In the U.S., Latinos have a reputation of having huge, close-knit families that stick together. In the pilot episode of Rob Schneider’s failed sitcom “¡Rob!”, the main character Rob meets his wife’s Mexican American family for the first time. He is immediately greeted by a loud horde of relatives, all visiting for a relative’s birthday. During the episode, the stereotypical impression was created that Latin families get together all that time and are constantly in each other’s lives.
So are Latinos more family oriented? Are we “closer” than other non-Latino families? Personally, I think being close to your family is not an ethnic or cultural value, it’s more about the particular family’s dynamic and how functional or dysfunctional the family is; it’s about whether the family in question places high value on staying in contact and on supporting each other. I’ve seen this first hand being the product of Salvadoran and Irish families and now as I interact my German husband’s family. My Irish American family and my German husband’s family are just as tight-knit as my Salvadoran family.
My Salvadoran family is very close, in large part because of the way my mother and her siblings were raised. My grandmother instilled in her children the value of taking care of family and of making time for family reunions. We were raised to honor and make time for visits with cousins, aunts, and grandmother. My cousins and I would often go and spend a summer with our grandmother or an aunt/uncle and we’d have to be dragged away to come home. My Salvadoran family’s Christmas Eve parties are one of the highlights of my year, because we value the chance for everyone to be together. Like our parents, the cousins now organize crazy talent shows that inevitably end with wild dancing.
My Irish American family is very similar. My father and his brothers were raised by parents who deeply valued family time. Family dinners and vacations were a must. When I was growing up, my grandparents and uncles would visit us at least once a year, even though we lived across the country. My grandparents made special “dates” with each and every son and grandchild just to “check in” on them. My dates with my grandmother, when we watched a musical and ate popcorn, are some of my favorite memories.
Now I am married and getting to know an entirely new culture and family. I think part of the reason I fell in love with my German husband is because of how he treats and interacts with his own family. He and his family members call each other several times a week and hold Skype dates where he “plays” with his two nieces on a regular basis. This year his grandfather had a health scare and it was amazing to see how his large family came together and quickly made a plan to take care of him.
My life experiences have taught me that being more family-oriented isn’t necessarily a Latino thing – it’s more about specific values that the family members share (e.g. frequent communication, spending time with each other, prioritizing the needs of a member who is sick, etc.). I am lucky that I was raised by two amazing families that valued each other and that I met a man with a similarly tight-knit family. I know that when the time comes for us to build our own family, we will instill the same family values.
By Being Latino Contributor, Alexandra Aquino-Fike