Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Latinas - A Culture Identity Crisis

I recently read a policy brief by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy that came out last July. In it they state that for the first time, Latinas have the highest rates of teen pregnancies and births compared with all other racial groups. To be exact, 53% of Latinas will become pregnant at least once before the age of 20. And when you combine this with the fact that Latinos also have the highest high school dropout rates in the country (12%), then it is certainly no surprise that Latinas between the ages of 12 and 17 also have the highest rates of attempted suicide than any other ethnic group. It is a crisis.

What the heck is going on? An article in the Washington Post states that many Latinas feel trapped between two cultures that oftentimes demand the exact opposite of each other. Laura Sessions Stepp states in her article Crying Out for Help – Suicide Attempts Reveal Strains on Young Latinas, that these young women are "torn between an American popular culture that encourages them to be sexy and assertive, and family expectations that they be modest and submissive." She also quotes Edgardo Menvielle, a psychiatrist at Washington’s Children’s Hospital, who says that the key to a young Latina’s ability to overcome the cultural identity crisis is her relationship with her mother. A supportive mama who listens to her daughter (regardless of whether or not she agrees with her daughter’s choices) is most likely to help her daughter to avoid the depression that stems from feelings of isolation or abusive relationships. The article states that mamás (especially single mothers) are often swept away by the stress of trying to provide for their families, making them less communicative and understanding. Patience is lost somewhere between hitting the alarm clock and brushing our teeth.

If you have any daughters, take a moment to stop and think. After reading this article, I sat back and thought hard about my relationship with my daughter. Granted, she’s only 4, but what kind of groundwork am I laying down? Do I praise her accomplishments enough? Do I stop and listen? Do I take enough time to play with her like she wants me to? Am I really showing her that she is important to me and that I love her? I tell her many times a day how much I do, but do my actions strengthen or weaken her belief in these words?

I’ve always rolled my eyes and clicked my tongue at moms who are so worried about being a friend to their kids that they refuse to discipline their children or deny them anything. I’m always saying "they’ll have plenty of friends over their lifetime, but they’ll only have one mother." But I wonder if I am being too strict and critical. I think that I need to work harder to find a middle ground. I want to be a good advisor, but I don’t want to be telling her what to do all the time. I want her to make her own choices – and hopefully they will be wise ones.

While researching this, I stumbled upon the Circle de Luz Giving Network. It is a wonderful operation that is working to "inspire and empower" young Latinas to pursue higher education by providing scholarship funds. The recipients are selected while they are still in the 7th grade and are awarded scholarship funds to pursue an educational program of their choice. They also enter into a 6-year program that includes "book discussions, cultural and educational events, and reflection groups."

The organization was created by Rosie Molinary, author of the book, Hijas Americanas: Beauty, Body Image, and Growing Up Latina, a collection of commentaries by over 80 Latinas about their experiences of growing up in the U.S. When repeatedly asked what people could do about the problem, Molinary came up with one way for people to help.

Donors may sponsor a young girl by committing to donate a minimum of $90 a year for six years. For those not wanting such a long term commitment, artist Mary Alice Mitchell has designed three different necklaces (one is shown above) whose purchase will benefit Circle de Luz. They are beautiful and each one is priced differently. Click here to take a look.

And if you would like to nominate a school in your area from which the Circle will choose its scholarship recipients, click here for the requirements and directions.

There is so much more I have read and could write on this topic, such as the poverty and dependence that most often results from dropping out of high school. About domestic violence and the importance of self-image. But I better wait and save these for another day.

However, as a Latina mom, I would highly recommend reading the article I mentioned above. You can find it here.

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