La Familia

I have a dear friend who, long ago, immigrated from Mexico to the United States. She is a lovely, warm, spiritual woman and I am often in awe of her dedication to family over all else. Her children are grown and starting families of their own, but not a day goes by that they don’t talk on the phone and/or see one another. Like most people who’ve spent many years living in a different country, she and her husband have blended some of their traditions and beliefs with those that exist here in the U.S. Still, they continue to follow many beautiful customs rooted in their native culture.

The importance of family over the individual in Mexico encourages people to think, not just of their goals and desires, but of what they can do to serve the needs of the group. And keeping family close by is placed at a high value. In the United States, we revere independence, and the result is many families are spread out in different areas of the country. It is not uncommon to have several family units and generations living in the same house, however, in Mexico. This practice benefits both the senior family members, who may need daily care, and the grandchildren, whose lives are enriched by the close relationships they have with their grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. It also ensures that family traditions and history will be passed down. Some of these customs involve deeply ingrained spiritual beliefs and practices.

A large percentage, some 80%, of the citizens of Mexico identify as Catholic, but their sense of spirituality extends far beyond organized religion. Before the Spanish occupation, Mexico was populated by ancient societies such as the Aztecs, Zapotecs and Mayans, and some of their unique practices continue to influence modern rituals. This is why, when you travel around the country, local customs tend to vary widely. Despite the different historical and religious practices, however, there’s a constant underlying theme of inclusiveness and family values. And a large part of that involves celebrations.

My friend never seems to run out of reasons to, “make a party”, as she calls it. She approaches every event with great enthusiasm, though the amount of work that goes into it boggles my mind. She starts by cleaning her house from top to bottom, followed by days of cooking. She and her husband pronounce the the party a success if people eat too much, stay until the wee hours of the morning, and put in plenty of time on the dance floor. Though the family unit is the most critical, they are always happy to include friends as well as their families. You can easily see how the group can grow large over time as the kids get married off and begin to bring their spouses and inlaws.

As Americans, we pride ourselves on standing our own two feet and leaving “the nest” as soon as we’re able. Certainly, there is a lot to be said for this type of self-reliance. Yet I also believe we can benefit, from observing the dedication to family values and traditions that is an integral part of the hispanic culture.

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