Archive for April, 2009

Please Stop the Senseless Mexican Discrimination!

Our poor Mexican brothers and sisters were the first to fall victim to the Swine Flu. Mexico City was not prepared; there was no alert from the World Health Organization. Unfortunately, the fatalities continue; and to add insult to injury, many in this country are taking the opportunity to blame Mexicans for the virus. I have received various emails and have seen numerous highly insulting comments on websites, articles, and blogs throughout the Internet. Here is what one ignorant poster commented as a response to commentary from an article on The Denver Post website:

I agree with your statement that their race has NOTHING to do with this. The fact that they are here illegally and eminate from a country that has now given us this deadly disease is what matters. The name of the disgusting country means nothing. The fact that our “leaders” allowed million of citizens from a swine-producing third world nation to infiltrate our country means EVERYTHING.

To make things worse on the discrimination front, the WHO has now changed the name of the virus to the Mexican Flu because “most recent research on swine flu has shown that the virus is not caused by pigs.” Many ignorant people, of course, are taking this to mean that the WHO feels it is caused by Mexicans.

The WHO name change comes after an Israeli official, Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman, said at a news conference on Monday that the reference to pigs is offensive and “we should call this Mexican flu and not swine flu.” This was also reported in the news yesterday morning on MSNBC. While I appreciate being cognitive of religious sensitivities, Mr. Litzman is not being sensitive to the prejudicial implications of this name change.

At a time of crisis we should be uniting as brothers and sisters in humanity and not being divisive with a foolish show of ignorance and discrimination.

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How can Latinos believe in life after death and still be so afraid of death?

As I celebrated Easter today I meditated on the meaning of the resurrection. While interviewing Latinos over the years I have heard many respondents tell me about their devotion to Jesus Christ, the importance of the resurrection, and their faith in life ever after. What may not make a lot of sense at first glance is that, while Hispanics believe strongly in life after death, they also have a dumbfounding fear of death.

The fear of death is very strong in the Latino community. It is a subject that everyone loves to avoid. Yet, the Hispanic reasons for fearing death may be different from those of the general population. Latinos generally believe in life after death. The actual fear of the unknown- which is predominantly the reason why most people fear death, may be to some extent addressed in the Hispanic community by the religious beliefs Latinos hold regarding the afterlife. In fact many Latinos, especially those of Mexican origin, see the afterlife as an end to their Journey of suffering.

We know that suffering and disappointment are part of life, but they cannot destroy us. If even God suffered the crucifixion for us, there must be something good in suffering, especially in suffering for the sake of others, that we don’t fully understand. In our Latino realism, we do not go looking for suffering as if it were something desirable, but neither do we deny it or run away from it. We assume it, transcend it, and dare to celebrate life in spite of it. [Virgilio Elizondo “The Sacred Latino Experience” Americanos – Latino Life in the United States (Little, Brown and Company, 1999) p.20]

Mexicans often see death as the promise of life. In fact, the popular Mexican holiday Día de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) is a celebration of life.

In Mexico, this holiday is celebrated at night and in the cemeteries. The family of the departed makes offerings of food and drink and places the traditional flowers, marigolds, at each gravesite. During this offering the family members also offer prayers or speak to the dead. – The day of the Dead is one of the more mystical Hispanic celebrations, and it can be the most fulfilling. It represents a clash of pagan and Christian beliefs, but its message of death as a continuance, not an end, can be uplifting. [Valerie Menard “The Latino Holiday Book” (Marlowe & Company, 2000) pp.110-111]

The subject of death is also addressed by religion in other Latino subgroups. In the book Transitional Villagers [Peggy Levitt “God Is Everywhere- Religious Life Across Borders” (University of California Press, 2001) p.159] the author relates the story of the Dominican immigration to Boston and the Latino strife to maintain their religious beliefs. “Death is viewed as a transition to another place where the deceased, who is present in a different form, can be visited, consulted, and petitioned.” She goes on to say that the inability of Dominican immigrants to visit their diseased relatives at the cemetery in their homeland makes dealing with death much more difficult.

Latinos generally do not fear death because of the unknown. The Latino fear of death includes other areas like:

  1. The fear of not accomplishing the person’s life mission.
    In research I have conducted on this subject Latinos appear to regard death as the ultimate deadline. They see themselves as being placed on earth for a reason, and see their death as the ultimate deadline before which they need to get their life’s purpose accomplished. Religion also plays a large part on this fear. If God brought them to earth with a mission, and they procrastinate or somehow get derailed in doing whatever it is that they feel they are here to accomplish, what will happen when they have to face God?
  2. The physical and emotional suffering one may have to endure as death approaches.
    Latinos also worry about how much they may have to suffer with a terminal illness, accident, or other condition leading to their death. Many Latinos, however, view suffering as a necessary evil and mainly worry about how their suffering will affect their family (see below).
  3. The effect that death may have on the individual’s family and loved ones.
    Most Latinos worry the most about being responsible for the suffering of their loved ones. Their own suffering could be justified as the road to salvation, but in their view they cannot justify inflicting suffering on others. They constantly worry about how their death will affect their family.

In my research I have also learned that moving away from a religion that is largely centered on suffering presents an interesting conundrum for Latinos. In their upbringing they learned that salvation is reached through suffering, yet in the American society they are learning that it is not necessary to suffer. In fact, many Latinos came to the US looking for the American dream- a dream that has little to do with suffering or with life after death. Searching for heaven on earth and striving to reach eternal life are not compatible goals for many Hispanics. Their ingrained religious beliefs from generations ago still linger. In the minds of many Latinos, not suffering in this journey may compromise the hereafter. At that point, the fear of the unknown resurfaces. Generally, however, Latinos can believe in life after death and still fear death because the fears are not usually based on a fear of the unknown.

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The Other Side of Machismo

 If you are not Hispanic or are not enthralled with the Latino culture you may think that the concept of Machismo is an American stereotype of the quintessential Latino man.  There are many misconceptions regarding Latinos; but the concept of Machismo is definitely not mistaken- it is real!  There are, however, many different ways to describe Machismo.  To many Latinos it is simply the belief that a real man needs to strive to be the most manly he can possibly be.  The word machismo comes from the word “macho” or male; and it is often defined as exaggerated manliness.  In Latin America it is common for “the man of the house” to be portrayed as the master of his domain.  Latinas do not disagree; because in the traditional Latino family the man is supposed to be in charge.  A Latina wife wants her husband to be also seen by others in the community as manly.  As a result, most Latinas that I interview say that their husband is the head of their household.  Further probing often paints a different picture; but the pretension is always to uphold the male’s position of dominance.

There is a fine line between Machismo and male chauvinism.  One thing is to pretend that the man is always in charge; while a very different situation is to actually have a man dominating a woman.  In my interviews with Hispanics I have witnessed many instances of Machismo crossing over to the realm of chauvinism; but those cases exists across all cultures.  The Machismo that I feel is unique to the Latino community is the cultural acceptance of the pretension by both males and females that the man is actually in charge.  This charade goes on in the U.S. Hispanic community despite the fact that Latinas in this country have managed to move away from the cultural tendencies of Marianismo(1).  Why then do we continue to ensure that machismo stays alive by exaggerating the male manliness in the Hispanic behavior?

I have a theory.  We rely on Machismo because we (Latino men) are too emotional.  Being emotional is not considered a particularly manly characteristic.  The fact that Hispanic men are emotional is no secret; it has been very well documented and is often portrayed in the media as a typical Latino male point of difference from non-Hispanic men.  In fact, just yesterday I was watching the movie Spy Kids with my daughter and was reminded of how far Hollywood has gone in substantiating the fact that Latino men cry.   At the climatic conclusion of the movie, the father character (played by Antonio Banderas) meets his long lost brother- a rough macho man played by Danny Trejo.  In the exchange Danny’s character sheds a tear, at which point the brother comments in a comical fashion “Latinos!”  I laughed at that when I saw the movie for the first time in the theater, and I laughed again yesterday.  How true!

I remember my father telling me as a child not to cry because “men do not cry.”  Men may not cry in other cultures; but Latino men have trouble separating themselves from those darn Latino emotions.  My father was not one to preach about not crying, because he would get emotional with something as mundane as watching a parade!  But he countered his emotional nature with a good dose of Machismo; and I think we all do to an extend.  This is especially the case here in the U.S. where many men are not as emotional by nature and would perceive an emotional tear as male weakness or even sissyness.   So, what do we do?  We step up the Machismo a couple of notches!

There is another trick that we use to counter the portrayal of being sissy.  Being emotional is a quality more often associated with females; which is why emotional men can be seen as being effeminate.  The best way to battle that position and show our manliness is to demonstrate that we are better at getting the attention of the girls.  A womanizer is not a sissy; and Giacomo Casanova himself was known to win the women’s affection by using his emotional nature.  So, if our Machismo is not convincing enough we can always fall back on positioning ourselves as the Latin Lovers!

  1. Traditional Latina roles dictate that females are supposed to live as a martyr in order to satisfy the needs of their family.  This cultural trait is also traced to the Hispanic religious background that is heavily rooted in Catholicism.  Some have referred to this tendency of self-sacrifice as Marianismo (after the Virgin Mary).   Marianismo is considered the female counterpart to Machismo.  (Stevens, Evelyn P. “Marianismo: The Other Face of Machismo in Latin America,” Wilmington: Jaguar books on Latin America ; no. 7, 1994)

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Latinos are too focused on material success

Over the past 25 years I have spoken to thousands of Latinos. As a professional interviewer specializing in the U.S. Hispanic market, my job is to ask questions and to listen carefully. I have heard Latinos speak of their dreams and aspirations. Some have related stories of how they grew up in this country; often struggling to fit in. Others have spoken of what motivated their migration from Latin America; and of the difficulties, frustrations, and obstacles encountered in their quest to achieve that elusive “American Dream.” The majority does not feel accomplished. Why? The sad reality is that most Latinos, and especially new Latino immigrants, are bound to have a hard time achieving their dreams because they are often too focused on achieving financial success.

Hispanic immigrants work very hard to succeed in their pecuniary dream quest. To “make it here” is very important to U.S. Latinos. Many came to the U.S. leaving behind their family, their friends, their land, and their culture. Coming here was a sacrifice. They endured that sacrifice in order to financially live a better life and, most importantly, to provide a better life for their children. In fact, most often when Latino parents are asked about their personal goals and ambitions they answer by saying that everything they do is for the purpose of providing a better life for their children. This tendency of self-sacrifice is especially prevalent in the Hispanic female.

While Hispanics work very hard to achieve their American dream, many find it very difficult on their families. In many cases, it is the Latino male who arrives in the U.S. first. Their original thinking is to make enough money to return to their families. As time goes on, many men find it more feasible to bring their family to the U.S., while they continue their pursuit for financial independence. Even at this stage, many new immigrants continue with their plan of making enough money to return to their homeland. The reality, however, is that most immigrants end up staying. Once they live in this country for a few years, they start to release those bonds with their country of origin by strengthening ties with a new homeland. These new ties become stronger when new immigrants have children born in the U.S. The parents decide to stay for the sake of their children.

Latinos try to succeed by working very hard. The men often have two jobs and find it difficult to spend quality time with their families. They often leave most of the child rearing responsibilities to their wives. While the traditional Hispanic mother always stayed at home and contentedly bore most of these responsibilities, the new Latina immigrant finds herself with very little time to raise her children. Latinas often complain that life in the U.S. is too fast and stressful, and that they lack the large support network of family and friends that exists in their homeland. They also see themselves forced to work out of the house, or motivated by the American culture to pursue a career of their own. In trying to do it all, their children end up suffering. The parents cannot do it all and supervise the children appropriately.

The lack of parental supervision is a growing concern in the Hispanic community. There are many two-income and single parent households. These families often have difficulty supervising their children after school. Additionally, tired parent who are franticly fixing dinner at night and preparing for the next day may not be taking enough time out to inquire about their children’s activities and/or school issues. These Latino families lack the support offered by extended family members in their country of origin. Back “home” there was always a relative willing to assume the parental responsibilities if needed.

To make things worse, many new Latino immigrants relocate to urban neighborhoods in big cities where crime, drugs, and other negative societal influences abound. In their country of origin Latinos often lived in smaller towns where everyone knew everybody else. Their children were protected there because everyone kept an eye on them. If your child got in trouble, the story would get to you through the Latino grapevine. I have heard many Hispanics tell me that they were devastated when they found out that their child was into drugs or involved in gang activities because they “had no idea.” Many blame the American society for their children’s problems and do not see themselves being at all responsible.

The problem is that it is not in the true Latino nature to place all of their life emphasis on financial success. In fact, when I ask Hispanics about the most important things in life, they are likely to mention God, family, and health. It is rare when a Latino says that money is the most important thing in life. What is ironic is that most Latinos seek financial success to be able to provide a better life for their children; and in doing so they end up placing their children in danger. At the end, most Latinos agree that success is not measured by material possessions; many prefer to measure success by the legacy they leave to their children. A legacy that is not necessarily a financial inheritance; but rather an appropriate upbringing based on respect, good morals, and proper values.

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