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Do family ties hinder achievement among Latinos?

by Orlando J. Rodriguez

A study by the Pew Research Center on who moves, and who doesn’t, raises a potentially thorny issue for Latinos. Or maybe I’ve gone a bit too far in my interpretation of the findings on Latinos. The data is all about people, which means it is often contradictory and maybe best interpreted over one or more cervecitas. But there are a few tidbits that cannot be easily ignored.

Among those who move, job or business opportunities are their main motivation. Those who do not move cite family ties as their main reason for staying put. The Pew study also found that people with college educations are more likely to move than those who completed high school or less. This is to be expected because a college education provides more job opportunities and higher income than a high school education. It is not a coincidence that people who move also have higher incomes than people who stay.

As a group, Latinos–having lower educational attainment–move less than whites. Consider the following: for whites and blacks age 30+, 55 percent have lived their entire lives in the state in which they were born. However, among US-born Latinos, a whopping 72 percent have lived only in the state in which they were born. Among religious groups, Latino Catholics are the most likely to have lived in only one state–78 percent of them. Latinos are also twice as likely as whites or blacks to say that their home is where their family is from. Latinos and blacks are also more likely to return to their home community than whites.

An unscientific sample of my family confirms the Pew findings. The majority of my extended family is from New Orleans and remained there even after hurricane Katrina. Among them, the majority do not have a college education. My oldest brother, niece, and I are the only ones who left (long before Katrina), and we have graduate degrees. My other brother, who stayed in New Orleans and did not go to college, warned me not to get too much education or I would not be able to get a job. He must have been thinking of the type of local jobs available in the tourism and oil economy of southern Louisiana.

Latinos should be mindful that focusing exclusively on the importance of the family may create a difficult choice for young Latinos in the United States. Is the Latino family sending subtle, or not so subtle, hints that living close to abuelita is more important than a better job or higher education? Do young Latinos have enough acquaintances outside their families and beyond their local communities to feel comfortable among strangers? Are Latino parents sending a mixed message? “Get educated, but not too educated or you will move away and abuelita will never forgive you.” ¿Qué piensas?


Pew study Who Moves? Who Stays Put? Where’s Home?

To learn more about Orlando, visit his Bio Page.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those
of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


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About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Great thoughts. Having worked directly with Latino college students over the course of my career, I can say that it is a significant issue – but one that is changing. I worked at a Hispanic Serving Institution back in the mid1990s and getting students to take internships or co-ops was always a challenge. It was not only family ties but also the lack of support groups in the organizations/communities they were moving to. Today, I still note the challenge but it’s not as signficant – especially within 1st, 2nd and 3rd generation Latinos. I moved from CA. to TX as a non-traditional college student – early 20s. Even at that age, separating from family ties was a huge challenge but one that provided exponential growth for me. Thanks for the post!

  2. Maria de Jesus says:

    Great post Mr. Rodriguez. I just returned from San Antonio, TX where I visited with numerous family members and I have to say that for the first time, I felt conflicted as to whether I should return home from the Midwest. I enjoyed visiting with all of my relatives but felt that my children were getting robbed an opportunity to have their cousins as their best friend and missing out on cultural activities. For the first time, I felt that I was doing a disservice to my children and pondered the reality that I was choosing education and opportunity over familial ties. It is often said that home is where the heart is, but what happens to the home when the heart resides in two places?

  3. Sofia Rodriguez says:

    I completely agree and I am currently writing my master’s thesis that transnational ties affect progression of Mexican women and their children. I am just starting my research, but it’s interesting that Mexican Americans or Latinos in general are in the U.S in great numbers, yet were are still considered backwards and not fully not accepted into mainstream America.

  4. Nathalie says:

    I think most Latino families do give off mixed signals. Like get an education and a job that is good enough to pay your bills but keep you a few miles within grandma’s reach. Some families like my own, tend to hold some individuals back on certain opportunities. I wanted to go away for college in another state and study abroad but my mother and sister said that I would be far from my sickly mother and young nephews. Out of guilt, I never went to Europe and studied at a college a few miles away from home. That is something I regret all the time, I wish I would’ve moved away or taken those far away advantages, I would’ve been doing greater things career-wise today. I always tell my nephew whom is getting close to going to college to go where ever his heart desires and to do what HE wants to do, not what his mother, grandma, uncles or other family members want him to do but only what he wants to do. I told him how I missed out on some experiences because I chose to stay close to home and I don’t want him to make the same mistake as I did. I always encourage him to explore the world. While I am not trying to say family isn’t important, I think family sometimes can hold you back on your greatest potential just because family should be close. Family should support each others dreams and goals no matter how many miles apart they will be. Family is very important but it should be separated from career or educational goals. Trust me, abuelita won’t be upset when you buy her nice things or take her to excellent restaurants when you have a well paying job.

  5. Bayron Mejia says:

    1st generation born and educated here in the US the “family ties” are a huge factor and very hindering from my experience. I know my parents tried their best to adapt and grow with me but everything I did become a taboo for them. My friends growing up became my second family and I realized if I where to bring that type of social environment to my daughter and expose her to different things, people, locations she would not be afraid later on in life to venture off on her own. I believe as a dad my job is to educate, guide, and challenge my child in a loving way to be on her own! I also experienced you can’t make everyone happy this include abuelo and abuelita! Times have changed we too have to change!

  6. nycgirl says:

    While family is an important thing I don’t think that they should hinder you from exploring opportunities that life brings. Latinos have a tendency to want to keep their children close to them but I disagree with this b/c life is a journey and if you don’t take advantge of opportunities and live life how will you know what’s out there? I know my aunt’s sister in law was offered an internship something where she had to live the state this was back in the 70’s and her parents didn’t allow her to go technically she was of age and could’ve gone but she didn’t and lost out an opportunity. I think this is unfair and selfish and we should encourage young people to pursue opportunities and be the best they can be. I know I will encourage my child to do the same.

  7. I think it’s a confidence issue also. Other groups, whites specifically, have long had the confidence to move about freely without feeling undermined by other groups. Who looks at a white person and says, I won’t hire them or they might be this or that. As a Latina, I see it all the time. I walk into a store and I am followed around like I am wearing a sign that says possible shoplifter. Before I married and changed my name to an American name, most of my attempts to apply for jobs seemed like a waste, but once my resume had an American name, my foot and my leg was through the door.

    True, it’s hard to leave family behind but sometimes adventure is not in your backyard. I moved to the East coast from Los Angeles and even though it’s not the last place I’ll live, I don’t necessarily think I want to be living where I grew up. I think change is good.


  1. […] Orlando Rodriguez revisits a topic that I’m very familiar with – both personally and professionally – the impact of family ties on Latino success. When I worked at the University of Texas at El Paso Career Center back in the mid-1990s, one of the biggest challenges we faced (and feedback we often received from employers) was the reluctance of our students to leave El Paso for job or even an internship. Since over 70+ percent of our students were Latinos, family proximity was a significant factor in student career decisions. I still remember one student whose mother spent the Summer with her during an internship in Dallas. […]

  2. […] intriguing post on the Being Latino website today points out, if unscientifically, the tug-of-war between family and career that pulls at some young Latinos – and which I suspect pulls at other children of immigrants, […]

  3. […] writer Orlando J. Rodriguez touched on the notion that abuelita may be holding us back from moving too far away from family – but could our families also be holding us back from […]

  4. […] to both, send their children to school and, not need their offspring to work to support the family. Neither is true for many Latino families.  While scholarships can make college possible for low-income Latino families, it does not offset […]

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