The Powerful Role of Family in Spanish-Speaking Countries
What does family mean to you? Previously, a “typical” family in the United States included a mother, father, and children living together in one house. However, the idea of the family today is changing thanks to influences from different cultures. Your family could be your friends, nuclear family, or large extended family who all live on the same street.
The United States offers a unique perspective on family with many cultures represented, the largest being the Latino community. For Latinos, family and togetherness play a crucial role in their lives.
The Role of Family in Spanish-Speaking Countries
Before we look at specific values, it’s important to understand the vast region that “Spanish-speaking countries” encompasses. Over 20 countries and territories are represented in this group. They span from Europe to Africa to the Caribbean to the Americas. There are no set family values for all of these countries as each has its own unique history and culture.
Nevertheless, the family is a strong central unit throughout all these countries. Just keep in mind that not everyone fits the generic mold. In Spanish-speaking countries, family is a central part of society. While in the United States, a person’s extended family may be dispersed , Latinos often live close to their family. Grandparents may live with their children and grandchildren, or cousins may live just down the road. In some cases, this is thanks to the family owning land and dividing it among themselves. Other times, they just want to make sure the family stays together.
The family is the most important aspect of society, and it shows in their loyalty. People stick by their family members through thick and thin, and they often put their family first before others. In some situations, this loyalty stems from poverty. They want to provide for their family first before worrying about someone else. In other situations, this closeness comes from years of family reunions and dinners that strengthen the ties.
One of the perks of having family nearby is the sense of community. You’ve probably heard that it takes a village to raise a child. In many Latino communities, the whole village does take part in raising the kids. Instead of nannies, you have grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins nearby who help take care of the young children. If both parents work, the main caretakers may even be family members. There is some pressure for adult children to stay close to the family. This is the opposite of many families in the United States that encourage great independence at a young age.
The final key family value is respect. There is a generational hierarchy with respect given to the grandparents. The idea of respect doesn’t just involve the family in Spanish-speaking countries; it is apparent throughout all areas of the culture. For example, the use of formal and informal Spanish “you” forms shows that respect is incredibly important.
The Role of Family in Indigenous Groups
This strong sense of family in Spanish-speaking countries dates all the way back to the pre-Columbian era. Native groups throughout Latin America, many of which still thrive today, have played a large part in the role of families in the culture.
The native tribes based a lot of their culture around the family, as extended families lived together under one roof. Also, there was a strong patriarchal lineage with the men leading the tribe and carrying on the family name. Men and women also had particular roles in the community.
The Role of Family in Catholicism
When the conquistadors started arriving in Latin America, they brought Catholic values with them. Now, in some senses, Catholicism has many of the same values as indigenous groups. For example, the man leads the family and carries the family name. Also, in traditional Catholic families, the men and women have clear roles.
However, the arrival of Catholicism eliminated polygamy and emphasized women’s roles, thanks to the importance of Mary and other females.
The Modern Role of Family in Spanish-Speaking Countries
The combination of indigenous and Catholic groups produced the modern role of family in Spanish-speaking countries. Although Latin culture is considered machista, a combination of machismo and matriarchy actually impacts the family in Spanish-speaking countries.
Let’s go back to when the conquistadors settled Latin America on behalf of Spain. During the first trips, only men went to the New World. They spent years abroad, establishing Spanish communities and conquering more land. Many Spanish men left their wives and families back in Spain and started new families with indigenous women. When the wives and children finally got to join their husbands, they had to adjust to a new normal. Women had to take on a bigger role in the family, both in terms of economy and household duties.
This interesting combination of machismo and matriarchy has persisted in many Spanish-speaking countries. Unfortunately, many broken families exist where the father (or sometimes the mother) decides to leave the family unit. This creates strong women who must provide and care for their children alone. In turn, this creates stronger ties between the family as the children stay with extended family while the mother works.
While men are often seen as unreliable and women are viewed as heroes, this is not the case for all families. However, it happens more in impoverished countries, where the children may end up on the streets due to the broken home. Nevertheless, the love for their mother and family remains strong.
Again, this isn’t the case for every family in Spanish-speaking countries, and numerous families have stayed together. In general, large extended families are still prominent and play a huge role in the culture. Many adult (married or single) children still live with or near their families, creating a sense of unity.
Family in Spanish-Speaking Countries: Spain vs. Latin America
There isn’t much difference between the family dynamic in Spain and Latin America. Both areas emphasize family, encourage large family gatherings, and support each other through the ups and downs of life.
How Is the Family Dynamic Changing?
While the idea that men should work and women stay home remains prominent in much of Latin America, roles are changing. In many families, both parents work. It is slowly becoming more common for the woman to work and the man to stay home.
Additionally, there are continual movements to bring acceptance and normality to families that don’t follow the traditional Catholic model. However, despite some notable advances, the Catholic and indigenous groups’ values maintain a stronghold on what society views as normal.
While many children remain close to their families, it’s becoming more common for them to move away from home.
What Does Family Mean to You?
Family in Spanish-speaking countries is a complex but crucial part of society. What do you think about the family values in these countries? Have you had the chance to convivir with a vibrant Latino family? Let me know in the comments below! Also, if you want to practice talking about your family in Spanish, brush up on your vocabulary with our family blog post!
Learn more about Latin American culture!
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