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Multiple Origins, Uncertain Destinies: Hispanics and the American Future
Sometimes families here, white families, are not as united as Hispanic families are. We’re always famous for having aunts and uncles and relatives. Americans, it’s just mom and dad and kids. (Mexican immigrant, Raleigh)
Typically, we have close families. Family is a really big part of our culture. (third-generation Hispanic, Houston)
At the same time, consistent with their varied immigration histories and social conditions, Hispanic families are highly diverse. Specific aspects of family behavior, such as intermarriage patterns, cohesion among relatives, and the content of social exchanges, differ by nationality and generation. Mexican Americans are considered particularly familistic, possibly because the large numbers of immigrants among them bring cultural traditions into sharper relief.
Most observers agree that the positive aspects of familism are worth keeping, yet there is no consensus on what can be preserved in the face of the rapid Americanization of second-generation youth. Whether ideals of collective support and other positive features of familism will endure and what forms family structure among Hispanics will take in the future are open questions with far-reaching implications for the evolution of group identity and social well-being.
If Hispanics follow the paths of other immigrant groups, their familism would appear to be in jeopardy as they acculturate, experience socioeconomic mobility, and adopt U.S. norms, which includes many behaviors that tend to erode kinship patterns and traditional family behavior. The rise in divorce and nonmarital childbearing among Hispanics, evident in the growth of mother-only families, signals what some scholars term “family decline.”2 In 1980, fathers were absent in 12 percent of white families, 38 percent of both Dominican and Puerto Rican families, and 40 percent of black families. By 2000, approximately 14 percent of white families had a single female head, compared with about 20 percent of Mexican and Cuban families, 25 percent of Central and South American families, 36 percent of Dominican and Puerto Rican families, and 45 percent of black families.3 Because mother-only families are significantly more likely to be poor, this trend signals new vulnerabilities for the growing numbers of youths reared by single parents.
Generational transitions also dilute familism, although apparently not uniformly among Hispanic subgroups. For example, among Mexicans and