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Latino Families. Culture, Values, Traditions, Customs, Challenges.

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latino families

Latino Families

Culture, Values, Traditions, Customs, Challenges

With special thanks to the Latino families who have allowed me into their lives, and to my Latino and Latina colleagues, who have taught me so much from their perspectives, especially Elena Morales and Maria Reyes, who assisted tremendously with the preparation of these materials, especially the pieces on cultural values.

what do latino families look like
What do Latino families look like?
  • Today, Latino families take every configuration; although they are more likely than others in the U.S. to live in ‘family households’, they are also more likely to be single female-headed (this varies by nationality).
  • They tend to be younger than other families, but some nationalities have sizeable elderly populations.
  • They are very diverse, just like all families!
what do latino families need
What do Latino families need?
  • In terms of family functioning, Latinos have more in common with other families in the U.S. than they have differences:
    • Economic necessities
    • Child supervision/childcare/youth delinquency
    • Marital strain
    • Family crises
    • Care for aging relatives
special challenges faced
Special Challenges Faced
  • Latino families’ unique challenges relate to their disadvantaged position in U.S. society and its attendant deprivations and their acculturation challenges:
    • Lack of health care
    • Language barriers
    • Employment discrimination
    • Cultural clashes
    • Poverty
    • Academic struggles
latino families and the strengths perspective
Latino Families and the Strengths Perspective
  • While recognizing that Latino families face some unique challenges, starting from a recognition of their common humanity and their goals for their families shifts to a strengths perspective.
  • Culturally-competent social workers build on this by integrating an understanding of the special strengths of Latino culture and family functioning into their practice.
  • Many Latinos feel a greater degree of connection to and responsibility for family members than non-Latinos.
  • Families can be a great source of strength and support but also bring pressure to conform to traditional roles, subsume one’s individual goals for the well-being of the family, and/or solve problems without interference from outside the family.
  • Latinos may also have relationships that are ‘como familia’ with non-relatives, which may take on very similar characteristics.
familismo in practice
Familismo: In practice
  • Latino clients may feel disloyal discussing family problems with a practitioner.
  • Latinos may not respond well to discussions about individual goals/desires, particularly at the ‘expense’ of family members’ needs.
  • More family members than the practitioner may have expected/wanted may be involved in treatment, but family-based interventions may be more accepted and, at least initially, more successful.
  • Latinos (both male and female) are often comfortable with much closer physical proximity (even in new relationships) than Anglo Americans.
  • Latinos value personal connections with others, including with professional providers.
  • ‘Professional’ distance may be interpreted as coldness, and Latino clients may distance themselves in turn.
personalismo in practice
Personalismo: In practice
  • Practitioners may find it helpful to begin interactions with informal greetings and casual conversation, rather than immediately delving into the presenting issues.
  • Ethically-appropriate increase self-disclosure, and possibly even increased physical contact, may be helpful in building a warm relationship that will be accepted by Latino clients.
  • The physical setting of the office or work environment should be considered, too, to minimize unnecessary distance between worker and client.
  • Obviously, the onus is on workers to maintain appropriate boundaries that protect clients even while making modifications to render the helping relationship more culturally appropriate.
  • Latinos tend to give greater deference to individuals in positions of authority than others in the U.S., which may result in social workers’ suggestions having greater weight than intended.
  • Latinos will also respond negatively to any perceived slights in respect, especially to elders in their family or community.
  • Latino clients may hesitate to criticize others, even those negatively impacting their lives, which practitioners may interpret as dishonesty or denial.
respeto in practice
Respeto: In practice
  • Practitioners should be very cautious about offering advice to Latino clients, even when solicited.
  • Watch for cues from clients about the language they use to talk about others and avoid offering criticisms that could be interpreted as disrespectful.
  • Especially with adults, use formal words for address (verb tenses and titles) until explicitly instructed otherwise.
  • Recognize that working with Latino clients older than you may carry additional challenges related to perceived authority and respect.
mach smo marianismo
  • While machismo is often denigrated as a source of misogynistic behavior among Latino males, it is best understood as a full range of traditional gender role expectations for Latino men—some negative and some quite positive.
    • Hard work/economic success, authority in the family, physical strength, masculinity
  • Marianismo is the less understood corollary which expresses roles for Latinas.
    • Nurturance, fertility, sacrifice for family, religious piety
traditional gender roles in practice
Traditional Gender Roles: In Practice
  • Latino men and women who ‘fail’ to live up to the idealized standards for their gender may experience great anguish.
  • Practitioners who challenge clients’ ascription to traditional roles may be rejected.
  • With clients who identify according to these norms, broadening the conception of machismo and marianismo while affirming the positive components may help clients to craft slightly altered roles for themselves.
  • Some Latinos express beliefs, often influenced by strong religious faith, in the inevitable nature of occurrences and, then, the futility of attempting to change one’s own fate.
  • This may be expressed explicitly (“we all have to die sometime”) or implicitly (“Si Dios quiere”).
  • Many practitioners encounter this as an obstacle to change, since clients may believe that the future is already written with or without their intervention.
fatalismo in practice
Fatalismo: In Practice
  • Practitioners should look for verbal and behavioral clues that a Latino client believes that he/she is relatively powerless in the face of one’s destiny.
  • Tapping into other cultural values (family, in particular) may help to encourage an individual towards change.
  • Religious understanding can be helpful here (‘God helps those who help themselves’).
simp tia
  • Latinos often place a priority on conflict avoidance and seek harmony in relationships with others, even those not extremely significant to them.
  • This can result in intrapersonal issues as individuals repress grievances in an effort to avoid discord.
  • Latino clients may also be eager to please practitioners and avoid confrontation, which may result in a failure to tell a practitioner when a particular intervention is uncomfortable or unhelpful.
simp tia in practice
Simpátia: In practice
  • Clients may reject intervention strategies that would require them to bring up difficulties with loved ones, even if such encounters are necessary.
  • Practitioner attempts to facilitate these conversations often backfire, with clients denying any tensions.
  • Social workers who point out areas of conflict or, even more so, identify areas of displeasure with clients’ progress, may trigger strong reactions among Latinos who value harmony more highly than many others.
relevant traditions
Relevant Traditions
  • Even some highly acculturated Latinos with bicultural identifications cling to traditional expressions of culture, at least at holidays and other momentous occasions, as a source of comfort, self-identity, and pride.
  • While social workers should be careful not to trivialize culture, understanding some of these traditions may explain some of the life stages of Latino clients and offer some ideas for culturally-appropriate intervention.
examples of traditions
Examples of Traditions
  • Bautizo
    • Baptisms are considered essential to the entire family, as the community takes responsibility for raising the new child.
  • Quincenera
    • This ‘coming out’ for young Latinas symbolizes both the family’s position/well-being and the womanhood of the 15-year-old. This is a time of tremendous pride but also of economic strain and cultural clashes, at times.
  • Compadre/Comadre
    • Godparents play a role not only at baptism but throughout the child’s life, including when that child marries and has children of his/her own. The relationship between parents and godparents is very strong, and families without these supports feel the lack intensely.
more traditions
More Traditions
  • Navidad/La Noche Buena/Posadas
    • Christmas is a month-long holiday in much of Latin America—families and entire communities gather to retrace the journey of Mary and Joseph, make tamales or other traditional food on Christmas Eve, and restore themselves for the new year.
  • Virgin de Guadalupe Day
    • For Mexican Catholics, this is a high holy day—a mix of national pride and religious devotion.
  • Mothers’ Day
    • Significant given the role of mothers in Latino culture
  • Respect for elders, dying, deceased
    • Attending funerals is very important and a source of great strain for migrants with family members in countries of origin. Paying respects to one’s elders who have died is also critical, on Dia de los Muertos or through other expressions.
other cultural considerations
Other Cultural Considerations
  • Concept of time
    • Less rigid than in U.S./Anglo culture, although not as different as popularly thought (among immigrants)
  • Selective use of language
    • Many bilingual Latinos use English and Spanish strategically, discussing some parts of their lives in one language or another as a coping mechanism or part of cultural identity
role of children in the family
Role of children in the family
  • Children are central to most Latino families—those families without children may suffer community suspicion.
  • Children are often expected to be entirely dependent on parents initially (co-sleeping, etc…) but then to act ‘grown-up’ relatively quickly, taking on adult responsibilities.
  • Discipline may be harsher than expected in dominant culture, but harsh physical punishment is not culturally acceptable.
  • Mothers play the primary child-rearing role, but fathers often take responsibility for discipline.
latinos and extended family
Latinos and Extended Family
  • Social workers should not make the mistake of limiting ‘family’ interventions to only those co-resident with the clients or those within the nuclear family.
  • In many Latino families, grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, and nieces/nephews play vital roles in individuals’ lives, as do some non-relatives (long-time family friends, compadres, etc….)
  • However, social workers should also not assume that these relationships are available to a Latino client, as migration to the U.S., acculturation, mobility, and other changes have eroded some of the traditional functioning of Latino extended families.
extended families in practice
Extended Families: In practice
  • Ask clients about family members who are important to them, and allow for multiple family relationships on assessments/intakes.
  • Explore non-family relationships that have been supports to clients in the past, and possible ways to strengthen these ties (especially if families are separated).
  • Consider reintegration of extended families as a legitimate family treatment goal.
  • Recognize the necessity of maintaining these ties, and the costs associated for migrant families (long-distance, trips home for family emergencies) as legitimate.
divided families victims of immigration law
Divided Families—Victims of Immigration Law
  • An unknown, but sizeable, number of Latino families are spread across national borders, with families and parents (in addition to extended relatives) separated by immigration policies and/or the realities of migration difficulties.
  • These families experience particular strain economically (maintaining 2 households) and emotionally (guilt, disengagement, difficult reunification) and deserve special attention by social work family practitioners.
working with natural support systems
Working with Natural Support Systems
  • Religious communities
    • Many evangelical churches offer tangible assistance, prayer groups, youth recreation, and other help for parishioners—active membership often means participation ~4-6 days a week.
    • Catholic churches have marriage supports, youth formation, special prayer services, and (sometimes) pastoral counseling.
  • Merchants—gathering places, offer credit and referrals
  • Folk healers/elders—herbs, prayers, advice (and condemnation)
  • Social clubs—associated with communities of origin or organized around soccer leagues
  • Spanish-language media
    • While not a traditional ‘support’, Spanish radio in particular is a source of information for many immigrants and therefore can connect them to resources in the community (if outreach is done).
stepping into the culture
Stepping into the Culture
  • Connect with Latino practitioners who can serve as cultural consultants to your practice
  • As appropriate, visit gathering places and community events
  • Listen to/read/watch Latino media
  • Work on your Spanish!
  • Ask questions that allow your clients to demonstrate their expertise in their own culture (without expecting them to be your token guide!)