Similar to all aspects of society, the concept of family is evolving as well to adapt to the changing environment. Because of the intertwining lives of American and Hispanics in the United States, it is essential to know how each of these cultures views family and how much influence family has on their dispositions in lives. However, in this modern age, the rates of two parents working, the significance of marriage, and the importance of family as a social unit are declining for both cultures.
The Trends in the American and Hispanic Families
In the early 1970s, the “Hispanic” term was created by the US government to have a name for a diverse population of people coming from a Spanish-speaking country and culture. Hispanics comprise of Mexicans, Central and South American, Puerto Rican, Cuban, and other Hispanics who are bilingual and bicultural and who share acculturation to mainstream American culture. For Hispanics, family is the most important social unit. This is evident by their close family ties. Whenever someone travels, ordinarily, he/she would stay in a relative’s house. Every event in one’s life is a time for the family to celebrate, or to suffer, together. They always gather together for every important occasions. Moreover, familia for them goes beyond parents and children; grandparents, cousins, uncles, and aunts are also included.
A Hispanic family is often patriarchal. Moreover, a hierarchy exists: the father, the eldest son, then the women. In a typical household, the authoritarian father is the head of the family, he serves as the protector of the family. The submissive mother takes care of the home, she also serves as the mediator to conflicting members of the family. For this reason, a father is obeyed and a mother is adored, but both have to be given great respect. The women attend to the needs of the men in the family as well as the household. Each member has the responsibility to help, be it financial, unemployment, health, and other life issues (Noble & La Casa, 1991).
Hispanics sense of self is derived from the family; each member is a representation of the family. Children are taught the importance of honor, good manners, and respect for authority and the elderly. Age is highly valued, as evident by using titles to address their elders. Loyalty to each other and to the family name is extremely strong. It is also important that the Spanish language is preserved.
Compadres, those chosen from relatives or close friends to be a godparent, furthermore extend the boundary of the family. They are often chosen based on their social status and influence so they can give more opportunities to the child, and indirectly to the family. They have the responsibility to care and guide the godchild and to oversee the overall wellbeing of the child (Barth, 1969).
The machismo/marianismo dyad is another attribute of the Hispanic culture, especially among Mexicans, but it is not present in all Hispanics. The concept of machismo is different from that of western society. The father is expected to be macho, and the mother to be like Maria, mother of God (Barth, 1969). It has to be emphasized that, contrary to what other people think, those terms are not demeaning to either sex. In Mexico, the word macho has generally positive connotations. Unlike the western concept, it is not tied to sexual escapades. A macho man is someone that has gained respect from the community, which translates to respect for his family as well. He sometimes have to make moral sacrifices to ensure that each member of the family is safe in the social world. Although the mother does not have to deal with the outside world as much as the father, she serves as the strength of the family.
As times have been changing, so is the social context of a Hispanic family. Because of financial reasons, a woman in the family may need to work to earn a living, thus giving her independence and much exposure to the outside world. Consequently, her time for the family lessens. A child who is brought up in the English-speaking world may have more capability to socially interact with people. The father may have to give up his solo control over the family and their interactions to the public. Due to persistent immigrations, relatives have been separated by distance. As a result, the ties between relatives have become weak; their roles as supporting relatives are not valued as much as before. The social significance of a compadre has been deteriorating.
Similar to the Hispanics, the American family is transforming as well. The changes range from the number of adults who marry, the number of households that are formed by married people, the number of children that are conceived, the economic role of mothers, the number of non-family households, and the importance of marriage in accounting for total births.
Statistics show that there is a rising trend of blacks and whites that were never married. From 22% in 1975, the percentage of adults who were never married in 1998 increased to 28% (Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State, 2001). The reasons for this are because people are less interested in fixing marital problems and there is less need for women to stay with their husbands for economic stability. Due to the decline in marriage, there is an increase in the rate of non-family households. Statistics show that only 73% of families with children are headed by married couples in 1998 compared to 80.5% in 1980 (Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State, 2001).
With the advances in medical technology, life expectancy has increased. In line with this, grandparents live longer to take care of their grandchildren. From 1990 to 1997 alone, there is a 19% increase of grandparents staying with their daughter/son and their grandchildren (Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State, 2001).
American women are having less children than they did in the past decades; women give birth to an average of only 1.8 children (only Hispanic women living in the United States produce offspring of more than 2); they even implement spacing between the births of children. While women spend less time at home, since there are fewer children to attend to, mothers still spend more time with their children more than mothers before. However, not only women who are married have children, with the decline of marriage, even single women give birth, mostly teenagers (Klein, 2004).
Furthermore, in 1998, dual-earning couples are already 56.3%. The transition from women staying at home to women joining the workforce has been already accepted. However, with regard to respect, due to the increasing number of divorce, those who left the home, especially fathers, have less authority. Furthermore, because the mother was left by the father, respect sometimes diminishes. There seems to be a correlation between the success of family life and the respect for elders.
Because of fewer siblings, aunts, and uncles and because of both parents working, it can be postulated America is on the road to a more individualistic society.
It has to be emphasized that the changes in the form of family are not exclusive to the Hispanic and American modern family. Moreover, the forms of family are not actually different between families of different cultures, but different within families of the same race. The trends of non-marriage, two parents working, the aged living alone, and the less significance of marriage have been persisting all over the world. However we may view those changes, it has to be kept in mind that family is a necessary institution from where our personalities are first shaped, and from where we can determine where our world is going.
Barth, F. (1969). Introduction to ethnic groups and boundaries, In F. Barth (Ed.).
Boston: Little, Brown.
Klein, H. (2004). A population history of the United States. New York: Cambridge University
Noble, J. & La Casa, J. (1991). The Hispanic way: Aspects of behavior, attitudes, and
customs of the Spanish-speaking world. Chicago, Ill.: Passport Books.
Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State (2001). The American
family. U.S. Society & Values (On-line), 6 (1) 8-10. Available at: