Cultural Clues & Cues: Tips for Dealing with Diversity
Countries: Latin America
(There are many indigenous languages spoken in Mexico and other Central and South American countries as well.)
Hispanic Americans are called Latinos, because most are of Latin-American origin. There are differences of opinion about what individuals prefer to be called. Many Hispanic people in the U.S. simply call themselves Americans. Others identify themselves according to their cultural or national background referring to themselves as Mexican Americans, Puerto Rican, Cuban Americans, etc.
There are others who refer to themselves by their country of origin only. For instance, some persons who are Brazilian and speak Portuguese, refer to themselves as Brazilian, but others may identify themselves as Latino or Hispanic. Never refer to all Spanish language speakers as Mexican. And when using Latino, remember it refers to the male. The female is Latina. We need to also remember that many Latinos were here long before many of our families. Most of us came to the U.S. and have origins in other countries. The culture differences between us are more notable in families who have been here a relatively short time.
Since moving to the U.S., Oliveria and her family have been unable to visit their family in Mexico. Suddenly the family leaves for Mexico and stays away for more than a month. Juan leaves his work rather abruptly and the children are taken out of school, missing tests and important homework for the duration of the trip.
Explanation: In their family culture, the extended family is of the highest value. The family may have been saving for the trip, and planned to take it when Juan’s vacation occurs. But if a family member becomes ill, the visit is crucial. Juan may feel that his English is not good enough to adequately explain, or may overestimate, assuming that his explanation is adequate for the employer. Or the non-English speaking parents may not realize that their children are not able to adequately explain to the school staff why they must be away. Americans tend to view our way as the best and only way. Work and school must come first. But we must explain the expectations of attendance at work or school.
Alberto is not turning in his homework. His parents do not speak English. His teacher complains and notes that his parents have not come to meet the teacher or attended during parent conferences.
Explanation: Alberto’s parents are not able to help with his homework because of the language barrier, but are otherwise very good and loving parents. They teach Berto to be responsible and respectful and to do his own homework. The hope is that sensitive teachers will understand and arrange to see that Berto is matched with a mentor or another student who can help him go over his work and help him.
Dating in most Latino cultures may mean that there is acceptance of extensive public displays of affection. The personal boundaries are diminished, touch is close, warm and frequent. Flirting gestures are common and considered to be a compliment. In the U.S. they can be considered harassment.
These differences can me critical to understand in the workplace, neighborhood or school. Deciding what is appropriate in each setting needs to be understood before judgment and punishment is too harsh. Holding hands, a man placing hands around the waist of the girl all may be acceptable in the home country. We need to communicate the rules of behavior here and communicate the expectations of each setting in the U.S.
Shyness or hesitation to speak is common among the newly arrived immigrant families. They have been taught to show respect to authority figures, to listen, to behave and obey. These individuals, young and old, may be carefully observing respect that they have been taught, instead of being shy.
Central American countries often stand when a person of authority enters the room. This custom is expected in school and sometimes in the workplace. If this happens, the person of authority may simply say, “Thank you. Please sit down now,” rather than laughing or scolding.
Interrupting while the boss, speaker or teacher is speaking to another person is not considered impolite in many Latino countries. Explain if this occurs.
Eye Contact with a person in authority is considered disrespectful. One on one conversations while looking down are considered respectful, especially with children talking with adults. But an adult or supervisor may request the person to make eye contact as they speak together.
Touching, embracing is normal because Latinos are generally affectionate and warm and hug and touch their children and friends. Latinos are friendly and do not consider that demonstrated affection has anything to do with playing favorites at school or work. But the standard for workplace behavior is important to explain.
Dress may be very casual for people who come from warm countries. Women and girls sometimes wear clothes that are short, tight fitting or bare-shouldered by the standard of beauty in their home country, and may be considered provocative in some work or school settings here. The femininity value may have to be explained in order that the mode of dress becomes appropriate for settings at work or school in the U.S.
Food is considered hospitality but culture dictates that good manners mean quiet eating. They may not understand until it is explained, that in other cultures, noisy eating may show appreciation for the food.
Family/La Familia is an important concept as it involves a commitment by members to the family and extends beyond the nuclear family, to include grandparents, children, relatives and godparents acting as a support system. The family frequently includes more than blood or legal relationships. Close friends can become members of the family and as such assume special roles and responsibilities to one another.
Dealing with Time – Punctuality is less valued than greeting and showing kindness for everyone. Workers and students may need a clear explanation of the consequences of being late or tardy to work or school.
Across Latin America, people are accustomed to spontaneous visits. The spontaneity creates problems when family members show up on the job or at school to visit. It may also mean that patient description of the appointment process is important.
Attendance at work or school is affected since family comes first if there is a family problem or illness. Parents are protective of their children when putting them in the care of others. They may be reluctant to give permission to join in an event or field trip because they are fearful that their child will not be safe. Fears may come from things asked on a permission form like permission for medical attention or surgery – a concern to parents who do not understand.
Holidays Cinco de Mayo is NOT observed by Mexicans outside of Mexico. It celebrates a military victory against the French in the city of Puebla, Mexico.
Fiestas Patrias IS widely observed as Mexican Independence Day (Sept. 16) inside and outside Mexico.