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Strategies for Battered Women
Strategies for Battered Women

Section 18
Hispanic Culture and Domestic Violence

Question 18 | Test | Table of Contents
Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, Social Worker CEUs, MFT CEUs

Hispanic Culture: The Basics
Accurate knowledge about Hispanic culture is critical to prevent the cultural dialogue with Hispanic men from becoming an assault or a devaluation of the culture.  One does not have to develop an exhaustive knowledge in order to be able to intervene effectively with Latinos.  An awareness of some essential issues is a useful starting point.   It should be noted however, that reading these materials does not make anyone an "expert"; these are simply starting points for further exploration.  Cultural understanding grows out of ongoing contact with others. 

It also calls for cultural self-awareness and flexibility.  Understanding different cultural practices and values can lead to increased rigidity and narrowness of vision if there is no attempt to take into account and set aside the cultural filters that we all carry.  Finally, cultural understanding is not achieved through learning a few key points about other people’s experience and values.   Such limited learning can lead to more stereotyping.  It is important to understand that within any culture, there are differences in class, privilege, disadvantage, experiences of oppression, formation of gender and sexual orientation, spirituality, and so on.   Within any culture, there are contradictions, such as between the European American ideal of equality and freedom and the long tradition of gender and racial inequality that was maintained both by legal frameworks and informal practices.  All cultures, like our own, are in a constant state of change, and no one mechanically embodies their culture.  Above all, we are working with individuals with diverse and multiple identities.

Again, readers are cautioned that the following description of these ideals, along with some suggestions about how to respond sensitively, should be helpful:

- Probably the most important value is "personalismo," (personalism) a term for an emphasis upon and unconditional recognition of the essential value of each individual.  A person's value stems from who they are unto themselves and from their membership in a family group, rather than from their social status or from their professional accomplishments.   Associated with personalismo are an emphasis on politeness and on the importance of proper social discourse.  For example, business transactions are punctuated by social conversation; one does not get to the point immediately.  People talk about family and people take some time to get to know each other.  Consequently, in Latin culture one does not relate to organizations or systems as much as to individuals who appear trustworthy. People want to know you as a way of establishing trust, and demonstrating some warmth and willingness to listen are essential; you must be able to connect with the person in front of you, to show that he's not a number or just another batterer.

- The extended family is basic to everyone's existence and identity.  In European American culture, the family is important but we derive much of our identity from our work or careers or even from hobbies.  In Hispanic culture, the primary source of identity is the family; one exists and defines oneself as someone's daughter, granddaughter, mother, wife, aunt or as someone's son, father, grandson, uncle, cousin, etc.  Mothers, grandparents (and older people in general) are highly respected and the ideal family unit is the extended family (though this begins to change with acculturation).  This family can include at least three generations as well as uncles and aunts, first, second and third cousins, and sons and daughters-in-law.  These relatives may visit each other without fail two, three or more times a week or may even live together.  Living apart from one's family is a wrench and a major loss.  Understanding this value is helpful because it is so central in Hispanic culture.

- In European American culture, where equality is a central value, men use "equality" or equivalence excuses (such as the provocation excuse or victim blaming) to justify violent assaults against their spouses.  In Latin culture, where the family has the same importance, men may say that they use violence to maintain their authority in the family; it is as if his violence is justified if he can argue that he was trying to keep the family intact.

- "Respeto," or respect, is an indispensable way of demonstrating that one recognizes other people's value.  Every person should be granted unconditional recognition of their dignity.  People are very sensitive to anything that appears disrespectful, insulting or that can be taken as an expression of disdain.  Practitioners who violate these rules risk a serious loss of credibility with Hispanic clients.  The emphasis on respect means that direct confrontation is more risky with Latinos; one risks being seen as disrespectful.  Respect is also crucial for
people in hierarchical relationships, both for those above and for those below.  In other words, it is just as important for a supervisor to demonstrate respect as for those s/he supervises.  Also associated with respeto is that in Latin culture it is often considered impolite to say "no" directly in professional or hierarchical relationships.  For example, if a supervisor or a counselor suggests a course of action to a subordinate or client, "Yes" may mean "Yes I'll do it" or "Yes, but this is a terrible idea.  How can I tell you without being disrespectful?"  It is important to have some process whereby the client (or probationer) has permission to respectfully state disagreement.  In judicial settings, it is important to make clear that your expectations or probation requirements should be met, that yes should really mean yes.

- Machismo is the Latin version of male supremacy.  The U.S. version of male supremacy is often indirect or covert; frequently men don't defend the right to give direct orders to women, but they feel entitled to be upset if the woman does not defer, give in to him in arguments, let him have his way so he won't feel so bad, etc.  In contrast, machismo is more direct.  Although not everyone lives up to this, men are supposed to be forceful, commanding and decisive.  Men are supposed to have their way in relationships with women and backing down with other men is considered a serious loss of face.  Machismo has an ideal of male sexual prowess for men.  This can also involve overly insistent wooing of women, jealous control or guarding of the spouse and extramarital relationships or sustaining more than one family or relationship over time.  It is important to remember the strongly cultural basis of Hispanic men's machismo, since they are likely to make statements that appear more direct and outrageous than their Anglo counterparts. However, machismo also connotes a strong and abiding responsibility to take care of and protect one's family as well as an emphasis on honor, dignity and respect for others.  In our culture a real macho (male) is a man who is responsible, a good provider, a man of his word who devotes himself to his immediate and extended family.  Machismo is not one-dimensional; emphasizing the positive aspects of machismo is important for Latino offenders.

Not everyone lives up to these values, but most people who consider themselves Hispanic acknowledge their influence even if they do not agree with them.  As you work more with Latinos, you will see many of these elements in action and understand how these abstract ideals are vital realities for people.

Domestic Violence and Cultures: Moving toward more Sophisticated Encounters
Fernando Mederos, Ed.D.

What does Mederos say is probably the most important value of Hispanic culture?
To select and enter your answer go to Test.

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