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The Interdependence of Family, Culture and Decisions

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I have always been told that I have the same mischievous smile that my father has, that I am very intelligent like my mother, and a very happy person just like my grandfather was. Those are simply gestures and very particular things that are transmitted from one person to another, however, beyond these little things, the true influence of my parents and my family comes from the psychological and emotional side. Regarding the way in which I perceive things, is greatly affected by prejudices, attitude and emotions, factors closely related to culture. In my case, the culture and family to which I belong determined for a long time the structure of my thinking, which influenced my perception of life.

From the good work that my parents have done, I can rescue millions of things, such as teaching us values such as justice, love, effort, patience, kindness, even skills such as creativity, imagination and perseverance. And when I think about the “not so good things” the first things that come to my mind are the irrational fears that for a long time I didn’t know where they came from, like for example acting like a decent girl because men would not take me seriously and to not being able to do certain things because “only men can do it.”

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Today after analyzing it, I see that they come directly from the insecurities that my family, especially the women, suffered in their life before. “Be good Cecilia because if you don’t, men won’t take you serious,” “when you do this, you act like a man,” “only men can do it.” Phrases like that had gotten into my mind in such a way that, already as a young adult, when trying to do the things that I liked, always had the ghost whispering in my ear with each step I took. It was not until I analyzed things well and came to the conclusion that in a certain way that did not belong to me. When I thought about why I had that fear, I could not find the answer, until one day I resorted more to my reason than my feeling. After giving a lot of thought to the matter, I came to the conclusion of “why if I am in such a liberal country I had to follow such absurd norms?,” rules and norms that only deprived me of being myself, that prevented me from being happy and in a certain way, gave it place to machismo. And indeed, after making several decisions and setting aside the rules that only brought me unhappiness, I could see more clearly that it was a fear inherited from my mother in particular and how she faced certain situations of low self-esteem and machismo, prior and after my birth. I did not want to follow the steps of my mother and my sisters, because back in my father’s days “only men could study and work.” Neither my sisters nor my mother has the opportunity to be someone in life other than “housewives.” And just to clarify, I’m not saying being a housewife is bad, but the fact that many doors were closed for them due to machismo, is.

Another example that comes to my mind: punishing younger siblings with the idea that it is “our responsibility as the youngest child to take care of our parents when they’re old” and we will be the “heirs.” I am the youngest of eight children and I have a brother who is a little older than me and he’s the youngest of the boys. For the family, we are the “babies” of the family and the only ones who have had the opportunity to go to school. From a very young age, in family conversations, I would hear others say that me and my brother would be the ones that “would take care of my parents when they were old and they would leave us all their properties.” My parents, sadly, are elderly and they depend on us for certain things. My father does not drive and neither he or my mother can speak English. They have their life made in Mexico, but since all of their children live here, they decided to move here. Obviously, because of their age, they need medical care and someone who constantly takes them to their doctor appointments, pick up their medicine, and take them out. Since I started working and driving, I have been in charge of them in that sense, which for me is a pleasure because in a certain way it is like doing a little of what they have done for me. However, my problem started when I had to work or go to school and their appointments did not work with my schedule and I felt overwhelmed over the “responsibility” aid taking them. I had a hard time managing my time to make it to school, work, and their appointments on time, therefore I had to ask my other siblings for a little help, and their excuse would always be that they had to work. I, as the younger daughter, can say that for a long time I felt obliged to be the one who always took care of my parents. I put them as my priority for a long time, I didn’t mind leaving class early or just skipping class to take them to their appointments. I didn’t care stop going to work and at the end of the month not having enough to pay my bills. It was until one day that my day had two surgeries back to back and none of my siblings stayed overnight with him and seeing how my grades were going down for all the stress I was putting into myself that I said “that’s enough.” I can’t let all the weight on me. Being a full time student, working up to three jobs, I was able to help my parents, then everyone could do it. It was not fair that only me and my parents took the cost of medicines, that I was the only one taking them to their appointments, and taking them to the store when they needed something, when they also have some obligation. I hate to call it “obligation,” because it is not, but for a long time that was the idea that my family and culture had forced me to think. I realize, now that all this time i was not doing it for obligation but out of love and gratitude, because it is a way of doing a little of how much they have done for me. But it was not just my “obligation” as a younger daughter to help them out and put my life aside, when it was also everyone else’s.

It’s amazing how my family has influenced my decisions and how those decisions have affected my life as I mentioned in the beginning. For a long time I let my family tell me how to dress, act, speak, do, and setting expectations. I thought they did it for my “good” as they told me. But it was not like that. Doing what for them was a “good” for me was only unhappiness. Since I was studying in Mexico, I was always one of the most outstanding students in school. Year after year the teachers would take me to compete with other students from other states. When I came to the United States, I was the “the perfectionist Mexican with straight A’s.” When I finished high school, I decided to apply to several universities. Luckily, I got accepted to all of them. When I told my family that I would like to be a “pediatrician” they told me that in that profession there was no “money” and that “engineers made more.” Since I was be the first one go to college and my brother was going to a community college, my family was very proud of me. Having me think “what was better” I decided to apply to universities that were recognized for their engineering programs. When they accepted to UC Davis, I told my parents that I would live in Davis. They agreed and wanted to support me on my decision until my brothers, aunts and uncles began to tell them that “I would spend it at college parties” and that I would “end up getting pregnant” they decided not to support me anymore and they told me I would have to commute every day. I decided by major forces that I would not go to a university but to a local community college.

For my family it was his first disappointment of me. They said that those schools were only for those who “were not good in school” and who “were behind with their units.” I stopped caring what they said and went to Delta. I started taking math and engineering classes and came to the conclusion that, although I liked math, it was not what I wanted to do. At that time I had started working in a school as a tutor, it was my first job and I loved it. After debating for a long time, I decided to change my major and study to be a teacher. When I gave the news to my family, they told me “just a teacher?, with that you are satisfied? Soon all my family found out and I was once again the disappointment of my family. I came to the point of having to lie to everyone about what I was going to study. When people would ask me what was my major, I used to say “civil engineering.” Tired of telling everyone lies and hearing how disappointed my family was of me I decided not to pay attention to anyone and do what I wanted to do. When I finish my two years at Delta, I apply to several universities and finally decided to come to UOP for their liberal studies program. It was here that I started taking Spanish classes and decided that I wanted to become a Spanish teacher. One day at a family party I heard my mother say “Cecilia after wanting to be an engineer, she’s only going to be a Spanish teacher.” That “only” my mom had said made my blood boil inside. From that day I understood that my family was not appreciating my efforts and that there was no need for anyone else to be proud of me. When I decided to put my family aside in my decisions, I realized that I only need myself to be happy. I realized that to be happy I don’t need to follow absurd rules that only because I’m a “woman” I can’t do certain things. That because I’m the youngest daughter “is my obligation” to follow a tradition that was overwhelming me with the idea of filling such tradition. That the being one “engineer” will not buy me happiness.

These decisions that I have made have given my life an environment that breaks the rules and traditions, but they have made me the person that I really am.

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