Respect in the Hispanic Culture is About Authority, even When Authority is Toxic
Respeto emphasizes the importance of setting clear boundaries and knowing your place even if that means never telling your family that they are wrong.
If you get a group of Latinos in the same room and open up the discussion about their upbringing, it can easily turn into a game of Family Feud: “We asked 100 Latin people: Name something your parents don’t want to catch you doing.” The number one answer, unanimously, would be: faltando el respeto (disrespecting). The foundation of the Latin culture is based on the concept of respeto (respect) and it dominates the parenting style that has raised my generation and many before it, leaving each generation a little more traumatized than the last and each new generation searching for ways to break away from the cultural toxicity.
I grew up respecting my elders, going to church - three times a week because once a week meant your faith was flaky - asking for my abuela’s blessing every time I saw her, eating everything that was made for dinner even if I didn’t like it, keeping my comments to myself because I should only speak when I am spoken to, living with double standards because “I’m a girl” and never, ever asking “why?” when told to do something - even if that something made little to no sense. You see, my family sacrificed everything for me. Their freedoms, their homes, their sense of self and in return for that sacrifice, I am to grow up to be obedient and know that only my family knows what good for me: es por tu propio bien, Giselle.
But as an adult, I frequently ask myself: “but was it for my own good?”
You see, the concept of respeto is more than just listening to your parents. It is about obedience and dominance. It puts the fear of God in you and is the support system behind sayings like “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” Respect may be an important role in many families but respeto in a Latin family mixes guidance with punishment and advice with commands. It is the constant tear between the last generation and the new. We have comedians like Chicano George Lopez and Colombiano John Leguizamo who have made an entire career based on the traumas of their upbringing, building their routines around true stories and using the stage as a form of expressive therapy. But the biggest jokes always revolve around the dominance of respeto and all that it embodies as it is manifested in several domains, including obedience to authority, deference, decorum, public behavior, and negativity.
Respeto dominates our life from the moment we are born to the end of life.
Looking back, I realize the constant arguments for having different viewpoints, the speed of which I was forced to grow up to help my family and the tense authoritative parenting that frequently reminded me I was simply a guest at my own mother’s home pushed me further into my own independence. It’s molded me into who I am: a woman who refuses to rely on others, never takes breaks, doesn’t allow myself to stop working, pushes the boundaries of my body for the sake of others, worries about the well-being of my entire family every minute of the day, carries more attitude toward authority that needed and at the end of the day, never complains because this is what we call “resilience.”
As a mother of three and a wife to a husband equally - if not more - traumatized by the familial ties to respeto, I have dedicated my parenting style to a more Western and modern adaptation. Something my family likes to call “parenting like a blanca.”
Instead of yelling, I stop to have a conversation about miscommunication.
Instead of hitting, I have placed the girls in the corner for time out.
Instead of commanding, I explain and give reasons.
Instead of dominating, I allow for freedoms and expression.
Instead of controlling, I let the kids decide what path they would like to take in life even if that path is not what I envisioned for them.
Instead of pushing concepts of success, I allow them to thrive in happiness.
I simply allow them to be them because throughout our Latin history, no one has ever allowed us to simply be us.
Latino families face many environmental stressors, causing a lower quality of life and disadvantages every step of the way, but often times, it is the internal stressors created by our own communities that amplify the harshness of life, and as a mother of two young girls and a child identifying to the LGBTQ community, how can I increase their quality of life if I am parenting like its 1940 and my only aim in life is to be a tyrant ? With the core moral values of a Latin family being respeto, family and religion - all of which can cause controlling and dominating experiences - it is difficult to grow up as an individual with individual thoughts, expressions and needs and we must reform our toxic traits.
"Our children grow up thinking respect equals obedience when respect is just something that we need to be demonstrating and modeling, but in our culture it’s very hard to get that message across to our elders especially," said Leslie Priscilla, founder of Latinx Parenting.
Respeto is a concept of the Latin culture that has received little attention in the world of research - trust me, I live on NLM - but that doesn’t mean that the statistics facing our communities are unidentified.
By the year 2050, 1 In 3 children will be Latinx. (U.S. Census Bureau)
Latinx children are at risk for more mental health outcomes five times more than their white counterparts. (McGuire & Miranda, 2014)
Thoughts of suicide are 8x higher for Latinx students who feel less connected and less communicated with within their families. (cibhs.org)
Frequent use of corporal punishment reduces risk of upward social mobility. (brookings.edu, 2014)
Latino children are experiencing these conditions at a much higher rate than the general population. Researchers believe that these numbers may be explained by the parenting styles inherent to Hispanic cultures.
In general, Hispanic families tend to put more emphasis on obedience and respect for adult authority. This authoritarian style is characterized by clear rules, high standards, strict punishment, and little communication. These parents can often be highly controlling.
“Our study suggests that the disproportionate risk for anxiety, depression, and suicide attempts observed among Latino, compared to non-Latino, youths begins way before adolescence. By understanding how parenting can promote healthy emotional development starting early in a child’s development, we hope to develop programs to support Latino families in preventing these serious negative mental health outcomes,” said Esther Calzada, who led the study.
In short, we need to move away from the chancla throwing parenting style and move toward the understanding and empathic parenting style because to quote John Leguizamo, “I’m so obsessed with doing it the right way.”
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There is a lot to unlearn. I'm 38 and to this day I still find myself struggling with my upbringing and the layers that I still have to peel in order to truly confront and change the aspects I need to change.