Suzanne Said is a returning student who is majoring in Sociology. She has long been participating in and creating fundraising events within her community. She intends to create a safe space for battered women to facilitate resources and support. Her paper was inspired by her experiences and struggles as a bicultural Salvadoran female raised in the U.S.
Experts state that traditional Central American culture sharply defines gender roles, placing importance on family and extended kin. Women are expected to be selfless and nurturing. Meanwhile, men should be dominant, controlling, and often express superiority. Conversely, Americanized culture promotes independence and gender equality. As a result, many first and second generation immigrants, who grow up in the United States, struggle with conflicting ideologies. Young men and women are often torn between two worlds that are heavily and sometimes equally ingrained within them. This article will analyze how gender differences in the traditional Central American and Americanized cultures affect these bicultural youth.
Bicultural Youths in the United States Raised with Traditional Central American Values
By Suzanne Said
How does enculturation (the process by which one learns the requirements, values, and appropriate behaviors of their culture) and biculturalism affect youths in the U.S. raised within traditional Central American values? These conflicting ideologies are creating a rift within the home of traditional Central American families raising children in the United States (Mayo & Dempsey, 2005). The rifts between these two cultures and the children caught in their tightly woven webs are subject to conflicting ideologies. They have the pressure to conform to traditional Central American values while at the same time they are trying to finely balance out their own desires for growth and independence encouraged within American culture. This situation becomes burdensome as these youths, especially females, are often pressured to choose between these two worlds that are overwhelming heavily and sometimes equally engrained within them through biculturalism and enculturation.
In traditional Latin American society, women are expected to be reverent, pure, and loyal (Sirgi, 2012). In contrast, the Anglo culture allows behaviors that sometimes contradict traditionalist Central American ones (Sirgi, 2012; Mayo & Dempsey, 2005). The importance placed on family and extended kin, referred to as “familismo” by the scholar, E.V. Trouyet, is an example. Women are also supposed to follow “Marianismo,” the belief that women are to be submissive, self-sacrificing, and motherly. On the other hand, men are raised to be strong, aggressive or “macho.” This male gender role places a great emphasis on respect and men are expected to support and protect their families.
These cultural values, define what is considered to be acceptable or unacceptable behaviors in Central America. For example, when a female tries to step out of this mold, family members are quick to “correct the action” and remind her of her role. This is especially difficult within a culture that is vastly different in its acceptable behaviors or attitudes towards its females. Males are also constantly having to prove their “manliness” if they show permissive attitudes towards women. Consequently, these conflicting ideologies can also promote aggressive behaviors towards females as they are often seen as less than that of their male counterpart. In contrast, the culture within the United States promotes a more egalitarian perspective for its males and females, which drives steadily towards individualism and professionalism of its females.
Conflicting Ideologies and Biculturalism
First and second generation immigrants who identify with dual cultures can struggle with their independence and ethnic expectations. Because there is a rift in worldviews that often clash, “these adolescents grow up in difficult, if not toxic environments” in which parents are struggling to control their children and very well may resort to physical disciplinary action and the adolescents are in a state of rebellion, which is uncommon in the Latin culture (Mayo & Dempsey, 2005). This internal conflict emerged from the clash between their Central American heritage and their exposure to Americanized culture: one exists inside the home and the other outside the home. Likewise, many Central American families find it hard to adjust to the requests of the children being raised in this country. Consequently, this can create a rift and sense of alienation between both generations (Sirgi, 2012). Furthermore, according to Glass and associates (2010), paternal involvement is essential in a child’s development and family dynamics. However, the machismo embedded in many Central and Latin American fathers negatively impacted the emotional foundation of those acculturated to North American norms and customs (Glass & Owen, 2010).
When two distinct cultures co-exist, immigrants sometimes adopt behaviors and retain some from their heritage (Zinn et all, 2016). Stress occurs when these bicultural individuals feel pressured to choose between one or the other. Such pressures can even lead youth to experiment with drugs and develop risky sexual behaviors (Oshri et al, 2014). Another issue these bicultural youths face is higher risk for depression (Lorenzo-Blanco et al, 2012). This predominantly affects females due to the uneven expectations of the Central American males and females. These differences create an unstable foundation, which may lead to lower self-worth and family disunity, and can lead to a family crises (Sirgi, 2012)
As the adolescent grows, the parent starts to be viewed as old fashioned as the individual takes on what is considered a “more modern” attitude, thinking, and behavior.
Moreover, because the children of immigrants acculturate at a much faster rate than their parents, parents depend on their children to speak on their behalf in a foreign language. These children are then empowered, resulting in a conflict and power struggle between parent and child. Thus, family conflicts and dysfunction occur as these youths often undermine their parents’ authority (Sirgi, 2012). Resentment also grows, disengaging youth from their Central American culture completely (Lorenzo-Blanco et al, 2012). As the adolescent grows, the parent starts to be viewed as old fashioned as the individual takes on what is considered a “more modern” attitude, thinking, and behavior. This is when adolescents begin to voice their right to lead their own lives, a concept that is non-existent in the communalistic culture in Central America. The clash of allegiance to family and individualism is then inevitable and largely notable (Mayo & Dempsey, 2005).
Parent Child Relation
Parents who immigrate to the United States seeking to provide better opportunities for their children, display shock when their adolescents suddenly become rebellious. Such behaviors are often unseen in Central American families because it would be an embarrassment to the family (Mayo & Dempsey, 2005). Theorists Anna Freud and Erik Erickson, came up with a concept of psychosocial moratorium where role experimentation takes place, and adolescence is described as a period of internal conflict, psychic disequilibria, and erratic behaviors (Mayo & Dempsey, 2005). The highest level of dysfunction happens during this time, including instability within the home and family. Equally, Latino adolescents are struggling to blend cultural and childhood ties while adapting to the onset of pre-adulthood. This is where the identity of the adolescent separates from the parents.
Finding a Balance
Dempsey and Mayo’s study emphasizes the use of social workers because these professionals may be able to provide the help and tools necessary for families who are attempting to integrate. Services may include listening to concerns, playing bridging roles between the two cultures (where values and worldviews often clash), and by alleviating psychological stressors. Counseling often finds that parents feel betrayed and their fear leads to desperation at the thought of losing their children to a more liberally individualistic environment that they truly neither understand nor agree with (Dempsey & Mayo, 2005).
Naturally all adolescents find themselves at a cross roads between childhood and adulthood. Immigrant children or those of immigrant parents add extra dimensions and find themselves at a four-way crossroad in which they also cross the dimensions of their world of origin and new host society. Simultaneously, in some cases they are expected to assist parents in eventual citizenship. Such pressures add to the stressors already experienced by migrant families. In cases, such as these, the intervention of a social worker may prove itself to be beneficial, not only to the young individuals who are acculturating or have become bicultural, but also to the parents who are struggling with the changing environment and culture (Dempsey & Mayo, 2005; Zinn et all, 2016).
Bicultural females being raised in homes with traditionalist views are experiencing tremendous pressure between conforming to cultural expectations and their more liberal desires, which may include self-exploration, expression, and experimentation. These individual desires are not only acceptable in Americanized culture, they are also encouraged for growth and development. These females caught in-between cultural pressures are subject to depression, issues of self-identity, self-worth, and self-esteem. The result is family dysfunction and distress, which can lead to a family crisis or substance abuse. The results mentioned could be mediated or defused by seeking help from counseling programs created by social workers. Ultimately, counseling can act as a bridge not only between the generations but as a way for bicultural youth to transform and reshape their dual identities within the bigger picture.
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