hispanic family values

lots of conservatives (rinos in particular maybe) like to talk about how great hispanic/mexican family values are, and what a wonderful addition these will be to american society (never mind the sky-high illegitimacy rates in the hispanic community) — but what these so-called conservatives don’t understand is that hispanic/mexican family values are different from our (well, your, if you’re a wasp that is) family values.

it’s called familism (familismono kidding!) — and hispanics/mexicans got it in spades [pg. 314 – pdf]:

Familism can be defined as a social pattern whereby individual interests, decisions, and actions are conditioned by a network of relatives thought in many ways to take priority over the individual. This social pattern manifests itself through three dimensions: (1) the attitudinal, expressed in dispositions, values, and beliefs that prioritize the welfare of the family; (2) the behavioral, expressed in everyday actions, or major decisions, informed by one’s attachment to family ties; and (3) the structural, expressed in the spatial architecture of family networks (Steidel and Contreras 2003; Valenzuela and Dornbusch 1994). Researchers from several disciplines have observed that familism is an important component of Hispanic culture (Okagaki and Frensch 1998; Oyserman, Coon, and Kemmelmeier 2002). At the attitudinal level, Hispanic adults and adolescents value interdependence, as well as family support and obligations, more so than whites (Fuligni, Tseng, and Lam 1999; Harrison et al. 1990; Sabogal et al. 1987). At the behavioral level, Hispanics report higher degrees of familial cohesion and intimacy than whites (Niemann, Romero, and Arbona 2000; Sabogal et al. 1987) and assist family members in instrumental ways more so than whites (Sarkisian, Gerena, and Gerstel 2006). And at the structural level, Hispanics, and Mexican Americans in particular, live in larger and denser kinship networks than whites (Sarkisian et al. 2006; Valenzuela and Dornbusch 1994).”

well, that all sounds great — and it is, in its own way — but what it isn’t is anything like the anglo/anglo-american family tradition which is based upon the nuclear family and the individualism of its members, a societal structure that appears to go right back to the thirteenth century (see also here and here). if someone says to you “hispanic family values,” you should absolutely not picture in your mind june and ward cleaver along with wally and the beav — and, maybe, uncle billy coming over for thanksgiving dinner every other year.

no. hispanic/mexican familism (and, of course, there is a lot of variety here — latin america is a big place) means a lot of extended family — and, for whatever reasons, a lot of extended family obligations. which is also fine — but there are only twenty-four hours in a day, and if you’ve got obligations to your immediate family AND your tío jorge and all his kids, and your tía rosa and all her kids, etc., etc., there’s simply going to be less time in your day to devote to other things like the broader community. as someone who comes from a large clan (52 first cousins!), i know this to be true — there’s just not a whole lot of spare time for anything other than family (except you guys, of course! (~_^) ).

“but won’t hispanics quit being so extended-family oriented once they assimilate to american culture, hbd chick?”

i dunno. and neither does anyone else.

there are some indications that the amount of some aspects of familism is lower among hispanics/mexicans raised in the u.s. than their immigrant parents, but not all aspects — and all of these familism metrics remain higher in hispanic groups than for white americans. (what would be interesting to know is how much familism there is in the new mexican hispanic population. i couldn’t find anything on that anywhere — might try to dig some data up from the gss myself….)

i’m of the opinion that the development of strong feelings towards one’s extended family (or not) is a question of evolution, so changing those feelings, afaics, ought to take some time. the english (see links above or the “mating patterns in europe series” below ↓ in left-hand column) have had a loooong history of individualism and nuclear families, a process which started, i think, in the early medieval period with the bans on cousin marriage by the roman catholic church. mexicans, and other hispanics, have had a very different evolutionary history when it comes to family feelings and cohesiveness.

the colonial mayans, for instance, had close, endogamous mating patterns — and they lived in extended-family settlements, just as their pre-columbian ancestors had done, indicating that extended-family-ness in mayan society goes way back [pgs. 368-369]:

“[T]he Mayas divided up house-plots or treated contiguous plots as one so that what might have officially been nuclear families living on separate house-plots were really multiple-residence extended-family household complexes. Not only have such patterns of residential clustering survived to the present in much of Mexico, but they have been observed by archaeologists for a number of pre-Columbian Maya sites — most notably Coba, Dzibilchaltun, K’axob, Mayapan, and Tikal….

“[A] typical grandfamily household might occupy adjacent house-plots and its member frequent the neighboring plots of related households of the same patronym-group or alliance of patronym-groups.

“The free movement of family members and animals between plots symbolized the blurred lines between separate and joint…. To avoid cutting up parcels of land … Mayas made use of the parallel principle of multial, ‘joint ownership.’ Typically then, a plot of land was placed in the hands of a representative of the household or, in the cases of large cultivated plots, the patronym-group….

“Because those household members who lived on or from a plot of land were in some sense considered its joint owners, family members effectively held shares in such property, which they then left to successive generations.”

the spanish tried to break down these extended family units by forcing the natives to register their houses/lands according to nuclear family units (eg. one house with a certain amount of acreage connected to it), but as restall describes above, the maya simply worked around these bureaucratic nuisances. what needed to be done, of course, was to ban close marriages in the new world — but that was too much of an imposition on all those potential new world recruits that the church so desperately wanted to harvest, so they gave much of latin america a (beyond first cousin) cousin marriage dispensation in 1537 (including mexico, i think, but i do need to double-check that).

aztec society was structured quite differently from that of the maya, but from what i understand (so far) about the aztecs, extended families and “clans” (calpulli) were also very important there. (i’ll get back to you on aztec society when i get through reading more about them!)

in any case, hispanics/mexicans are still devoted to their extended families. not that there’s anything wrong with that! except that familism does tend to go along with some other, undesirable societal features like corruption (see lipset and lenz) — fyi, mexico ranked #100 in transparency international’s 2011 survey.

true conservatives would hold off on inviting tens of millions of people from a very differently behaving population into this country — at least until we understood something of why the behaviors differed.

previously: mating patterns in colonial mexico: the mayans

(note: comments do not require an email. aus mexico!)


  1. @jayman – “Ever seen Fools Rush In (w/ Matthew Perry and Salma Hayek)?”

    heh. no. i have seen this Fools Rush In, tho! pretty different plotlines. sings of the times! (~_^)

    is it something like My Big, Fat Greek Wedding (a movie which i thoroughly enjoyed!) in contrasting the families? or, at least, salma’s family vs. your typical american family?


  2. Is this the same as “amoral familism” which an American sociologist at Harvard, I forget his name, used to describe the mores of southern Italy?


  3. @luke – “Is this the same as “amoral familism” which an American sociologist at Harvard, I forget his name, used to describe the mores of southern Italy?”

    banfield. no, not really. banfield went on and on about the nuclear family in sicily (i think he must’ve overlooked the importance of the extended family there — missed it because of the residence patterns of southern italians). this modern “familism” really has to do with extended families. but the corruption and nepotism side of it does seem the same to me. and these sociologists often do refer back to banfield, so they seem to acknowledge him as having been on to something i suppose.


  4. I wonder, doesn’t immigration break apart the extended family into nuclear family fragments? Does anyone actually bring along all 52 first cousins with them, along with spouses, children, parents etc? Of course “familismo” values will be carried over the border, but to what degree can they be instilled in the next generation in the absence of all these people in their daily lives?


  5. @HBD Chick:

    “is it something like My Big, Fat Greek Wedding (a movie which i thoroughly enjoyed!) in contrasting the families? or, at least, salma’s family vs. your typical american family?”

    Yes, much like that. One section played up the atomization of Matt Perry and his family vs. the very extended family-centric nature of Salma’s family (particular the males in the family sticking together). Every time you talk about Western nuclear families vs. non-Western extended families this is what I think about… ;)


  6. “to what degree can they be instilled in the next generation in the absence of all these people in their daily lives?”

    They CAN bring ’em here. It’s called “family reunification” and it was a big part of the Immigration Reform Act of 1965…


  7. @jayman – “Every time you talk about Western nuclear families vs. non-Western extended families this is what I think about… ;)”

    if you’ve never seen My Big Fat, Greek Wedding, you should (even though it is a chick-flick). my family is JUST like the portokalos family, only minus the baklava. (~_^) i really identified with it, esp. since i married into a small, outbred family (not that there’s anything wrong with that). (^_^)


  8. @vasilis – “I wonder, doesn’t immigration break apart the extended family into nuclear family fragments?”

    pshaw! i’ve got 52 first cousins, and 51 of them are NOT in the u.s. — and the one that is is one of the few that i don’t have any contact with (long, ugly family-history saga…). the dozen or so cousins that i’m closest to — well, i have more regular contact with them than any friends or acquaintances i have. (wow. i’m more clannish than i realized.) and it’s become a lot easier over the last decade what with email and myface and all that stuff. i have a hard time believing that mexicans can’t keep in frequent touch with their family members back in mexico when mexico is just over the border.

    there probably is some falling off — it’s obviously easier to be in touch with the people in your neighborhood — but if you’re oriented towards family, you’ll make the effort.


  9. Very interesting post, hbd* chick:
    Anecdotally speaking, there are varying degrees of familism in my family (my late father especially; it’s far less pronounced in my mom, sister, or myself though). Indeed, only 24 hours in a day and so much to juggle…


  10. @nelson – “…there are varying degrees of familism in my family….”

    yeah, me, too. any familism traits i possess i think i must’ve gotten from my mother and her side of the family. my father’s side of the family — well, none of them even talk to each other (and i mean for like 25+ years and running), so so much for familism! (~_^)


  11. @bleach – “what country is your family from?”

    a predominantly roman catholic european country in which the population is given to corruption, nepotism, and “clannishness” (so what else is new? (~_^) ).

    edit: oh, and familism, of course.

    that’s all i’m prepared to say on the innerwebs.


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