Walking The Line Between Past and Present
In South Florida, where various cultures shape the heart of the region, some teens say they have a hard time distinguishing between their ethnic past and their American present.
A 2002 Miami Montage poll showed that 89 percent of 341 South Florida students identified themselves as U.S. citizens.
Of those interviewed, many considered themselves to be more American than their family, many of whom continue to hold onto their cultural backgrounds.
„I see myself more as an American because I came here early on in my life,š said Maydelis Cruz, a 14-year-old Killian High student who immigrated to the United States after leaving Cuba seven years ago.
„I don't consider myself totally American, but I just feel that as time goes by I'm getting more and more used to life in the United States,š she said.
Teens like Maydelis prefer American pop culture and all the trappings that come with it - be it bare midriffs, multiple body piercings, Big Macs or pop music.
The truth is, many South Florida teens could readily sing the U.S. national anthem but not that of their parents' countries.
The United States' prevailing appeal has seeped through a range of cultures, and teenagers in South Florida's largely Hispanic community are not immune. Many welcome its influence and benefits such as freedom of speech, equality and respect for human rights.
But for some, there are cultural setbacks.
„American culture has changed me in that I don't speak Spanish as much. It gets a little harder for me to speak it with my family,š said Laura Ramirez, a recent Palmetto High graduate.
Ramirez, an 18-year-old of Cuban and Colombian descent, says she is aware of the strong pull of American culture and tries to resist it by maintaining a strong connection with her family, eating Colombian cuisine and dancing merengue.
„Being Hispanic plays a huge role in my life because it is my life,š she said.
„Even though I am proud that I was born in the United States and lucky to have all the rights that I have as an American citizen, I still feel very patriotic about being Cuban and Colombian, and I see how my heritage affects my family and myself,š Ramirez added.
When navigating the lines between their past and present, some teens prefer to be a bit more choosy Ų picking the best each has to offer.
Harvard University freshman Eduardo Saverin said despite the United States' offerings, he refuses to dismiss the positive attributes of his native Brazil and feels more of a connection there.
„I do not feel any form of connection to the United States that goes beyond the mere use of its resources,š said Saverin, 19, who moved here eight years ago. „I believe that individuals should extract the gains that the land has to offer.š
Issue Among Local Students
While walking down the crowded halls of Palmetto High, it is hard for Sarah Levy, 16, to miss the cultures, languages and shades of color that define South Florida. It is equally difficult for her to understand why these students don't mingle with each other more.
Everyday in South Florida schools, students from a cross-section of backgrounds stand apart.
„People no longer call themselves Americans. They want to be known as Cuban-Americans, Chinese-Americans, Italian-Americans," said William Martin, a major with the Coral Gables Police Department. „As the diversity in South Florida grows, the more self-segregation occurs."
Lester Langer, a Miami-Dade juvenile court judge, said „as people become more involved in their ethnicities . . . they want to be categorized.š
Langer said he believes a person's nationality is more important today than it was in the past. Yet, sometimes the need to stress such backgrounds can become a problem.
„People should enjoy their differences without putting a label on that,š Langer said. Having pride is healthy, he said, but having pride to the point where it excludes others is problematic.
Sarah, the Palmetto High student, said she has seen the effects of extreme pride on a daily basis.
„People have their own groups at my school,š she said. „There isn't a lot of mixing.š
Students, Sarah said, may feel like they are from different worlds because of their backgrounds and therefore, cannot see the commonalities among cultures.
Jessica Martin, 16, who attends Killian High, agrees. As a student attending a culturally diverse school, Jessica said she finds it natural that students relate and communicate with people who look like them.
Such self-segregation is "just easy," said Steph Benson, a Palmetto High sophomore.
„People are used to being around their own groups,š she said. „It's easier to be with people that you know the basics of and who speak the same language.š
While many teens agree with Steph, they see different reasons for why students alienate themselves. For instance, some students are intimidated by people who are different.
„We're so diverse and have to deal with one another everyday,š said Coral Gables High junior Carolina Vester. „We must adapt to diversity because we're in a melting pot.š
"We have to learn to accept it," she added.
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