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Puerto Rican Culture, Family, and Religion 

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People of Puerto Rican descent who live in the United States exhibit many of the cultural constructs prevalent in their native homeland. Whether it be through family traditions, education, or religion, Puerto Rican Americans tend to pay homage to their culture in their every day lives. In Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir titled My Beloved World, she provides insight on what it is like to grow up in a Puerto Rican family. The values and customs explained in the novel will be further examined in conjunction with other resources throughout the course of this paper.

An aspect of Puerto Rican culture that is of high importance is family. Family is a structural foundation that is integrated throughout an individual’s entire life. According to scholar Derek Green (2019), “Puerto Rican family structure is extensive; it is based on the Spanish system of compadrazco (literally ‘co-parenting’) in which many members — not just parents and siblings — are considered to be part of the immediate family”. This type of family dynamic consists of aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents within the immediate family. In addition to blood relatives, bonds with close friends are also highly valued and contribute to family life.

The enormity and importance of family is expressed frequently throughout Sonia Sotomayor’s novel. Members that Sonia mentions are her Abuelita, Tio Benny, Nelson, Miram, Titi Gloria, Titi Maria, Titi Aurora, her mother, her brother Junior, and several others. It is common for members of the family to live relatively close to one another, sometimes even in the same household. At one point in the novel, Sonia talks about when she moved to a new home with her brother and mother. As mentioned by Sotomayor (2016), several family members moved to the immediate area shortly after their move.

Staying in contact with family members is a crucial act in showing that one cares. As stated by Maria De Lourdes Serpa (2005), a professor at Lesley Univeristy, “communications by telephone, as well as visits among families, are signs of caring and are strongly encouraged and valued” (Puerto Rican Culture section, para. 2). These traditions are exhibited in Sotomayor’s novel when she goes away to college. During Sonia’s first semester at Princeton University, her Abuelita sends her envelopes with dollar bills and her mother visits her on campus. While mail may be a variation from telephone calls, it is still a method of communication that displays affection.

A relationship that is of the utmost importance in Puerto Rican culture is between a mother and her children. In terms of mother-daughter relationships, they tend to be very close, caring, and helpful to one another. Patterns tend to arise in the way mothers treat their daughters and how they raise them. As described in the Ethnicity and Family Therapy journal, mothers raise their daughters to be polite, respectful, and to work hard. The mother tends to care for the home so that their daughters can focus on their studies and succeed academically. This idea translates to the importance of education, which will be briefly discussed later in this paper.

Aside from the importance of familial relationships, the structure of a family and the roles its members play is something that is meaningful within the culture. Throughout history, Puerto Rican families have been patriarchal faction. This means that the men are the head of the household; in other words, they are the authority figure within a family. The significant gender roles in place originated from the Spanish and Western European cultures that became well established during the conquest of Puerto Rico. In the past, women had a lot less power. The commonly known social concept of women being in the kitchen and taking care of children was the standard in the past. However, this model of gender roles is changing. According to text provided in the Ethnicity and Family Therapy journal, women are obtaining more power socially and economically, while men are helping out more in the house.

A second cultural element that heavily impacts the lives of Puerto Ricans is religion. In the words of scholar Derek Green (2019), “Roman Catholicism is the dominant religion” (Overview section, para. 2). The implementation of the Roman Catholic Church into Puerto Rican culture came to be when the Spaniards colonized the island in the early 1500s. Since being introduced Puerto Rico, Catholicism has impacted the beliefs, traditions, education, and social structure of the Puerto Rican people.

The way Puerto Rican’s practice their religion is influenced by the way it is practiced around the world, with some notable differences. According to Derek Green (2019), Puerto Rican’s religious practice is heavily influenced by the Passion of Christ, the Seven Sacraments, and religious literature. In terms of differences, Puerto Rican practice has less Irish influence than that of American practice. This means that they don’t have a constructed relationship with God. As stated in the journal titled Ethnicity and Family Therapy, “Puerto Ricans distrust the Catholic Church and the Priest…they tend to personalize they’re relationship with God”. In other words, religious practices are less controlled by the Church and are directed by personal values and beliefs.

Often times, religious affiliations expand beyond church services into the educational system. In the novel My Beloved World, Sonia Sotomayor acknowledges this notion when she talks about her upbringing in Catholic School. Sonia attended a Catholic institution up until college.

As with many cultures, education is a crucial part of one’s life; Puerto Rico is no exception. Education is a foundation that ultimately leads to success in various aspects of life. As claimed by scholars McGoldrick, Giordano, & Preto (2005), education opens the door to many opportunities, especially for those who come from a low socioeconomic status. Hence, education is highly valued in Puerto Rican culture. This concept is portrayed in Sonia Sotomayor’s memoir My Beloved World when she talks about applying to and attending college. As stated by Sotomayor (2016), she came from a family that did not have a great deal of money. Despite any financial hardship, she excelled in school. Her academic success led to her admission to Princeton University. She was awarded a full scholarship, which helped her and her family tremendously. Attending Princeton opened endless windows of opportunity for Sonia. Ultimately, her education bettered her life.

An overarching topic that influences almost all aspects of Puerto Rican lifestyles are cultural values. One value that is placed above all things is one’s connection with nature and spirituality. The importance of this idea is mentioned in the clinical text titled Ethnicity and Family Therapy. In the text it says “this spiritual goal is, ideally, more valuable than material possessions and social status” (McGoldrick, Giordano, & Preto, 2005, p. 244). Puerto Rican’s use their spirituality and connection with what’s around them to provide strength in times of hardship and struggle. Not only does spirituality help in coping with negative times, it exemplifies the positive meanings of life.

Another cultural value that greatly impacts the way of life for Puerto Ricans is the ideal of Personalism. Relationships with others, whether it be family, friends, or companions tend to be very personal. Within these relationships, there tends to be a strong sense of respect between persons. Earning this respect from other people is something that is very important to those of Puerto Rican descent. In terms of what respect entails, Puerto Ricans do not place lot of precedence on materialistic things. In accordance with McGoldrick, Giordano, & Preto (2005), respect is gained when one has the capability to relate personally and intimately with others. In other words, personal relationships are more respected than having a lot of belongings and riches.

In contrast to the topics of social constructs and spirituality, a lighter topic that still has a heavy influence on Puerto Rican culture is food/cuisine. One can learn a lot about a culture through the types of food eaten, preparation methods, and social dynamics around it all. In terms of what food is typically eaten, Puerto Ricans eat a lot of seafood, meats (chorizo), beans and consistently season their foods. Various other cultures have influenced the way Puerto Ricans eat, including the native Tainos, the Spanish, and Americans.

Food is a staple in Puerto Rican culture in that many traditions and customs revolve around it. It can be used as a gesture or can be prepared in order for a celebration. According to scholar Derek Green (2019), “it is considered an insult to turn down a drink…[and] it is also customary for Puerto Ricans to offer for to any guest”. In these cases, people are using food as a way to both communicate and show personal respect. The concept of food also relates back to gender roles in that women tend to be the ones who prepare for family and others.

Everything considered, Puerto Rican culture is very unique due to its density and abundance of elements. The foundation of the culture in its entirety is one’s spirituality and connection with the world. This groundwork then branches off into personal relationships, family structure, religious beliefs, and many other valued facets. Each of the topics discussed above play a very important role in the lives of Puerto Ricans and are displayed through various platforms including academic resources and personal memoirs.     

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