Reflections of Culture

Six days of grueling work, for strangers, no pay, in a small Mexican village outside of Tijuana, what kind of person would volunteer for this adventure? Malissa Robertson would. Although so many assumptions can be made about her character just based on her involvement in this mission, by closely examining her re-telling of one incident, it is possible to examine not only her character, but how the culture in which she has been raised has helped to mold her identity. Malissa’s reactions to experiences she has on her youth mission to Mexico reveal how the environment she was raised in emphasized the importance of stability, not only of a home but also of family, and the importance of self-sufficiency, while also accepting and appreciating gifts and favors. Moreover, the fact that Malissa is there at all, donating her time and efforts to those less fortunate than herself, with her church, expresses her values of faith and neighborly love.

For Malissa, having stability, not only in your house but also in your family, is essential to the maintenance of optimism and assurance in a world full of uncertainties. Although the need for a home seems to be universal, the specificity’s of this home are not. To Malissa, a home is the five bedroom house with the meticulously landscaped yard and two new cars out front. To the three inhabitants of the house "composed of pieces of plywood barely nailed together to make the walls, roof, and door" (Robertson 1) this is home, but to Malissa it is just a "house." She can not see that this "house" can actually bring this family the comfort and security she associates with her own home. She came to Mexico to help provide what she viewed as a more suitable dwelling for this family. Although Malissa describes the work of building this new home as "grueling," (2) she does it on a voluntary basis. Malissa wants to provide someone else with something she feels is so important. To her, a home is not just a place to sleep, and it is not just roof over their heads she wants to provide. The volunteers’ project transforms from building a "dwelling" for the Medioso family, into building a stable home, a home that eventually becomes "a source of hope" (2). The stability that Malissa finds in this new home comes not only from the new "stable walls" (2) but also from the "locking door" (2). Stability, for Malissa, is being able to lock out the rest of the world, a world where crime, poverty, and true suffering exist. In Malissa’s "stable" world these things do not exist. The importance of stability is also represented in Malissa’s mentioning of Mr. Medioso being in jail, and then following with the statement that "the family was in great need of help" (1). That Malissa sees having a parent in jail, which is not considered a stable family environment in the constructs of Malissa’s upbringing, as being in "great need of help" only further represents how, for her, stability is a necessity.

Having and maintaining stability are not enough though; for Malissa, these tasks must be done independently, without taking handouts. She sums up her inexperience in accepting offerings in one single statement; "I was not used to accepting things from people" (3). In the environment she grew up in, it was not considered kosher to accept handouts, of any kind. Although Malissa has been trained to be self sufficient, she also knows the importance of accepting and appreciating gifts, especially in such a situation as she is in when these girls are offering fruit and water, "prized possessions" (2) to people in such a destitute state. By observing the interactions between her peers and the young Medioso girls, Malissa can see what a disappointment it is to the girls to not have their gifts accepted. Despite the discomfort Malissa might experience in accepting the gifts, she is able to put the feelings of the girls ahead of her own, and show gratitude for their kindness.

Although Malissa feels as though she must be self-sufficient and can not accept handouts, she is willing to give them, which reflects not only her concern for the well being of her neighbors but also reflects the culture in which she was raised. Malissa’s concern for other people, particularly the less fortunate, is evident throughout her mission trip experience. The fact that she participates in the mission alone shows her commitment to her neighbor and her faith that there is hope in this world. Malissa arrives at the "humble dwelling" on the first day "unsure of all that lay ahead" (1). Despite the uncertainties and grueling work, she is there, dedicated to making a difference. She knows the Medioso family is counting on her and the other volunteers. Malissa’s faith that in six days of intense work she, with the help of others, could bring hope to a destitute family represents her faith in herself and her faith that we each have the ability to help each other, to make this world a better place.

It is impossible to know exactly how much the culture we experience affects our identities; but for Malissa it is evident that the culture in which she was raised bestowed in her the importance of stability, self-sufficiency, faith, and helping those less fortunate than yourself. By simply retelling an experience Malissa shows many ways in which she has been molded by her culture. The need for stability that she expresses is a representation of her always having stability in her life, a safe home with parents who will always be home after their nine to five jobs and plenty of food consistently decorating the table, as opposed to the instability faced by the Mediosos with a father in jail and a shack with little food and no locks. Malissa’s need to be self sufficient stems from being forced to be so by her culture, so that she is trained to feel that having to be dependent upon another person would be failure. Finally, Malissa’s personal sacrifice for an unknown neighbor represents the faith and love that are in her heart, a heart molded by culture.








Works Cited

Robertson, Malissa. "Giving and Receiving." English 101, Dan White. 2000. University of Puget Sound.