The American Dream may not work with Catholic culture: A Latina’s perspective

As the daughter of an immigrant, I’m among the first generation in my family where the mother worked outside the home. This has become normalized in American culture, but it’s not the norm in traditional Hispanic/Latino Catholic culture. While giving women the opportunity to work outside the home has many benefits, within my own family it hasn’t worked the way my mom’s generation wanted it to, at least not in the way it’s been presented by society. From the outside, someone might look at my cousins and me and say we’ve had everything we ever needed, and most of what we ever wanted. Or did we?

Most Americans with Hispanic/Latino backgrounds — and probably any person from an immigrant family — have experienced the push to fit in with the mainstream culture. However, if we’re honest, American culture is not always complimentary to the heartbeat of Hispanic/Latino culture, let alone Catholic culture. While Latina mothers are overwhelmingly traditional-minded as far as gender roles go, and they want their daughters to be good homemakers and cooks, they also push their daughters to succeed in the “real world” by pursuing higher education and striving for well-paying jobs. Inherently, these are good desires. But maybe, just maybe, the American ideal isn’t really Catholic. I love America, but in many ways Americans have idolized success or, at the very least, distorted what success looks like.

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My mother and aunts were the first in our family to choose not to be homemakers, and while I’m proud of the business owners they have become, I can see my generation has missed a lot of the things they had growing up. Though my mom and aunts came from a poor family of nine kids, they had their mother at home with them, and that made a difference. Their pursuit in the world was so we could have everything they never had, and in a way we do: We have everything they never had yet lost much of what they did have. For one, most of us are now products of divorce or unhappy marriages. On top of that, most of my cousins are no longer practicing the Faith, and many of them have not even been baptized.

Now, I’m not ungrateful. I’ve been greatly blessed. I’m also not saying all women have to be homemakers; goodness knows, I’m quite the “girl boss” myself. But there does seem to be friction between the culture of our heritage and the one we’re told to assimilate into. Rather than judging it or dismissing it, however, I think we — especially Hispanics/Latinas — need to look at that angst for the sake of the next generation. And maybe, rather than trying to be in one or the other cultural camp, we can take a moment for introspection about our values, heritage and faith, and we then can build and create a new culture — one that combines the values and virtues that are the best from both cultures. As St. Paul said, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts but the same Spirit; there are different forms of service but the same Lord; there are different workings but the same God who produces all of them in everyone” (1 Cor 12:4-6).

What does this look like? First, like most immigrant families of any ethnicity, Hispanic/Latina culture values “professional” occupations, such as medicine, law and the military, but not the arts. The arts, even to many in my family, have always seemed too unsteady and a waste of effort. Despite my mother being an entrepreneur herself, I can’t tell you how many times she has told me, “You should become a paralegal, at least.” But being in the arts has enabled me to combine the best of all my values, both my heritage and faith. And it’s not just me. There is a huge movement of Hispanics/Latinas realizing that their joy and “home” is in the arts — and they are madly talented at it, too! Being open to alternative work and employment such as the arts is an important mindset shift that needs to happen.

Next, maybe we don’t want to be, or keep up with, the Joneses, and that’s more than okay. Maybe our generation realizes that less is more, that we don’t need to have all the fancy gadgets and gizmos our parents worked so hard to give us because they thought we needed them, or because that was how they were taught to measure success by mainstream society.

Last, for those of us who want it, we need to value mothers being in the home if they feel called to it, and we must honor this decision and desire with the same gravitas as we do the women and daughters who become lawyers and doctors. Raising children and healthy, loving families is just as important as those careers — maybe even more so. It’s sad to me that my grandmother may never comprehend that raising nine children was and is such a great and important work, not only for our family but for society as a whole. It’s an immeasurable contribution she has made.

These contrasts and tension between our cultural roots and modern society can give us a clue into who we really are, who we want to be, and what is really necessary for happy and loving homes — domestic churches. So let’s be grateful to God for it all: all that we come from, all that our parents have worked for. But let’s also do better, and go higher and reach new heights.

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