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Dying traditions: Gender roles

by June Soto

Gender roles in the Hispanic community are pretty traditional. In fact, a lot of the way Hispanics see gender roles here in the United States stems from the culture brought with them when emigrating. There are so many large Hispanic communities where people are able to practice their own culture while still being able to be part of the U.S. culture. No immigrant who comes to the U.S. completely assimilates to American culture, but what about those Hispanics who are born here in the states?

For Hispanic parents in the US, raising children and being a family is probably very challenging. We all know that the Hispanic family is extremely close and is probably the most important part of surviving in the states. Unfortunately for Hispanic parents, their children are being brought up in a country where gender roles and traditions are completely different. The prosperity in the United States means that Hispanic women are able to find jobs and opportunities that they may not have had back in their country, which then leads to the independency of Hispanic women.

The independence of Hispanic women in the states breaks the traditional gender roles in the household. Both women and men are now bread winners and “bill payers.” These are the gender roles that their children learn, however, the morals instilled in them are quite different. I know that for myself and friends of mine, who are Hispanic, women are supposed to be housewives while men take care of the financial aspects of the family and any labor that needs to be done around the home. From what I have experienced, even these roles are changing.

Many Hispanic women no longer know how to cook traditional foods and many Hispanic men aren’t exactly familiar with physical labor. I would say that this is because of the educational aspect that is so important here in the US. Children here don’t necessarily have to drop out of school to help their families in order to survive. These factors effect the hierarchy of the traditional Hispanic family and each generation to come. My question now is, How has the American culture helped and/or hurt the traditional Hispanic family?

I’m not condoning Machismo or Feminism, but I do see that many of our traditions are dying here in the U.S. The best thing about Hispanic culture, for me, is the food and family “get togethers.“ What happens when all of that is gone? To what extent do we let U.S. culture change ours? I’m all for equality and respect between men and women, but does it mean that we can’t be slightly traditional when the time calls for it?

It’s important for our Hispanic community to cherish and pass on our traditions here so that we don’t lose the sense of self. Our children should be proud to be Hispanic Americans without having to favor one culture over another and this lesson starts at home.


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June Soto


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. k. Cedano says:

    I am completely biased; traditional gender roles worked in my family and with everyone I see around me.

    The problem isn’t traditional roles, it’s the way they are enforced. I personally like gender roles as long as I am not made to feel like it’s the only thing I’m good for or as if its a mandate.

    Whenever I am asked how I feel about gender roles, my response is always this: “I have no problem cooking and cleaning- I’m good at it and I actually enjoy it; but you better believe the rent is all yours buddy. You want those clean socks, then buy the detergent.” There’s no way in hell I’m going to work, upkeep a household, and still be responsible for equal amount of the financial burden.

    It’s a give and take. My dad paid all the bills and my mom graciously made sure his food was prepped by the time he came home. MY dad never even so much as insinuated she HAD to do it and even went as far as briging her daily “thank you’S” for the work. When the time came that my mom decided she wanted to work, she still made sure my dad had his food on the table when he came home. My dad never took a penny from her or even suggested she shared the financial responsibilities of the home.

    Awesome post June!

  2. Z Reyes says:

    How do you keep traditional food and other kinds of familial cohesion alive? Both men and women stop being lazy and learn how to cook. How about we teach our children Spanish? Is it wrong for me to hope that my sons, when I have them, can move up the social ladder and don’t have to be used to the backbreaking work people of color are expected to perform, the work that left my grandfather maimed and my father miserable? Moreover, why do women HAVE to be the ones to know how to cook pasteles or mofongo? Why do our “traditions” have to rely on the assumptions that some people are “built” to do x or z thing because they are male or female? I’m not against women cooking and cleaning; I am against the idea that they have to because they are women.

    I am probably one of the most “traditional” Puerto Ricans you will meet: I speak Spanish (both boricua and standard) as well as English fluently, I make a habit of eating tostones, mofongo, guineitos, pasteles and the like at least once a week, I have poems by Virgilio Davila and Jose de Diego in posters in my room, I listen to El Gran Combo and Frankie Ruiz on my way to work, I have a library full of Latin American classics like Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz and Borges alongside contemporary Puerto Rican literature, such as Abdiel Echevarria Caban’s books. I read El Nuevo Dia at least once a week and I visit PR at least once a year. Yet I am a lesbian with a (white) American partner and a degree in East Asian and Gender Studies. I don’t lead a “traditional” lifestyle at all. And if being “Hispanic”, if the very survival of our traditions rests on leading the life my grandmother led, then it’s a very sad day indeed.

  3. M Capetillo says:

    I agree with Z, I believe that June is essentializing and condensing hispanic culture into simplistic and monolithic heternormative “traditions”. First, I’d like to point out, or rather question, what you are considering the origins of tradition? Are these traditions those of just our mother or father (people who are products of social institutions such as the church, education, and the state) or a long history of colonized bodies who were constantly destroyed and rebuilt and reshaped through the colonizer and his history? So are you really celebrating “Hispanic” traditions or Spanish/European traditions?

    Second June is neglecting to factor in economic class into these traditional roles we are meant to live up to (or continue). It is a luxury, not a standard, that one partner (wife or husband) has the ability to stay home. Especially in an economic time where prices are skyrocketing and job opportunities are low, every penny counts, and unless the one person is solidly employed or has a large amount of savings, it is unrealistic that people would not consider working, at least for supplemental income. To go even further, I am interested as to why the wife at home/ men at work binary structure June believes is fundamental in Hispanic tradition is not compared to the early 20th century wife at home/ men at work binary that was dominant in America for white couples? What makes this binary more needed and culturally rich than this idealized American nuclear family fantasy? And if these binaries are so similar, what’s to be shocked about when Hispanic women were yearning for the same equal rights (though again there is still a class issue that haunts this claim – who has the luxury to argue to work?).

    Lastly, I want to note that June is problematically claiming that gender slippage (of any kind) is an American/Western ideal that is tainting the Hispanic conformity. Can it not be the case that being in America or being exposed to American/western media is giving these people a medium to express who they truly want to be outside of the rigid social norms instilled in their community? Can it also even more simply be the case that there are people “like that” existing in these communities and must be in hiding or out of visibility in ear of violence or persecution – a policing not as a result of a natural conformity but as a way of maintaining its performance and its supposed universality.

  4. Quick and simple.

    It’s sad that this article reduces our beautiful culture down to whether one can cook or handle physical labor. And lack of doing so is considered “losing” our traditions.
    I don’t know about you, but my heritage offers me so many more opportunities than being a housewife or tomato picker!

  5. nycgirl77 says:

    Thank you J, I agree with you totally. Culture and traditions are a great thing but I think we as a community and a people can define ourselves in other ways besides the roles you’ve mentioned above and not shun others who may not fit the pre defined mold of what latinos are. In my experiences being at work and just life in general many people do this and it is not fair we are all unique, come from many different places and have a lot to offer. When I read things like this it makes me realize the more things “change” the more they stay the same.

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