Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month, Part 1: Getting to Know You ...
- Published on October 13, 2014
September 15 to October 15 is Hispanic Heritage month. This month we celebrate our Hispanic/Latino fellow Hoosiers. They are our neighbors, our colleagues, our friends and fellow Americans. “American” actually describes people from North, Central and South America. We are all “Americans.” Cultural pride is an important protective factor. It has been shown to be protective against substance abuse and mental health problems, including suicide.
To serve Indiana’s Hispanics/Latinos and their service providers, the IPRC has recently renovated its Hispanic/Latino Portal to e-Resources on prevention, treatment, specific drugs, health topics, special populations, research, and web sites for children. A searchable database, the site is bilingual in English and Spanish, and includes descriptions and links to online materials in both languages, including online fact sheets, web sites, publications, webinars, and online videos. Work on the site is not yet complete, but hundreds of resources are already available there. It can serve parents, teachers and counselors who wish to encourage cultural pride in persons of all ages, including children.
Latinos make up 17.6% of the U.S. population and 6.7% of Indiana’s population. Of the about 55.7 million Latinos in the U.S. in 2014, Indiana is home to an estimated 443,500 with direct or generational ties to over two dozen nations of Latin America, including Mexico, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. Indiana’s Latinos trace their heritage to Latin American countries, each of which has its own history, legends, heroes, dances and culture. The diversity of this population is tremendous. Though the majority are Catholic, many belong to other religions. Indiana Latinos are young with median age of 24.4, compared to the Indiana’s non-Hispanics, 37.4, while U.S. Latinos median age is slightly older at 28 and U.S. non-Hispanics at 37.7 years. (Nielsen, 2014 estimates, 2014)
Though Spanish is the primary language, there are many other languages spoken in Latin America, including scores of different indigenous languages, English, Creole (or Kriol), and Plautdietsch (spoken by Mennonites). Portuguese is spoken in Brazil. English is the official language of Belize in Central America and is spoken on the Atlantic Coast of Nicaragua. Among the most common indigenous languages are Mayan languages, Quechua and Nahuatl, spoken by approximately 6 million in Central America, 10 million in South America and 1.6 million in Mexico, respectively. (About World Languages, AWL, 2014, http://aboutworldlanguages.com) An estimated 4.6% of Indiana Hoosiers speak Spanish (Nielsen, 2014 est, 2014), and in Indianapolis about 4.5% of the city’s total population is only fluent in Spanish. (NPR, 2014)
Racial diversity includes the descendants of Africans who were brought as slaves to the British, Spanish, Dutch, Portuguese and French colonies of Latin America. An estimated 40 million people in Latin America belong to nearly 600 indigenous groups. (IWGIA, nd, http://www.iwgia.org/regions/latin-america/indigenous-peoples-in-latin-america). Racially, a large percent of Latin Americans are descendants of European and indigenous ancestry (mestizo), of African and indigenous (zambo), or of African and European ancestry (mulatto). Mestizos are the majority in over half of the counties of Latin America. Several million Latin Americans are of Asian descent. Nearly 1.5 million Peruvians are of Asian ancestry, and Peru has one of the largest Chinese communities in the world. Blacks are most represented in Brazil (10 million) and the Caribbean. Latin American society is further diversified by, among other things, educational attainment, occupation, socio-economic status, urban and rural lifestyles, and gender roles associated with the many subcultures.
These facts are important to us in our work as prevention professionals and practitioners, as we strive to achieve and maintain cultural competency. Let us reflect on what this implies when working with Latinos. Cultural competency, according to SAMSHA, is the ability of an individual or organization to interact effectively with people of different cultures. Cultural competency begins with self-awareness about our own culture, our cultural heroes and cultural influences in our lives. Culture is dynamic, shared, ever changing, and always rooted in the past. At any given moment culture is the sum total of life patterns (linguistic, social, economic, institutional, artistic, culinary, etc.) passed from generation to generation in a given community. This passing on of knowledge, beliefs, values, customs, and practical survival and coping skills happens in a family, school, neighborhood, town or city, workplace, nation and globally.
Deep culture includes the thoughts, concepts and understandings of a group. Examples of deep culture are social distance (how close people stand to one another), ways of greeting and saying good-bye (e.g., handshakes, kisses, hugs), ways of showing respect (direct eye contact or down cast eyes), and child-rearing practices. Deep culture includes concepts about fairness, gender roles, and non-verbal communication.
Language is an extremely important element of culture because it is one primary way people make possible the transmission of values and concepts. A student of language discovers that certain words don’t translate well because of cultural differences. For example, there is no easy way to translate the English word “compromise” into Spanish. And the word “solidaridad” does not carry the same emotional connotation or force in its English translation.
Cultural identity is made up of many components. For Latinos ethnicity is a much more mindful characteristic than race. Whereas in mainstream U.S. culture, race is a conscious aspect of cultural identity, for most Latinos, with the exception of identifying as indigenous, it has a much lesser role and is not a key factor in how people identify themselves or one another. Ethnicity, occupation, education, social economic strata, and urban/rural aspects are more prominent in people’s consciousness. Latinos are proud of their ethnic heritage and want to be recognized, for example, as Mexican American, Cuban American, or Guatemalan American.
To describe Latino culture in terms of shared values, it is helpful to compare mainstream U.S. values to Latino values. Many difference stem from the fact that U.S. culture is individualistic, while Latino culture is collectivistic. Individualistic cultures prioritize independence, individual rights and self-sufficiency, while collectivistic cultures prioritize interdependence, obligations to others, and reliance on a group. The person in an individualistic culture strives to be true to oneself, pursue individual goals and to seek help for oneself if needed. The person in a collectivistic culture seeks to adhere to traditional practices, to fulfill roles within the group, and to prioritizes taking care of his/her own family or group.
These values manifest themselves in the way we live our lives. U.S. mainstream culture tends to conceive of the family first as the nuclear family unit; Latinos tend to conceive of the family more broadly encompassing several generations. In U.S. culture one’s first obligation is to oneself; in Latino culture it is to the family or society.
Another aspect of the diversity of Latino Americans and Latino Hoosiers is the number of years or generations that they have been in the U.S. Many people of Latino heritage have never been outside of the U.S. For others recently arrived, learning to navigate the U.S. governmental and institutional systems and to live their daily lives in mainstream U.S. culture is challenging and stressful.
The next article in this series will explore the process of adaptation, called acculturation, which most strongly affects first and second generation immigrants. Acculturation stress refers to emotional reactions like anxiety and depression experienced by people responding to the challenges and difficulties of adaptation, which put them at elevated risk for substance abuse and mental health problems. In order to be culturally competent, it is important that prevention professionals and practitioners, including coalition members and community leaders, understand basic facts about acculturation. Tune in for part 2 of this series and/or visit the IPRC Hispanic/Latino Portal to learn more and to find many e-Resources about Latino Americans, including on the topic of acculturation.