By Rodolfo Acuna
I approach the topic of culture with trepidation. Better minds than mine have written about it; it is also a hot button issue in the Mexican American community. As important as culture is, there is a huge misunderstanding of role that culture plays, and some of us use culture as an excuse for our excesses.
In the early days of the Chicano Movement students would tell me that marihuana was part of Chicano culture as if that made it acceptable. The same reasoning was applied to other “mind enhancing” drugs no matter that marihuana was not indigenous, its origins were in China and Indian, and later transported to Europe by Arab merchants, after which it was brought to the New World.
No matter that even the use of other psychoactive drugs were closely controlled by the ancients. Intoxication was permitted only for the ancient, people such as me. The distilling of alcoholic beverages was a European thing, and there was a difference between pulque and mescal, for example.
My anthropologist friends tell me that man invented culture, but that culture now controls man, which if so means that culture is not immutable; we can change it. Indeed, just looking back on my life culture has changed for the good, the bad and the ugly.
Cultural change is good when it has a purpose. When I was a child I remember my mother, grandmother and aunts making tamales. They prepared the masa dipping into a huge tin can full of pork lard. Today canola and/or corn oil has been substituted for the lard even though connoisseurs tell me that the tamales don’t taste the same. My wife, however, is a health nut and won’t even use corn oil because of the potential for GMO contamination.
Culture, for me, is something that I enjoy, but believe that it is often glorified. For example, we live in a modern society and education is essential to the quality of our lives. I once got into hot water with culturists when I suggested that I would trade bilingual education for a guarantee that all Latino students could read and write at the 12th grade level.
Of course the guarantee would have to include penalties such as those in charge of education would be held accountable, and if they failed they would have to make a public television apology and serve jail sentences. If they didn’t they would be like the Wall Street bankers and continue to profit from their malfeasance.
This sounds idiotic, but imagine the changes that would be made. The child’s parents would have to have a good paying job and housing would have to be improved. The culture of the community would have to change. It seems more reasonable than teaching children to pass a test and still be left behind.
Despite this I like my culture. When I was a child I liked how my parents interacted with friends. I liked eating at a table that was full of people. During the depression no one in our circle starved because there was always a fresh pot of boiled beans and day old bread that could be dunked into the broth.
I notice that as I got older even my taste in colors changed. As I got more assimilated all the colors in my home had to be off-white. It was more practical. Gone were the days when every house in the neighbor and every room in the house was painted a difference color, the brighter the better.
Colors were a very important part of our culture. My mother, my sister and cousins all wore bright dresses adorned with flowers. The only flower that was not represented was the geraniums – they were outside in Hills Brothers coffee cans. We were environmentalists before the word became chic (Chic at that time did not refer to a girl but to someone who was fashionable).
There were other things in the culture that when I look back at them were not so equal. My male cousins would not be caught dead washing dishes. I was saved because my mother was legally blind and so I did chores such as the dishes and scrubbed the kitchen floor.
Also as I think back, the only ones that I ever saw drunk were males. A good wedding was a failure if it did not have at least one good fight. Boorish behavior was generally a male thing.
READ THE ENTIRE ARTICLE HERE: How Do We Change Culture? » Counterpunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names.