Tortilla Soup Essay

Multicultural Psychology Significance

            Tortilla Soup provides an interesting perspective on the changes in the role of women from a background that has very specific characterization of it. Martin Naranjo’s family is imbibed with its Mexican-American but at the same time reflects the modern traditions as reflected in Martin’s profession as a chef and in the upbringing of his daughters. However, it is clear that there are unspoken rules regarding the social and gender roles of the daughters both real and created by the individuals themselves.

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            Each daughter also reflects distinct personalities and represents characterizations of Hispanic women in society. The movie points out hat these characterizations are not so much prescriptive as they have become inherent in the women that when conflicts arise, a need for intense personal reflection develops. At the same time, the daughters are being challenged to be part of American society and to embody its premise of female emancipation. Another important issue that the film discusses is the changing dynamics of family in American and multicultural societies.

Cultural Themes

            The themes discussed in the movie revolve around social and gender issues. The underlying challenge for Martin’s three daughters, Leticia, Carmen and Maribel, is how to define their roles in today’s society and how to resolve it with their cultural heritage. Effort has been made to establish that the family that the family is very open to modernity which highlights that the conflict is not a head-on controversy between modern and traditional values. Thus, the cultural themes are explored through personal experience of the daughters.

            The traditional view of Hispanic women is that they are to be most concerned with home and hearth. The social roles of women have been traditionally associated with maternal functions and contrary characterizations are often viewed as the result of bad relationships or a lack of interest or even a hatred of men. In the case of the Martin’s daughters, they are all unmarried and have pursued or are pursuing professional interests. Though Leticia has had her unfortunate romance, this is not highlighted as a dominant reason for her single hood but rather there is suggestion of the state being a conscious and deliberate choice.

            Another socio-cultural issue that is being addressed is the consideration of economic and professional interest over personal choice. As illustrated in Carmen’s choice not to pursue cooking as a career because of financial security, the need for social and financial security precedes the personal fulfillment in the selection of a profession. Furthermore, there is a realization for all of the characters, particularly in Maribel, the need for cultural identity and acceptance. There is equal pressure for the characters to preserve traditions and the need to be just like everybody else.

            The most major issue that the movie discusses is gender role that result from both tradition and modern ideas. In either case, the issue of conformity is an issue that has to be dealt with. The sisters all have their individual concept of the role of women in society and they all struggle to conform to these notions and at the same time break away from them. More than any other factor related to gender, the aspect that they all struggle most with are notions regarding femininity. In fact, there is no denying that each sister knows that they are women of their time but what they struggle to learn in the movie that femininity is also a personal perspective.

Gender Roles and Cultural Factors

            Gender roles are learned through socialization and society is defined if not bound by culture. At the same time, culture is created by relationship and interactions of these roles. Thus, gender and culture reinforces each other. One interesting facet that the movie highlights is the gender perceptions are both internal and external: it is taught to us but unless people themselves support the idea, then the roles can not persist. Another important realization is that each culture has a different perspective on the gender roles developed by another culture. As seen Hortensia’s interactions with the family, these roles often also cause conflict since there are varied interpretations neither of which can reflect fully the perception of another.

            At the same time, whereas family has been the main means of identification for Hispanic women s presented in the movie, the shift of focus to professional life also creates new challenges to attain what have been considered as ideals of the gender which include femininity and maternal roles. The formation of their identity however is dynamic and is continually being influence by the circumstances of the individual sister, their family, their developing social experience and individual search for fulfillment.

Individualistic Versus Collectivist Cultures

            As illustrated by Martin’s edict of Sunday dinners to be family affairs, the gatherings are the family’s main means of keeping in tough with each other and discussing issues. The tradition is not just a means of maintaining traditions but also assessing the changes in each others’ lives. There is a suggestion and even a popularization of the idea that individualism contradicts collectivism.

In the case of Maribel, the struggle is most apparent because of the nature of her social experience: as much as she seems to be the least attached to traditions, she also is has the most clear headed view of her identity and her history. Though there are often contradictions in the perspectives that she presents, her character indicates that the conflict of individualism and collectivism is often mired in a lack of personal resolution or identity.

            Similarly, in the case of Carmen, her choice of pursuing her career instead of pursuing a culinary career like her father reflects the conflict of individualistic identity which is greatly associated with professional development in the workplace. However, it should also be realized that personal value and significance of one’s work, it is also often used as a means of identifying one’s class or social consequence.  Some social scientists even have theorized that these so-called struggles of women between individualistic and collectivist cultures only create glass ceilings that have served to discredit women in the workplace as well as establish social restrictions to the roles they take in society.

Communication Styles and the Theme

            It is apparent from the beginning of the film that the family enjoys a very close and intimate relationship regardless of the undercurrents in the movie. At first it seems that the characters are entrenched in their familial roles however, as the movie develops, it is clear that the characters’ rapport extends beyond family ties. Martin’s dialogue with his daughters indicates more of a paternal role. In contrast with his interactions with other characters in the film, he is significantly less opinionated and seems to utilize food as his main means of communication.

            As the film develops its conclusion, there is no significant shift in the family roles by the four main characters. American society has greatly emphasizes the individualism where as Mexican or Hispanic traditions play greater value on family or collective identity. For the latter, the tendency may in fact be a consequence of the need to maintain historical identity or a common and shared experience.

In conclusion, the movie presents the idea that as much as people try to create individual identities, cultural backgrounds and perspectives influence them both consciously and subconsciously. The major changes are generally internal in nature but are reflected in the more open exchange between Martin and his daughters. The undercurrents that at the beginning of the movie seemed to threaten conflict are now presented as typical of any family which may remain unspoken but nonetheless accepted.




Ripoll, Maria (2001). Tortilla Soup. California: Samuel Goldwyn Company

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