UNDERSTANDING THE Hispanic/Latino CULTURE
is important that educators of Hispanic/Latino children and
adolescents understand and appreciate important concepts of the
afecto: warmth and demonstrativeness
machismo: biological superiority of the male
Hispanic/Latino AMERICAN CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENTS
There are 10.5 million Hispanic/Latino children under age 18.
Hispanic/Latino children are the fastest-growing youth population, and
by 2020 more than one in five children will be of Hispanic/Latino
A cultural description of Spanish-speaking people should include an
understanding of certain values and traits:
Hispanic/Latino Americans (not members of elite group)
tend to avoid competition or activities that will set them apart
from their own group.
"Machismo" plays a significant role in the Puerto
Rican and other Hispanic/Latino groups
used as a
flattering term among Hispanic/Latino Americans
influences behavior and attitudes of adolescent males during time
of identity formation.
between sexes; males enjoy rights/privileges denied to females.
boys and girls
learn that machismo refers to male's manhood, courage to fight,
honor and dignity, keeping one's word, and protecting one's name.
dignity in personal conduct, respect for others, love for the
family, and affection for children.
Many children are taught early that European Americans
are not trustworthy.
often teach their children to look toward European Americans with
fear and hostility.
difficulty believing that European American professionals have
their best interests at heart.
many would not
agree that the European American ideas of self-advancement and
equality within the family are necessary to sustain the ideals of
freedom, democracy, and progress.
In general, group-oriented Mexican American children
are likely to change their own behavior to adapt to an interpersonal
challenge rather than try to change situations. They are less
assertive in expressing themselves to peers and adults and rely on
authority figures to resolve interpersonal problems.
Selected Characteristics of Hispanic/Latino American Children and
feelings, particularly anger and frustration
expressions toward authority figures
closer personal space; avoidance of eye contact when listening or
speaking to authority figures
Concept of time
perspective; relaxed about time and punctuality; and immediate
group identity; interdependence; cooperative rather than
competitive; emphasis on interpersonal relations
From: Rivera, B. D., & Rogers-Adkinson. D. (1997) Culturally sensitive
interventions: Social skills training with children and parents from
culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Intervention in
School and Clinic. 33(2), 75-80.
PARENTS, FAMILIES, AND THE COMMUNITY
Educators' recognition of the role of parents, the family, and the
community in the multicultural education effort is an absolute
prerequisite to the multicultural education program's success. Actions
with a significant role in determining the success of the
multicultural education program:
Note: Yes, requires time and energy, but benefits outweigh the efforts
A basic feature of the Hispanic/Latino American family
is the extended family, which plays a major role in each family
strong bonds and frequent interaction among a wide
range of kin.
Grandparents, parents, and children may live in the
same household or nearby.
visit one another frequently.
placing the needs of the family ahead of individual
concerns. This aspect of Hispanic/Latino family life has led to the
erroneous conclusion that the family impedes individual achievement
and advancement. Observers of the Hispanic/Latino American culture
must distinguish between being cooperative and respectful and being
docile and dependent. Generally speaking, Hispanic/Latino American
children and adolescents learn to show respect for authority, the
patriarchal family structure, and extended family members.
More than one-third (36 percent) of Hispanic/Latino households were
married couples with children in 1997; only a quarter of
non-Hispanic/Latino households were married couples with children.
Children lived in more than half (52%) of the 8.2 million
Hispanic/Latino households. Only about one-third (33%) of the 9.3
million non-Hispanic/Latino households included children ("Married
with children": More likely to describe Hispanic/Latino
Hispanic/Latino American children learn early the importance of (1) a
deep sense of family responsibility, (2) rigid definitions of sex
roles, (3) respectful and reverent treatment of the elderly, and (4)
the male's position of respect and authority in the family. Although
some of the male's authority appears to be relaxing as the woman's
role is redefined, women in the Hispanic/Latino American culture
continue to occupy a subordinate position. Fathers have prestige and
authority, and sons have more and earlier independence than do
Hispanic/Latinos value the extended family structure and interaction
in their daily lives. Parents often arrange for godparents or
"companion parents" for the child, demonstrating the value
Hispanic/Latinos place on adults other than the immediate parents.
These compadres also have a right to give advice and correction and
should be responsive to the child's needs.
ACTIVITY: Getting to Know Hispanic/Latino Families
Learning about the Hispanic/Latino learner's family might be one of
the best ways to improve the child's academic achievement and
self-esteem. Educators can do several things to learn about
Invite families to school on special occasions just to
visit. While the family learns about the school and its policies and
expectations, teachers can become acquainted with the families.
Request that students write a story or essay about
their families. Be sure to emphasize including parents,
grandparents, brothers and sisters, cousins, and other relatives
living in the home. Keep an open mind, and remember the importance
of the extended family. Tell students before they write the story
whether or not their stories or essays will be shared with the
Educators who teach in areas with great numbers of
Hispanic/Latinos may want to schedule a day for only Hispanic/Latino
families to visit. Have individual meetings to determine how the
family influences school achievement and attitudes toward school,
(If possible, speak Spanish to families with limited
Schedule individual meetings with Hispanic/Latino
students to discuss their families, but be careful that students
understand the purpose of these discussions. Allow and respect a
For Additional Information
Chicano Family Center (CFC), 7145 Avenue H, Houston, TX 77011. Founded
in 1971, the CFC seeks to enhance understanding and appreciation of
the Chicano culture.
Puerto Rican Family Institute (PRFI). 116 W. 14th Street, New York, NY
W011. This organization was established in 1960 for the preservation
of the health, well-being, and integrity of Puerto Ricans and other
Hispanic/Latino families in the United States.
We define the term parent education as planned activities that are
designed to educate parents about their children and adolescents,
goals of U.S. school systems, and ways they can help their child or
adolescent experience success, both academically and behaviorally, in
In Hispanic/Latino American culture, just as in other cultures,
females differ from their male counterparts. Although males and
females both experience similar frustrations, such as discrimination
and prejudice and sometimes poverty and lower standards of living,
Hispanic/Latino American females are different from males in other
ways. For example, Hispanic/Latino American females usually prefer
cooperative learning environments over competitive classrooms in which
many boys learn best. Likewise, Hispanic/Latino American females,
because of their families' adherence to strict gender roles, are often
less vocal and take less assertive stands than males do.
It is important to note, however, that because of acculturation and
females taking steps to improve themselves economically and socially,
some Hispanic/Latino American females are adhering less and less to
traditional gender expectations.
In 1990, over 1 million Hispanic/Latino American families lived in
poverty-just over two of every ten Hispanic/Latino families, compared
with less than one of every ten non-Hispanic/Latino families. About 30
percent of Puerto Rican families, 33 percent of families from the
Dominican Republic, about 10 percent of families from Spain, 11
percent of Cuban families, 23 percent of Mexican families, and 21
percent of Central American families were below the poverty level in
the United States in 1990. Although educators should recognize (and
respond appropriately to) the effects poverty often has on academic
achievement, it would also be a serious mistake to categorize all
lower socioeconomic Hispanic/Latinos into unmotivated or
underachieving academic groups.
Religion plays a central role in the lives of Hispanic/Latino
Americans. The Spanish colonial experience brought about a distinct
culture of which the Catholic faith was an important part. Catholicism
was brought by the Spanish to the United States. The first mass on
what is now U.S. soil was celebrated at Saint Augustine, Florida, in
1565- Spanish missionaries were active in the Southwest as early as
1539, and California missions were founded between 1770 and 1782.
is believed that Hispanic/Latinos make up 40 percent of the current
Catholic membership. Numbers from The Gallup Report substantiate the
belief that Hispanic/Latinos predominantly adhere to the Catholic
faith: Protestants account for 18 percent; Catholics, 70 percent;
others and those not claiming a religious preference, 12 percent
(Religion in America, 1985).