FOLEY: Tio Time: Latin family orientation versus American individualism

Every Mexican has a tio that they’re not quite sure is their tio – biologically, at least.

Michelle Foley

2:16 p.m., October 15, 2022

Guest columnist


Every Mexican has a tio which they are not quite sure is their tio — biologically, at least. That is to say, if an adult of your parents’ age is sufficiently present, they are granted tio Title. I will be guilty of this too. My friend Andrea jokes that to immerse my future children in Spanish, I can send them to her for a month and lie that Tia Andrea does not speak English, so it will be pure in spanish with her.

Mexican families are generally more extended, as is their role in daily life. Generally, family connectedness is celebrated more prominently in Latin American cultures than in American culture. Of course, no particular culture loves its family more. than others – love is just shown differently. Many Latinos fundamentally believe that individual action reflects family values, so loyalty, tradition, and honor take priority accordingly. Greater group orientation characterizes the family as a larger safety net against difficulties.

It is an imperfect system. Strict adherence to the family unit can mean that instances of abuse and dysfunction are swept under the rug. At my local community college’s sociology symposium, a student presenter explained that Latinas are less likely to transfer to four-year college after community college, in part because of cultural pressure to stay home. . Increased family dependence can also impose lopsided power dynamics, allowing parents to dictate children’s career paths or impose religious and gendered ideas on every detail of their children’s lives. But family culture doesn’t require overcontrol: there’s plenty of room for divergent perspectives. My mother’s conversation with a friend who pushed her daughter to refuse a scholarship from a master’s program abroad to stay closer to her family is a personal example.

“It’s Mexican culture,” she said, but my mother disagreed. She told me that she almost sees her kids as an extension of herself, so their successes and journeys are like hers too.

Herein lies the distinction between family-oriented and helicopter parenting. Hovering over growing children carries a perception of weakness, so many American parents proudly send their children “out of the nest” whenever they can. Being a “helicopter parent” implies that you believe your child cannot handle the real world on their own. A more balanced perspective is that your child may well approach adulthood, but you will remain an important part of it.

Americans often idealize the nuclear family model of the 1950s as the suburban ideal, but there is merit to an extended family. One or two guards per family unit allow fewer shock absorbers; with a small group of people to rely on, family conflicts can affect us more deeply and leave us more alone. A dysfunctional parent can fracture a small family more easily, but having grandparents, uncles, aunts, and cousins ​​to turn to helps dilute the problem. “It takes a village” isn’t just a saying: it’s evolutionary biology. Consider the widely explored grandmother hypothesis, which suggests that grandparents survive their childbearing years for a long time, in part because their presence in the lives of their grandchildren increases parental reproductive fitness and resource availability. We benefit from extended family systems not only for our own upbringing, but also for that of our children.

Platonic touch is relatively rare in cultures like the US and UK, so we may look to family for touch instead. We should point to the dissonance that many patients of color feel when encouraged by culturally white American therapists to simply cut off unhealed family members, or when told that self-love is enough. compensate for the lack of close relationships.

Of course, we should welcome varying definitions of family and found family. That way, we might stop looking to the hyper-individualistic, materialistic flaw of American sociality for fulfillment, fulfillment, and belonging in this world. The Latin practice of defining and redefining family combats isolation by employing some of the most natural systems we have. When we have a strong emotional core to come back to again and again, we can live in abundance and resilience no matter what life has to offer.

Michelle Foley is a sophomore at Benjamin Franklin College. Contact her at [email protected] .

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