Proyecto Visión 21

Traditions persist, change, and contradict each other

I recently interviewed several Latino immigrants now living in Colorado, asking them what was the biggest difference between the way they celebrated Christmas and New Year before, when they were still in their countries of origin, and now, where they live in the United States.

With only one exception, and with an undeniable embellishment of their memories, they all told me they like the celebrations in their country better, because there they can celebrate not only with family and friends, but in some cases even with the whole neighborhood.

At the same time, they said they made a conscious decision not to adopt new traditions, trying to remain as faithful as they can to the traditions from their native countries.

In fact, when I asked one person to describe what was the difference between the celebrations (Christmas and New Year) he had before in his country and now in the United States, he said there is no difference at all, because every year he goes back to his native country for those celebrations.

In general, all the people I interviewed agreed the celebrations in their countries included the family and the community, something they lost here. They also agreed they would like to prepare traditional meals, but it is not easy to find all the ingredients.

After I completed the interviews, I turned the TV on, both to relax and to see how Christmas is being celebrated this year in Argentina, where I was born.

I had to confess I expected to see a TV show with traditional songs in Spanish, the songs I used to sing when I was a child. But that was not the case.

The show I watched included actors, singers, and dancers from Argentina and the show was being broadcast from Buenos Aires. But all the songs where in English, including “White Christmas” (sang in a place where there is no snow this time of the year) and “Rudolph” (sang in a place where there are no reindeers.)

There were no references to any folkloric song that children in Argentina sang each Christmas many years ago. There were, however, several songs about riding a “one horse, open sleigh,” an activity almost unknown in Argentina.

So, while Latino immigrants in the United States make every effort to keep the traditions they used to practice in their native countries each December, the people in those countries are replacing those traditions by new ones, mainly adopted from the United States.

This paradox cannot and should not be overlooked, and it deserves a deeper analysis than we can provide in this column.

Throughout history, each culture and people had developed its own celebrations and traditions as a way to reaffirm the cultural identity of that people. Latinos in the United States are not the exception in trying to keep their traditions alive.

However, Latino immigrants should realize they now face the challenge of living at a time when those traditions are changing both here and in their native countries.

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