It is important that educators of Hispanic/Latino children and adolescents understand and appreciate important concepts of the Hispanic/Latino culture.
corazon: heart
sensibilidad: sensitivity
afecto: warmth and demonstrativeness
dignidad: dignity
respeto: respect
machismo: biological superiority of the male


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 origin.


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.

    • To stand out among one's peers is to place oneself in great jeopardy and is to be avoided at all costs.

  • "Machismo" plays a significant role in the Puerto Rican and other Hispanic/Latino groups

    • used as a flattering term among Hispanic/Latino Americans

    • significantly influences behavior and attitudes of adolescent males during time of identity formation.

    • distinction 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.

    • includes 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.

    • Mexican Am. often teach their children to look toward European Americans with fear and hostility.

    • children have 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 Adolescents



Behavioral/emotional expressiveness

Restraint of feelings, particularly anger and frustration


Limited verbal expressions toward authority figures


Preference for closer personal space; avoidance of eye contact when listening or speaking to authority figures

Concept of time

Present time perspective; relaxed about time and punctuality; and immediate short-term goals

Social orientation

Collective, 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.



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:

  • Including both immediate and extended families and community members

    • demonstrates that you are serious about accepting and promoting other cultures

    • adds credence to the multicultural education program's efforts.

    • parents, families, and community members can play significant roles and offer their participation.

    • helps clarify parents' misunderstandings associated with U.S. school systems

    • reduces the reluctance of some parents to share strengths.

Note: Yes, requires time and energy, but benefits outweigh the efforts expended.



  • A basic feature of the Hispanic/Latino American family is the extended family, which plays a major role in each family member's life.

  • 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.

  • cooperativeness

  • 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 households, 1998).

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 daughters.
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 Hispanic/Latino families.

  • 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 class.

  • 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 English-speaking skills.)

  • 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 learner's privacy.


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 school.


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.

It 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).



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