We’re Hanging On To Tradition
Even amid all the other shifts, some things have stayed the same: Latino households are still twice as likely to include extended family as non-Hispanic white households. This may be due in part to the jump in single-parent homes: “Those single moms are relying on Abuela more than ever to help take care of the children, so the extended family stays intact,” says Robert Verdugo, a Chicano social worker for the National Latino Fatherhood and Family Institute in East Los Angeles. In many cases, having extended family together is a huge boon for us. It protects us from the isolation inherent in single-parent families, and it’s probably good for our health: Numerous studies show that the more social and familial ties a person has, the longer he or she lives and the fewer heart problems he or she suffers.
But even extended families are taking on new shapes. In Minneapolis, 36-year-old Raquel Melo’s Dominican-born parents care for her three children, Tyler, 7, Sofia, 3, and Bennet, 18 months old, while Raquel is at work. The grandparents also bring the kids to church on Sundays and are always sure to load their plates with rice and beans. In turn, Raquel plans to move them into her house this year. Two big ways in which they’re not such a traditional Latin family? Raquel is married to a woman, not a man (the two were wedded in Canada in 2004), and the couple’s children are all adopted African Americans. While “all of that was absolutely a shock” to Raquel’s old-school parents, she says, in the end her mother learned to accept her lifestyle and family—in part because she saw Raquel was passing on other traditions, such as respect for elders.
“The way we’re building our families today is unlike anything I would have imagined as a child,” says Raquel, who grew up in Latino barrios in Boston and New York. “We’re at this unique time where we can pick and choose which traditions we want to be part of our lives and what we want to do differently.”