Talking Cultural Diversity

a discussion board for cultural and diversity issues by Thomas Kochman and Jean Mavrelis

Who Counts First — Culturally Speaking?

By Thomas Kochman - 07.28.2010

An interesting U.S. Mainstream/Hispanic cultural difference occurred recently that I thought would be worth a blog.

My wife and partner Jean Mavrelis and I are compadres to a Mayan family in Chicago who fled Guatemala when they were in effect, being shot off their land, ended up in a refugee camp and ultimately, as part of the sanctuary movement, in Chicago where they now reside.

Part of the role and responsibility of being compadres, or god-parents, is to provide help when needed and when you can, much like family.

What’s culturally revealing and noteworthy is this.

We were already very satisfied with a Latino owned and run lawn service that we had been using for several years.

An issue came up for us however, when the Mayan family told us that a member of their family was starting up a lawn service business and would we start using him, instead of who we were using.

We made the switch but not without some reluctance and trepidation.

What is culturally interesting and significant is what was behind our initial reluctance, what ultimately drove us to make the switch, and the response that we got from the Latino boss who ran the lawn service we had been using.

On the first point: we were initially reluctant to switch, not so much, but also, because there was an unknown factor in the equation –would the new service be as good as what we had—but, because we didn’t like the idea of having to discharge someone for reasons unrelated to work performance, especially when they were doing exceptionally good work.

What ultimately drove us to make the switch was personal integrity: taking our god-parent responsibility seriously and following through on what we said we would do.

To our surprise, the Latino owner understood completely why we were making the change. In his value system, family loyalty and obligations–this included taking the role of compadre seriously– counted first, well above and beyond how well people were doing the work.

I was reminded of this cultural difference again when the Mayan grandmother and daughter-in-law who also clean for us asked us recently –they needed more work– if we knew anyone who needed to have their home cleaned.

I called my daughter who said she already had someone whom she was pleased with –a single mom with a small child who also needed the work—but who will pass the information along to those she knows.

Hopefully, they will be in the looking stage.

Asking U.S. mainstream people to make the switch to hire people for predominantly family reasons –even when it’s their family — runs against the grain.

Asking them to make the switch because of other people’s family obligations has even less of a chance succeeding.

After all, doesn’t everyone have family responsibilities and bills to pay, and aren’t all people, as individuals, equally deserving of consideration, especially, if they’re also doing good work?

This cultural difference has far-reaching implications, not only for Hispanics and Mainstream U.S. Anglos, but for other groups as well.

What counts first for you?

3 Responses so far

Very easy answer of course! Family.
Knowing how deeply you and Jean are involved with political refugees and saving the lives of those that are persecuted so terribly in their own country for no good reason at all, I understand how they become family in your hearts. Maybe not in the same way as your own flesh and blood but in the gut wrenching pull they can have on you when they are in trouble or need.
For this reason I don’t consider you bleeding heart liberals, just humanitarians with the capacity to hold many many many in your hearts. I also give you both credit for your brilliant minds as well because I know you to be realists as well. You understand that you can’t possibly do it all but you know you can involve the world in your causes and you DO! KUDOS to you both!
I am very proud to say I know you and have you on my family tree. It makes my branches feel all that much stronger. Good Luck with your new Family members.

Thank you! Those are precious words to me. My Mom always said the same about you – you got a way of taking people in yourself, woman. love ya

Family. My mom raised my sibblings and me the same way. I always remember her helping family and anyone that came down the street. And today we need to adopt/or instill those old traditions again in our youth.

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