Tuesday, March 17, 2009

culture project

Willie Martinez
Culture Project
Dr. Goldstein

I am a 25 year old Puerto Rican Male, my first language was Spanish my second

was English. I was raised Christian by an ex-Catholic born again Christian mother and

no father. I have no brother and no sisters. Raised in Passaic I’ve attended schools in this

urban community my whole life. My entire culture seems to be one big stereotype. I am

the Hispanic kid that comes from a single parent home because his dad skipped out on

him at a young age, my father, being the man that he is I do have about 5 half brothers

and Sisters and no I don’t have any contact with any of them. My mother being the

Christian mother that she is didn’t want me to see her bring home different men and so

she stayed a divorcee, at least that was her reason for not remarrying.

Growing up with out siblings I entered Passaic high school feeling a bit alone. I

noticed that most of the other Hispanic kids all seem to have many siblings or at lest

plenty of cousin that all seem to live nearby one another and attend the same schools.

Wanting to be apart of a “family” and so I was attracted early to the gang scene. I didn’t

have to do much; just stand around looking tough and soon some one approached me and

asked, “So what do you rep?” Before I knew I was being introduce to his group of friends

and they all welcomed me with plenty of love. They showed which corners to stand on

and which ones I shouldn’t because certain corners belonged to the blacks, and the other

to the Mexicans, But our corner was mixed between Puerto Ricans, Dominicans and

every so often we would have certain Mexicans and Black kids over that we felt were ok.

Soon my friends started talking about “our neighborhood” and “our streets” and

“protecting our people” then came the violence to show how far we were willing to go for

one another. Soon these friends felt like family, and that is when I felt complete. I had

this new family that seem to be willing to do anything for me and I felt the same about

them. Eventually that led to me being arrested as an adult. Then I noticed all those

brothers and sisters of mine were nowhere to be found, only a few were around for me

when I was behind bars. My mother though extremely angry with me, couldn’t bear to

leave her only child in there for too long. So soon she was at the courthouse to bail me

out. Once back home I was given an ultimatum either I can stay the path I was on and go

to live with some one else or I could come back home and attend college as long as I let

go of the people that help put me behind bars. Knowing she was doing all this for my

own good, I choose the latter.

To me it seemed that growing up Race and Gender seemed to be biggest thing to

shape my culture. As a Hispanic male I joined a Hispanic gang to create a “family” for

myself since I didn’t really have one at home. The fact that I am a male meant I was the

man of the house. I couldn’t allow anyone to disrespect me or say anything disrespectful

about my mother in anyway; to do so meant you were challenging my manhood. The

only thing that kept my Machismo somewhat in control was my religion. As a Christian I

was thought “Do onto others as you as you would like them to do onto you”. But on the

streets it was more like do onto others before they did it first. So I had to struggle a bit

between the two, being a street thug and a Christian Son of God. But I was raised to

believe that God forgives his children and so I might have taken advantage of this rule a


Now I must admit the only reason I had the ability to get into and ultimately

graduate college was due solely to my mother’s effort. She so happens to be a teacher in

the very high school I attended. Needless to say around her and her co-workers I learned

how to act like a perfect gentleman, but once outside the school my mother no longer was

able to keep her eye on me, the advantages of a latch key child. My honest feeling is that

if it wasn’t for her being in that school with me I would have most likely cut classes on a

daily basis and left my studies behind. My mother is only 5’4 in height but she had the

strength of a man 6’0 tall.

Because of my past experience in Passaic high school, I saw every one as a

potential threat. If you were white it meant you came from money, if you were Hispanic

then you had to be in a gang and if your were black then you was my enemy. It took a

long time to adjust my views, and it only happened hear in college. I became friends

with all sorts of people, white, black, Hindu, Muslim, catholic etc. I had new experiences

but I never forgot where I came from.

Now I want to go back and teach in the very high school that raised me. To see if

I could have some sort of impact on some child’s life and show them the way life could

be instead of them just seeing life for what it is. Many of them come from a similar

background and many will end up in a life of gang violence, drug trafficking and Jail. I

feel that in order to teach some one of a certain background you better have some

experience in what they’ve been through. If you don’t you could never fully understand

your student and if you don’t understand them you could never reach them. Yes I might

make more money and have an easier time teaching in Teaneck or Paramus but I will

never make an impact there. If I become a teacher then I must feel like I'm reaching my

student on a much deeper level. Maybe if I had a teacher reach out to me I could have

gone a different path in life, one with out an arrest record. But what is done is done,

looking forward I feel I could best be used in the urban school I cam from then anywhere

else in the world.



  1. I really respect your insight on where you came from and how it shaped you. I personally grew up in a suburban town without alot of crime or gang, however, my parents grew up in passaic and patterson and they had what sounds like a very similar childhood as you. They too turned a corner during early adulthood and are very successful both in work and family. Good luck to you and keep it up

  2. I totally agree with you and where you are coming from. Like you I am from an urban community, but I have not expereinced any of the gang influence maybe because I am a female. As you know in most urban communities it is the males who are mostly influenced to join gangs. I just want to say that I am proud of you for going back to school and wanting to help those who may want to turn to gangs or the corners. I know that you will do well!!

  3. I'm really glad that although you have experienced some really tough things, in the end you've retained more positive things. I'm confident that with your open-mindedness although you may not necessarily live through the challenges your students might be faced with, your insight will allow you to understand them in a unique way. The lessons that your experiences have taught you can be applied in many ways, and not just in understanding your students, but also in the way in which teach and reach out to them. I wish you the best of luck in all that you do!