Just a few years ago, in preparation to enter the 21st century, the United Nations proclaimed the year 1994 as the official International Year of the Family. At that moment, it was the United Nations understanding that by providing the widest possible protection and assistance to this basic unit of the society thy were promoting the basic human rights and the fundamental freedom that all human beings are entitled. Following that spirit, Pope John Paul II write his first message of the year 1994 focusing on the family as the primary agent of peace. He entitled it “the family creates the peace of the human family” and on it he stated “the value of peace… more than being “taught” must be witnessed to in a family setting which lives out “self-giving love”.

In the same way that years ago the world turned its eyes to the family as the natural source for a society with peace, with fundamental freedom, with human rights, it  is, for a PERSONALIZED AND HUMANIZED SOCIETY, I would like to begin this presentation with a brief discussion about why every family has being called to achieve this goal and how by its very nature every family is a source of spirit and life, and an agent for a future of love, justice, peace.

WHY? By the nature of its identity, which resembles the inner nature of God’s mystery  the family is called to be an intimate community of persons bound together by love and life. Family members of the family are called to mutual self giving throughout its life together, are called to respect each other uniqueness and dignity. Since the family has the mission of providing the context and the content for the formation of its members, the family is the first and principal school of training of social virtues, it is the most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society. Consequently, the family is the essential agent of development and constructive change in society. Only the family can turn around the current world conditions.

in addition, not only the family is at the very beginning of human existence, but it is also at the very beginning of the Church ad of the Society. “Family brings into being a set of interpersonal relationships by which each human being can be introduced into the human family and into God’s family” (Familiaris Consortio, 15). The family has a unique mission: it is at the service of building up God’s Kingdom in history.

How is this calla accomplished in time and in space? An understanding of how a family function requires not only knowledge about the family’s internal structure and processes but also to give attention to the environment in which these family interacts. This includes neighborhood, peer group, church. school and workplace that touch family members directly, as well as the larger political, governmental and economic situations. It is we need to give attention to the “culture” where this family lives and interacts and how the cultural environment shapes the family internal structure and external activities and projections.

Every family belongs to a defined cultural community by identifying itself with a common group as set off by race, religion or nationality, or some mixture of these categories which serve as social psychological referents in which create -through historical circumstances- a sense of peoplehood (Gordon, 1964). These relationships between the family and its cultural community involve mutuality and reciprocity, social articulation and recognition; they create a sense of belonging and of historical continuity not only for the family but also for its members.

Therefore, every family is interwoven in a continuous interchange with its own economic and socio-cultural environment to accomplish its tasks (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). Culture primarily expresses how people live and perceive the world, one another, and God. Culture is a set of values by which a people judge, accept, and live what is considered important withing the community…, therefore, the cultural values and the ethnicity of the family mediate its interactions with the external world, which in turn affects family’s mechanisms for coping with and for adapting to its ethnocultural environment (Ho, 1987).

Consequently, through the process of socialization parents conform their children with culturally specific ways or preferred modes of perceiving and relating to others, of understanding the verbal and non-verbal symbols essential for communicating, remembering and thinking, as well as for problem solving and for the use of meaning and logic. Similarly, this inculturative or socializing process shapes children’s self-concept and self-esteem while they “absorb” the culture of their parents and “locate” themselves within the first and minute sample of society -their homes and its socio-cultural expectations.

Are also the immigrant Hispanic families called to be a source of spirit and life and an agent of love, justice and peace?

The central concern of this workshop is to identify external factors that place immigrant Hispanic families at risk for negative outcomes, and consequently, challenge its identify and its mission as peacemakers and truly believing and evangelizing communities within the society.

Current data suggests that as the percentage of minority people increases negative consequences accrue for that minority, specifically with regard to occupation and income (Blalock, 1967). Additionally, research asserted that members of a minority live within disadvantage social, cultural and economic communities. The perception of this segregation could rise discrimination against them. Also minority children are subject to poorer school/teacher quality, as well as more barriers to employment upon leaving school, along with the experience of general frustration as an outcome to their efforts to integrate into the larger society

it is a fact: The majority of Hispanic families live at a low socio-economic level. Some Hispanic scholars and community leaders suggest that many problems affecting the nation’s Hispanic population stem from the fact that members of the poor, ill-educated immigrant segment tend to settle in crime-ridden, gang-infested inner cities, where a culture of easy money might be difficult to resist. Additionally frequent mobility, poor education, and limited economic life and racial prejudice are some of the factors that result in low participation in political activities.

Hispanic are also severely underrepresented in higher levels of education and in occupational and professional jobs. Research had shown that Hispanic families “suffer the full impact of the “culture of poverty”… low income, unemployment,   underemployment, low levels of education, poor housing, prejudice, discrimination, and cultural/linguistic barriers” (President’s Commission on Mental Health, 1978, p. 905). Moreover, as Padilla et al. (1982) put in writing: ” Most of the Hispanic families living in the United States are only partially acculturated and marginally integrated economically, living the poverty cycle, with poor educational achievement, lack of skills, unemployment, low income depressed social status,   reliance on public welfare, deteriorated housing, minimal political influence. Since they have not completed the healthy cycle of adaptation and adjustment, they experience feelings of deprivation and loss of prestige, and are subject to a number of high stress indicators that will be correlated with personality disintegration”.

However, focusing primarily on the numbers could very easily lead us to see immigrant Hispanic families simply as a large pastoral PROBLEM, while overlooking the even more important fact that they represent a UNIQUE PASTORAL OPPORTUNITY (US Bishops Pastoral Letter on Hispanic Presence, 1983).

For the better understanding of why immigrant Hispanic families are affected by migration and by acculturation we must remember that immigrant family members have been conformed, shaped, socialized by one specific culture which had provided the context and the content of their personality development, consequently, migration  induced changes which ruptures the continuity of experiences in the immigrants people.

Consequently, migration and acculturation cause tremendous stress for any family: Family members are faced with learning a new language and the new social and political ways of life. Traditional role-model that have been functional in the past, will become dysfunctional in the new setting, thus, changes within the family roles are frequent which bring to the family the need to restructuring roles, functions and transactions.The faster rate of acculturation of children increase stresses and conflict in many families. Lack of support outside the family system and fears of crime and drugs often cause parents to be strict and overprotective with adolescents Children often rebel against their parents’ rigid discipline and reject traditional customs that they consider inferior to American ones. Women working outside home frequently present role confusion and conflict with the men’ perception of himself as a bread provider.

In sum, the fact that each person in the family has to deal with tow or three different tasks at the same time (sometimes without readiness for any one of them) under cultural, economic and social pressures usually produces ambiguity toward self, the new society and the group left behind. Additionally, conflict arises when values from basically incompatible cultures are mixed and, unless resolved, the resulting anxiety and stress interfere with the performance of day to day tasks (Anderson & Ellis, 1980).

Moreover, the process of transition or of progressive change from own cultural set to the host one (acculturation) is possible only through the cumulative interaction between both cultures, and it follows various stages before immigrant person feels again a sense of belonging to the new environment. Additionally, during the transition from one culture to the other, immigrant person needs to do over and over again, selective adaptations and to undergo processes of differentiation not only for inculturative and position conferring functions but also to help their children to achieve a sense of proper dignity and of unconditional acceptance as well as affirming their worthiness ans individuals.

Therefore, to migrate is to be born again, not only because of the social nature of human personality and its inextricable relationship to the cultural environment in which  person design its own identity but because person has to restructure its cognitive and affective abilities by introducing new meanings, gestures, words to function effectively and to develop the necessary coping mechanisms between itself and the new place. In addition, immigrant Hispanic families must undergo changes that parallel society changes so they can (1)  continue being the matrix of their members’ psychological development, (2) accommodate to the new society and its culture; and (3) insure some continuity to their own culture. And this process of learning a new set of coping mechanisms and strategies must be done overtime, in such way that family continuity is maintained while the members go through the process of accommodation.

As part of the central focus of this workshop we have identified some external factors that are affecting immigrant Hispanic families. Therefore, the ability of immigrant Hispanic families to live their identity and to meet their tasks has been weakened by circumstances beyond their control. Although in opportunities these families are capable of playing an important role as agents of evangelization and of constructive change in society, there are negative aspects of the same society -domestic violence, migration laws, discrimination, substance abuse among others- that worked to the detriment of their actions and weaken family relationships too.

We cannot conclude this presentation without pointing out some possible pastoral responses to immigrant Hispanic families needs.

The Catholic Church has historically been an advocate of family life. Historically too, the United States Catholic Church has been an immigrant Church. It is extremely important that the different organizations and components of United States society and Catholic Church become aware and sensitive to the cultural conflicts and demands that immigrant Hispanic families face. As Church we must be aware that the disintegration of immigrant Hispanic families implies the non-operation of a basic support system within the society, and within the basic faith community of the Church.

The development of a comprehensive Hispanic family life ministry must e a priority for all dioceses with strong Hispanic presence.  It is not sufficient to bring member of the Hispanic community to the office staff. It is not sufficient to translate to Spanish the sacramental preparation and i ts liturgy. There is a need for a Hispanic Family Life minister who accompany these couples, parents, children and to provide means to strengthen their marriages, their families, their parenting skills. A minister that plays a role not only as cultural translator but as mediator and model. A minister who foster positive feelings toward immigrant families cultural identity and who simultaneously help them develop a social commitment to the larger society. A minister who celebrates and proclaims those Hispanic values that constitutes their major gift to the American Church and Society.

Christian family life is a basic religious and theological reality in which the spiritual life of its members is nurtured by God’s grace. Consequently, Christian family must stand as a CENTRAL PRIORITY in the life of the Church. In spite of the many changes that the faith community has suffered throughout these twenty centuries, family continues to  be the first small faith community, the source of spirit and of life, that provides the natural framework for the emotional and spiritual support essential for the faith growth and for the religious development of its members. The family remains a vital means for preserving and transmitting Gospel values.

As Church,

  • we need to encourage programs that support, enrich, enhance and care for Hispanic families in cultural transition,
  • we need to support families in the fulfillment of their functions, rather than provide substitutes for such functions,
  • we need to promote the inherent strengths of immigrant Hispanic families, including their great capacity for self-reliance, and stimulate self-sustaining activities on their behalf,
  • we need  to provide family life education which highlights the importance of family in the church and in the society, which increases a better understanding of their functions and problems, which promotes knowledge of the economic, social and demographic processes affecting immigrant Hispanic families and their members, and focus attention upon the rights and responsibilities of all family members,
  • we need to provide opportunities for Hispanic parents to make them an integral part of the spiritual and psycho-educational faith development process of their children,
  • we need to provide provide interventions for broken and hurt immigrant Hispanic families but we too need to begin to prevent these situations to happen .


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Dr. Gelasia Marquez is an immigrant clinical and bilingual school psychologist. Dr. Marquez has studies, researches, articles, and programs aimed to help immigrant Hispanic children, adolescents and families in their processes of transition after migration