Sociocultural Context and Family Functioning (*)

Family can be defined as an organized, dynamic, natural, and social system with critical dimensions for psychosocial analysis such as structure, functions, and influence (Winch, 1963). As an ongoing living and developing system, family members are essentially interconnected and tied to one another by powerful, durable, reciprocal, emotional attachments, and loyalties that may fluctuate in intensity over time but nevertheless persist over the lifetime of the family. Similarly, as an interdependent network of individual forces, the family relates and reacts as a unified whole, a whole that transcends the sum of its separate elements. The family’s interdependence and mutual influence goes beyond what family members do and say to each other when they are together. It also includes the family member’s attitudes and dispositions as well as the patterns of activity that family members engage in when they are apart (Houston & Rempel, 1989).
According to family life cycle theory, family systems must continually adapt to the individual development of its members. Since much of the individual development is incremental, little substantive change in the family is required; rather the simple addition or deletion of behaviors is adequate. In contrast, major developmental thrusts and unexpected circumstances, which usually require a transformation of the status of family members, demand a new repertoire of behavioral sequences, and subsequently require the emergency of a new structural organization. Therefore, a key to adaptive family functioning is the ability to shift internally to accommodate intra- and extra-familiar pressures, while simultaneously maintaining the continuity essential to family cohesion and individual security. In sum, family functioning requires a range of patterns of behavior that can be mobilized for new operations but also requires flexibility to develop alternative patterns of behavior that can be incorporated in time of crisis without disorganization.
Another important dimension of family theory is the concept of family boundaries that represents the “perimeter” of the family. Family boundaries hold together the components that make up the family system, protect them from outside stresses, and control the flow of matter, energy, and information to and from the system itself (Miller, 1978). If boundaries are too permeable, the system loses its integrity and identity. If boundaries are too impermeable, the system is cut off and isolated.
In conclusion, the nature of the family life could be seen as dynamic, fluid, interactional, with members constantly working to achieve the desired ends in the context of ever-changing and emerging family-related values (Mace & Mace, 1978).

Family Internal Organization as a Response to the Sociocultural Context
An understanding of the functioning of any family requires attention be given to the environment in which the family interacts. This includes the neighborhood, peer groups, church, school, and workplace that touch family members directly, as well as the larger political, governmental, and economic situations.
Every family belongs to a defined cultural community by identifying itself with a common group as set off by race, religion, nationality, or by some mixture of these categories that serve as social-psychological referents and create, through historical circumstances, a sense of peoplehood (Gordon, 1964). Consequently, every family is interwoven in a continuous interchange with its own economic and sociocultural environment to accomplish its universal functions or tasks (Bronfenbrenner, 1986).
The family’s four universal functions or tasks are: (a) the function of replacement or reproduction; (b) the function of position conferring by introducing the new member into the ethnic and cultural larger societal group to which the family belongs; (c) the parentifying function–fulfillment of basic physiological and psychological survival needs through nurturance, emotional gratification, and support; and (d) the socialization/enculturation of the offsprings so they can qualify as full members of society (Winch, 1977, p. 108).
Ideally, the relationship between the family and its sociocultural environment involves mutuality and reciprocity, social articulation, and recognition, so it can create a sense of belonging and of historical continuity for the family and its members. The environment should provide the protection, security, support, and supplies that will enhance family functioning. Therefore, when these resources are inadequate, the results may be stress and conflict within the family and failure in the individual development of its members.
The way in which a family is organized is determined by the way people make their living, that is, by the mode(s) of subsistence and the related technology (Winch, 1977). Consequently, in response to its sociocultural environment, all families develop some type of internal structure that serves as the family’s organizational framework. This framework is a manifestation of the values of the cultural group to which the family belongs and is responsible for developing culturally typical procedures and relationships that will make it possible for the family to achieve its goals and actualize its potential. Family structure can be defined as the set of rules, roles, power distribution, specific forms of communicating, and ways of negotiating and problem solving. The interactions that define the internal organization of every familial group also serve to maintain the integrity and balance of the family system as a whole.
Some characteristics of the family structure are: (a) it gives to each family its identity, unity, and stability; (b) it regulates and facilitates family members’ psychosocial development, and family members’ coping mechanisms to deal effectively with stress, as well as facilitates family fulfillment of its own tasks as a family; and (c) in the presence of external stress or unexpected crisis, the family structure develops and arranges itself into a functional group to jointly perform family-related functions, preserve the family values, and transmit their behaviors.
Finally, since family structures as an adaptive response of the family to the sociocultural system and to the historical circumstances in which it is embedded, it is expected that family structure changes its power structure, rules, and role relationships in response to situational and developmental stress (Olson, Russell, & Sprenkle, 1983).

(*) This article is based on the Qualitative Study of the Acculturative Process of Immigrant Hispanic Parents. Marquez (2000). Doctoral Dissertation.

Stress associated with Migration and Acculturation (*)

Stress is commonly conceptualized as an altered state of an organism produced by agents in the psycho-social, social, cultural, and/or physical environment. It is assumed that this altered state, when unmitigated, produces deleterious physical and/or mental health effects for certain individuals (Sowder, 1985).
According to Sowder (1985), Warheit in 1979 formulated a model that encompasses the systematic relationship among life events, coping resources, stress, and stress outcomes. According to him, stressful events can arise from the following sources: the individual’s biological constitution, the individual’s psycho-social characteristics, the culture, the social structure (including interpersonal relationships), and the geophysical environment. Stress responses to those events involve a dynamic, synergetic interaction of elements that include the characteristics of the event or events, the idiosyncratic qualities of the individual, and his/her personal, social, and cultural responses.
The adaptive screens in the model represent the coping resources available to individuals as they attempt to meet the demands placed on them by life events. These resources are: the individual’s unique biological and psychological constitutions, social and economic resources, familial and other interpersonal relationships, and the other secondary organizations provided by society and culture.
Following Warheit’s model, when a crisis event occurs (change of country, change of living, working, and/or school habits), the individual’s first line of defense is his/her idiosyncratic characteristics (psycho-social, physical, and genetic make up). When an individual’s resources are inadequate to deal with the demands occasioned by an event, it is hypothesized that the individual turns to extended sources of support such as family, friends, community social services, and the like. If all these resources prove to be inadequate, individuals may turn to culturally provided religious beliefs, values, and symbols for comfort, support, and resolution.
Born (1970) suggested that stress or pressure often arises for individuals during the acculturative process because of conflict between the individual’s culture of origin and the dominant culture. He has termed this reaction acculturative stress and has hypothesized that various coping responses are likely to be developed by the individual in his or her attempts to manage its effects.
Similarly, Berry and Annis (1974) described acculturation as a reactive adaptation to environmental crises between the two cultures. According to these authors, acculturative stresses vary as a function of (a) the degree of divergence between traditional cultural behaviors and behaviors that characterize the host community, and (b) the intensity of the pressure to acculturate in that community.
Years later, Williams and Berry (1991) provide a detailed model of acculturative stress to conceptualize its impact on refugee populations. They suggested that acculturative stress is a function of an individual’s acculturation experience and the nature and number of stressors he or she encounters, and that a number of factors such as mode of acculturation, phase of acculturation, nature of larger society, characteristics of the acculturation group, and characteristics of the acculturating individual moderate the relationships between acculturation experience and potential stressors, as well as the relationship between those stressors and perceived acculturative stress.
According to this model, the acculturative stress varies at the individual level. For example, individuals who have attained an independent cognitive style of interaction with others as well as with their environment would be less susceptible to the stress of sociocultural change. Acculturative stress among the immigrant Hispanic community has been widely researched and documented (Mena, Padilla, & Maldonado, 1987) with most of the studies arriving at the conclusion that this form of stress is common but not inevitable.
In conclusion, the degree of stress associated with acculturation could be a function of the number, frequency, intensity, duration, and priority of the demands placed on the individual in relation to the various coping resources he/she may turn to.


(*) This article is based on the Chapter II of the Quaalitative Study of the Acculturative Process followed by Immigrant Hispanic Parents. Marquez (2000). Doctoral Dissertation.

Immigrant Hispanic Families in Cultural Transition (*)

Gurak and Kritz (1984) found two competing conceptual frameworks in the study of the relationship between family and acculturation. One proposes that the migrant person with close family ties in the receiving community will be less likely to seek out support networks, information, and activities with non-immigrants in the host community because the closeness and mutual dependence within the family serve to insulate the migrant from the extra-familial world. The other one affirms that the presence of relatives facilitates the migrant’s initial adjustment process in the host community, in that such familial support fosters the migrant’s reaching out to the extrafamilial world.
Although immigrant Hispanic families must be involved in a process of internal modification to answer the demands of the host society, they too have to insure a sense of continuity with their own home culture and tradition. Thus the family has to regain its social articulation and sense of pertinence and recognition in the mainstream culture of the host society without losing the historical connection with their own ethnic roots. Consequently, immigrant Hispanic families are within two different cultural environments, while they are working out a path from one culture to the other.
As happens with individual immigrant persons, the transition of progressive change of immigrant Hispanic families from one cultural set to the other is possible only through the cumulative interaction between the families and both cultures. Similarly, during the transition from one culture to the other, these immigrant families need to do selective adaptations over and over again, and they also need to undergo processes of differentiation in order to make healthy decisions and choices for their accommodation to the new socioeconomic and cultural context.
The normal changes and stresses (as well as the reactions and disruptions in family patterns that arise as a consequence) bring about a systematic need for these families to restructure, reintegrate, and realign so as to meet the needs of its members before, during, and after the event of migration from one culture to the other. Moreover, where the stresses are extreme and the support systems of the family are insufficient, severe crisis frequently results. In addition, the lack of resolution of these transitional issues and the unresolved transitional conflicts may lead to dysfunction in the family system.
The need for restructuring is particularly important because it is within the family and/or with its support that the individual family members will develop the inner balance necessary to relate to the new culture (that demands adjustment and change) without losing their cultural identity and traditional roots.
Immigrant Hispanic families also experience a shift from an extended family in their homeland that provided a social network and emotional support to a nuclear family. Some immigrant women acquire better status through the opportunities for employment and education and consequently, tend to acculturate faster than men. This specific situation also fosters the opportunity to develop greater independence and husbands become upset by their wives’ ready acceptance of their new gender roles and by the challenge to their patriarchal authority (Espin, 1987).
In addition to the conflicts arising between husband and wife, there are also intergenerational conflicts. In the process of acculturation and the learning of English, Hispanic children in the United States acquire values and attitudes that could be different from those of their parents. The differences between the family’s child-rearing practices and their children’s newly acquired set of values lead to chronic unresolved conflicts within the family. When these intergenerational differences arise, the parents experience alienation from their highly acculturated children, and the children, in turn, experience alienation from their poorly acculturated parents.
In an effort to cope with these differences, the parents attempt to restrict the process of acculturation in their children. However, such attempts could either (a) further alienate the youngsters from family interactions and the values of the parents’ culture, precipitating a rejection of the parental lifestyle and a fuller adherence to the behavior characteristics of the host culture; or (b) some become marginalized–belonging to neither group–and eventually may become outcasts.
The differential rates of acculturation across generations of family members not only have impact on the nuclear but also on the extended family members as well. For immigrant Hispanic grandparents the exposure to stressors such as loss of country, in some cases loss of status, as well as failure to adjust to the new environment due to the lack of knowledge of the language and United States ways, result in anxiety, depression, withdrawal, despair, meaninglessness, anomie, and loss of a sense of purpose in life (Szapocznik & D. Santisteban, 1977).

As Baptiste (1987) has stated, immigrant families were unaware that migration and acculturation would be an stressful experience that could result in family conflicts. Furthermore, since the conflicts often occurred after a lapse of time (for some families as much as five years) following their arrival in the United States, most families tended not to ascribe any importance to the move itself as having contributed to their problems. (p. 237)

It is only when individual family members start to experience the lack of skills necessary to cope adequately with adaptation to the new culture that symptoms of maladaptive behaviors and family disorganization appear, and they begin to recognize the stressful nature of the migratory experience as well as the cumulative impact on them as members of immigrant families (Sluzki, 1979). However, Sluzki also stated that a countless number of people manage to break away from their basic support networks, sever ties with places and people, and transplant their base, their nest, their life projects, their dreams, and their ghosts.
In conclusion, migration can produce family disorganization (Gurak & Kritz, 1984) and the likelihood of persistent handicaps in its members due to language barriers, lack of knowledge of rules and regulations, limited financial means, and lack of adequate reference groups. In addition, the continual interaction that immigrant families have with both environments and the short- and long-term consequences of such interactions pose a challenge for research of the nature of these dialectic and transactional influences.


(*) This article is part of the Chapter II of the Study of the Acculturative Process of Immigrant Hispanic Families (2000). Doctoral Dissertation.

Hispanic Cultural Patterns (*)

Bernal, Knight, Ocampo, Garza, and Cota (cited by Casas and Pytluk, 1995), stated that based on a small but growing body of literature, the nature and degree of Hispanic ethnic identity play a very important part in the way Hispanics manifest their ethnic culture on a daily basis. Marin and Marin (1991) summarized evidence about Hispanics from a variety of sources and proposed that they are characterized by high levels of interdependence, conformity, and a readiness to sacrifice for the welfare of in-group members. Individual self-assertion, competitiveness, and aggressiveness are discouraged.

Similarly, honesty, respect, and the individual’s sense of honor are grounded in the concept of dignity (dignidad) which means inner worth. Personal dignity is not equated with achievement or success, but with the individual’s self-respect which originates from accepting one’s role in life and fulfilling that role to the best of one’s capacity. Hispanics are said to give importance to personal ties (personalismo) by avoiding conflict in interpersonal situations; consequently their social behaviors promote smooth and pleasant social situations (simpatía) so they can maintain their own personal respect (respeto). Hispanic children are taught to respect authority, whether familial or institutional.

Hispanics are people of faith–they have a strong belief in the existence of a higher being and the need to follow prescribed formal practices to worship this being. However, their religiosity exhibited marked features of cultural fatalism (form of existentialism expressed in a tendency to take life as it comes with a “resigned” mind set), as well as external focus of control (luck, supernatural powers, God). Religious leaders are viewed as substitute parents; therefore, they must be respected and obeyed.

However, since Hispanic culture is an aggregate of distinct subcultures, these descriptors are not equally shared by all Hispanic groups and/or by individuals in these groups. Furthermore, because of their dispersion and mixing with both mainstream American culture and with other ethnic groups in the United States, Hispanic ethnic culture is not a discrete entity but rather part of a diverse cultural mix (Szapocznik & Kurtines, 1993). Thus, due to this heterogeneity, cultural blending, and cultural change, it is not clear whether particular individuals or samples actually reflect the culture they are thought to represent.

Preeminence of the Family
The discussion of family is particularly important in Hispanic culture.

The importance of the centrality of family in terms of feelings of loyalty, reciprocity, and familism for Hispanics has been documented as a distinct and enduring characteristic among Mexicans, Cubans, Puerto Ricans, and Central and South Americans. (J. M. Rodriguez & Kosloski, 1998, p. 376). Family orientation or familism encompasses such things as feelings of mutual obligation, reciprocity, and solidarity toward one’s family members.

Literature and cultural traditions show that the family has always been the heart and soul for Hispanics, the primary social security system, caring for its members from birth to death. External interference in this process is still viewed as crippling the family’s honra (honor).

The individual is primarily responsible to the immediate and extended family network, which has established clearly defined roles and expectations for all members. Children are precious and to be enjoyed. Elders are respected and to be obeyed. Family hierarchy delineates the status of parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, in-laws, etc. Reliance and compliance with family roles and goals have fostered the image of docile, dependent Hispanic women. The compadrazco system includes comrades y compadres who may or may not be blood relations. Compadres earn their position in the family through friendship, godparenting at the baptism or confirmation, or by being a best man or maid of honor in a wedding.

The family network demands an ardent sense of commitment to the family and an intense obligation and responsibility to the family network (Garcia-Preto, 1982; Rogler & Cooney, 1984), especially by feeling solidarity with those who have problems or bad times and even by fulfilling for them their family duties and obligations. Parental or compadrazco disapproval should be sufficient to promote behavioral changes in offspring. The opinions of others and vergüenza (shame) are the best forms of social control. The rewards of belonging to the family group are manifested through warmth, gregariousness, affection, generosity, expressiveness, intimacy, hospitality, support, and cooperation. In sum, Hispanic family kinship is the basic relationship and the primary socialization agent, especially for teaching obedience and discipline.

Research on familism values among Hispanics after migration and in relationship with the process of acculturation presents contrasting results. Vega (1990) did a selective review of literature covering the period of 1980 until early 1990, and concluded: (a) there is a tendency to participate in relatively large kin networks and to engage in high rates of visiting and exchange; (b) although there is a consensus regarding the family as the dominant source of advice and help in all generations, differences were found on the topic of the family as the resource for dealing with problems; and (c) non-Hispanics migrate away from kin networks while Hispanics migrate toward them. Relationships between expressed values and actual behaviors cannot be precisely understood without taking heed of how interpersonal transactions occur in the process of daily living. Some familial interactions may be instrumental, others may be symbolic, while others may be inescapable. (p. 1019).

Marin (1993) and Sabogal, Marin, and Otero-Sabogal (1987) have identified three dimensions on familism, as follows: (a) familial obligations, that is, the perceived obligations, to provide material and emotional support to the members of the extended family; (b) support from family, which is the perceived support from relatives to solve problems; and (c) family as referents, which is the perception of relatives as behavioral and attitudinal references. Their empirical findings indicated that Hispanics, which includes Mexican, Cubans, and Central Americans, scored significantly higher than did non-Hispanic Whites on all three dimensions of familism. J. M. Rodriguez and Kosloski (1998) examined the relationship between acculturation and familism in a sample of 182 Hispanics of Puerto Rican descent. For two dimensions of familism (familial obligations and support from relatives), acculturation was positively related to familism; for the other dimension (family referents), the relationship was nonsignificant.

Finally, Negy and Woods (1992a) observed that findings are not uniform, and additional research is necessary to clarify these complex issues.
This article is part of the Chapter II, of the Qualitative Study of the Acculturative Process of Immigran Hispanic Families, Doctoral Dissertation of the author.

Como combatir la ansiedad

Cuando hablamos de ansiedad nos estamos refiriendo, desgarciadamente, a una experiencia que ha penetrado nuestras vidas cotidianas y es ya algo comun que todos, de una forma u otra, sentimos -sino diariamente- a lo menos frecuentemente.

La ansiedad tiene algo de miedo, de tensión, de presión interna, de nerviosismo. Pero la ansiedad no es solo miedo, ni es solo tensión interna. La ansiedad es un sufrimiento interno inespecífico, es experimentar un vago sentimiento de malestar e intranquilidad, es una apprehension a veces no asociada a nada, es una tension o stress continuo que influye y puede llegar a interrumpir nuestra vida de relaciones familiares, laborables, sociales y que a veces nos deja sin fuerzas para andar o desandar los caminos mal andados.

La ansiedad que experimentamos puede provenir de muchas fuentes. April and Vincent O’Connell plantean que esas fuentes se pueden reducir a tres:

1. la ansiedad proveniente de la propia realización en la vida;

2. la ansiedad proveniente del medio ambiente social; y

3. la ansiedad global.

La primera, la personal, incluye nuestras relaciones con la familia y en general con nuestros amigos, asociados o compañeros de trabajo, asi como de nuestra propia ubicación y realización en la vida. Aqui estamos hablando de la propia salud, del contenido y el esfuerzo por mantener una buena situación en el trabajo, de las altas y bajas necesarias para mantener buenas relaciones matrimoniales que sean respetuosas de la individualidad de los miembros de la pareja y al propio tiempo que sean cohesivas, de las relaciones familiares que permitan a la familia crear el sentido de pertenencia que va más allá de tener familia y que se define como ser familia. Es la ansiedad que provoca la problemática diaria que siempre ha existido y que existira -la que está fuera del alcance de nuestro control.

El segundo grupo de ansiedades es la ansiedad que proviene de tratar de vivir de acuerdo a las expectativas y valores de la sociedad en la que nacimos y crecimos o en la sociedad que hemos elegido -o nos han elegido- para crecer y desarrollarnos. En el presente, desgraciadamente, muchos de nosotros pensamos cuando hablamos de expectativas y valores que nos estamos refiriendo a tener y a incrementar nuestros bienes materiales. Es decir, tener y no ser. De un forma o de otra, todos nosotros tenemos algo que hacer, un papel que desarrollar en la sociedad en la que nacimos o en la que vivimos.Todos nosotros hemos sido llamados a contribuir con nuestras acciones personales al bienestar de nuestra comunidad.

La comunidad humana tiene tres valores fundamentales para su buen funcionamiento: el respeto a si mismo y a los demas; la habilidad de tomar de decisiones basadas en relaciones justas de los unos para con los otros, y la participación responsable en la construcción y en el mantenimiento saludable y eficiente del grupo comunitario. Cuando no estamos a la altura de estas expectativas y valores empezamos a sentir ansiedad social. Podemos entonces hacer dos cosas, o bien luchamos para estar a la altura de lo que se espera de nosotros, o aislarnos y marginalizarnos, o peor aun, vivir sin respetar las leyes de la convivencia pacífica y vivir asi de espaldas a las regulaciones que mantienen la productividad y la armonía de la comunidad.

Finalmente esta la ansiedad grobal… tal vez la ansiedad más común hoy en dia debido a las circunstancias en que nacen, crecen y viven nuestros hijos y nosotros mismos. Esta asiedad fue calificada por algunos filósofos y psicólogos como ansiedad existencial –por el solo hecho de existir la padecemos, no importa donde vivamos. Nos pertenece por el solo hecho de ser seres humanos. Es la ansiedad de proviene de los diferentes males que sufre la humanidad: de el abuso –fisico, emocional o psicologico, y sexual- de la explotación y trata de seres humanos – de niños, mujeres y hombres, del comercio y consumo de la droga, de las disputas ideológicas y territoriales que existen en todos los continentes, del terrorismo internacional, de la falta de respeto entre las naciones y las culturas, de los fenomenos naturales tales como ciclones, erupcion de volcanes, … en resumidas cuentas, de la inabilidad del hombre para mantener la paz y por controlar sus condiciones ambientales. Es el resultado de la lucha del hombre por ser el conquistador, un conquistador que ha terminado convirtiéndose en victima de sus desordenes.

Esta ansiedad existencial se ve reflejada en los tres grandes temores han azotado a la humanidad desde sus inicios, el temor a la muerte, el temor a la locura –o a la enajenación de la realidad individual y social- y el temor a la guerra.

La pregunta logica al final de esta descripción es, qué podemos hacer para vivir cada dia con estas ansiedades, algunas de las cuales se escapan a nuestro control. Los estudiosos de la materia recomiendan:

1. Necesitamos conocernos y aceptarnos a nosotros mismos de la mejor forma posible. Como consequencia lógica de este conocernos, está aceptar que somos personas con limitaciones. Todos tenemos limitaciones. Pero tambien somos personas con recursos y abilidades. Recursos y abilidades que estan ahi puestos para ayudarnos a ser y hacer lo que se espera que hagamos en la sociedad. Y son esos recursos y abilidades los que estan ahi para ayudarnos a trascender nuestras condiciones personales que nos frenan y nuestras limitaciones personas que en muchas oportunidades no podemos superar. . Es decir, el requisito primero para tener una personalidad integrada y sana es tener una adequate autoconciencia y autovaloración.

2.Necesitamos reconocer y aceptar nuestra responsabilidad en la vida. La que tenemos con nosotros mismos, con nuestra familia, con nuestra comunidad. No puede haber una persona equilibrada si esta no es responsable. Recordemos que la palabra responsabilidad significa ser capaz de hacer lo que se espera que se haga de acuerdo con las circunstancias y el papel que se tiene en la vida.

3. Busca y haz tu camino en la vida. Se dice que nadie nace de gratis. Todos tenemos un lugar que ocupar, todos tenemos una tarea que hacer. Y si no la hacemos se queda sin hacer. Cada camino a recorrer es unico. Por eso tener metas objetivas en la vida es de vital importancia para crecer de forma armónica siendo quienes somos, en familia y en comunidad.

4. Alejemos de nuestra mente y de nuestro corazon los momentos .de angustia, de fracasos, de errores que hayamos cometido. en nuestro proceso de crecer. Recordemos que la vida trae una cuota de dolor y una de alegría para cada uno de nosotros. Muchas veces nos quedamos disfrutando tanto lo que hemos sufrido que no somos capaces de descubrir la cuota de alegria y de satisfacción que nos está esperando a la vuelta de la esquina.