faith. Despite this faith, however, the grass on the other side of the border doesn’t always yield emeralds. For most of my adult life I’ve worked with immigrants: legal, illegal, residents, etc., and have found myself fascinated particularly by Latin American immigrant culture. Many of these immigrants leave their country in the hope of escaping poverty, extortion, dictatorships and so forth. They arrive in their new home only to face a new set of conflicts: Do they cling to the culture from which they came and risk becoming a walking stereotype, do they fully assimilate and lose touch with their culture, will the opportunities they sought ever present themselves, is the life they came here for actually here?