The Mistaken Belief Of The Nuclear Family And Its Family Traditions

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My whole life I have heard it said that a family consists of two parents and their children. This made me believe that if a family is in any other way it was unfit. Well in “The Color of Family Ties” Gerstel and Sarkisian take a look at extended families between different racial groups. They expose the common claim that most Americans believe is that families of color are more disorganized than White families but to some extent extended families have different roles in different families. The role of the extended family is to provide the family with whatever it needs. Gerstel and Sarkisian writes “Minority individuals are more likely to live in extended family homes than Whites and in many ways more likely to help out their aging parents, grandparents, adult children, brothers, sisters, cousins, aunts, uncles, and other kin” (44). In other words, while White families are more likely to receive financial support from their extended families such as a large sum of money. Black and Latino families tend to provide practical support to their families such as babysitting and running errands. Due to the income inequality between races, Black and Latino families have less money to give. These families need more people helping with chores in order to provide for their family. Gerstel and Sarkisian make it clear that traditions are the reason for the differences. Along with the novel I will be referencing three literary selections that support Gerstel and Sarkisian claim. These include a short story, “Looking for Work” written by Gary Soto, “Las Papas” by Julio Ortega, and “Aunt Ida Pieces a Quilt” by Melvin Dixon. Of these three selections “Las Papas” presents strong family ties.

Gersel and Sarkisian reject the idea that non traditional families should be eliminated from America’s capitalist economy. Yet, there are several political and social commentators who criticize non nuclear families. In an online journal, The American Prospect, Sara Mclanahan writes, “Children in one-parent families also have lower grade point averages, lower college aspirations, and poorer attendance records. As adults, they have higher rates of divorce. These patterns persist even after adjusting for differences in race, parents’ education, number of siblings, and residential location”. In her journal she states that African Americans and Hispanic poverty rates are twice as high compared to White people. The high poverty rates among minority groups is the result of demographics. These minorities represent most poor Americans and they all share in having a low education, no health care insurance coverage, and a huge risk of being in prison, and being a low paid worker or unemployed. In addition, minority families have dependent people in their families. All of these traits are effective in keeping the families in the poverty line. In another article from The National Review by Heather Mac Donald agrees with Mclanahan when he writes “But point out the high Hispanic illegitimacy and school drop-out rates, or the march of ever-younger Hispanics into gangs, and you can be sure of being accused of “anti-Hispanic cant” by people who work overtime to maintain the myth of the redemptive Hispanic”. The third political commentator critical of minority families comes from an online article from The American Conservatives by Rod Dreher, writing about how women are treated in society. “While many children of single mothers flourish (two of the last three presidents had mothers who were single during part of their childhood), a large body of research shows that they are more likely than similar children with married parents to experience childhood poverty, act up in class, become teenage parents and drop out of school”. All these commentators argue that non nuclear families are not contributing members of society. There are examples of how non nuclear families work effectively to become successful as the next paragraph will demonstrate.

In “Looking for Work” by Gary Soto we find an example of how many Mexican Americans feel about society. They believe that in order to become successful in the United States you have to leave your heritage to become White and blend in. Gary Soto is fascinated with the perfect White family that he sees on television. He wants his low class Mexican family to be a middle class White family. In order for his family to attain this he believes his family needs to be wealthy. To achieve this he goes around his neighborhood to find jobs to do. We can find evidence when Soto adds “For weeks I had drunk Kool-Aid and watched morning reruns of Father Knows Best, whose family was so uncomplicated in its routine that I very much wanted to imitate it. The first step was to get my brother and sister to wear shoes at dinner” (21). This detail reveals that Soto is worried about how his family looks and how much they make. Next, Soto describes his experience at the dinner table with his family. Soto recalls, “Our own talk at dinner was loud with belly laughs and marked by our pointing forks at one another” (23). Here, we can see that he grew up learning and understanding differently to that of another child living in a regular traditional family. Soto is worried about his race instead of his family’s love. Through his experience growing up he points out “I tried to convince them that if we improved the way we looked we might get along better in life. White people would like us more. They might invite us to places, like their homes or front yards. They might not hate us so much” (24). Soto wanted to try and become like the families on the tv show he watched. He convinced his siblings to wear fancy clothes to dinner to appear like White people. Soto’s family shows us minority families show love and affection as a non traditional family which supports Gerstel and Sarkisian’s claim.

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In “Las Papas” by Julio Ortega we see a case where seeking new experiences is important. As soon as the story begins the man slicing the potatoes is triggered by a memory in Peru. We see this when Ortega writes “What are you going to cook?” he said. He stood there waiting for an answer. “Chicken cacciatore,” the man answered, but the child didn’t believe him. He was only six, but he seemed capable of objectively discerning between one chicken recipe and another” (171). As he reflects on his thoughts, we learn that he is a single parent that provides a family atmosphere for his son. Ortega goes on to write “Where’s this food come from?” the child asked, realizing it was a different recipe. “Peru,” he replied. “Not Italy?” said the child, surprised” (173). These details suggest that the child does not know where potatoes originated from and he does not know about the vegetable that grows underground without seeing any light. At the very end, Ortega writes “With both hands, he dug, and the earth opened up to him, cold. He placed the potato there, and he covered it up quickly. Feeling slightly embarrassed, he looked around. He went back up the stairs, wiping his hands, almost running” (175). This tells us the potato in his hand is a symbol of his past that represents his childhood. Ortega’s family conveys that our food culture describes us and helps us connect with our family.

In “Aunt Ida Pieces a Quilt” by Melivin Dixon we see a pattern of how tight and secure the family bond is within the family by portraying the strong connection between them. When someone is diagnosed with Aids people usually stop being affectionate but in the story when Junie dies from Aids, Francine persuades Aunt Ida to make a quilt using Junie’s clothes. When Dixon writes “Just cut his name out the cloths, stitch something nice about him. Something to bring him back. You can do it” (42). We can see that Francine is showing support to Aunt Ida to motivate her to make the quilt even though her eyes are so weak and the way her hands keep locking in a fist. Dixon later goes on to say “We could smell him in the cloth. Afro Sheen pomade. Gravy stains. I forgot all about my arthritis” (43). This statement is reflected when Aunt Ida could almost hear Junie giggle as she sewed her name at the end of the quilt. At the end of the poem Dixon makes a note of Maxine when he jots down “And Maxine, she cousin May’s husband’s sister’s people, she having a baby and here comes winter already” (43). This revelation of Maxine having a baby reveals that she has to make a new quilt and shows she is becoming a new person at the cost of Junie’s death.

In Julio Ortega’s story “Las Papas” his family offers the strongest evidence for Gerstel and Sarkisian’s claim that nontraditional families are capable of supportive relationships and strong family ties. The man in the story is a single parent with one son who is able to uphold his family traditions by sharing them with his son. The father teaches his son history through the use of potatoes as he tells him where they came from and how they grow. Ortega reveals “His father was always in a good mood as be cooked, boasting forehand about how good the Chinese recipes were that he had learned in a remote hacienda in Peru. Maybe his father had made these meals for him” (174). The man is starting to realize the spot his father was in. This causes him to reflect on his family and how much they mean to him. The food is tied to the memories he once had with his father and now he has learned the importance of family and as a single parent he needs to provide a family environment for his son.

To sum up, In the article “The Color of Family Ties” Gerstel and Sarkisian’s main idea is to explain that extended family relationships do exist among minority groups. The haters propose “They suggest that if we “fix” family values in minority communities and get them to form married-couple, all their problems would be solved” (49).If we were to fix family values in minority communities all their problems would not be solved. It can actually cause family arguments and divorce. They also give the idea “Blacks and Latrinos/as, both women and men, are much more likely than Whites to share a home with extended kin” (44). We pick up that single parents are seen as less capable to take care of their children than married parents. The family ties among minority communities are stronger than White families if you look at the extended family. Therefore, it is important for society to consider the extended families.

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