There is a giant cultural chasm between many first generation Latinas and our immigrant mothers. We grow up in a society that is radically different from our mothers’ homeland. So many of the first generation women I have known experienced adolescent frustrations with their mothers that were further compounded by cultural miscommunication. Sometimes these clashes continue past adolescence and cause severe emotional hardships.
Latinas often grow up in strict households where the rules are usually much harsher for girls. This repression and double standard can be upsetting and confusing. Ana, 38, for example, said she wasn’t allowed to shave her legs, sleep over at friends’ houses, wear make up until she was 15, or stay out past 11 pm. My mother had very similar rules. I remember, for instance, that I was punished for shaving my legs at 13 even though I only did it to avoid the ridicule of my classmates. I knew that these kinds of rules had traveled from my mother’s hometown in rural Mexico and that she did not understand how repressive they were in this culture and era, but it was still incredibly frustrating.
Karelys, 24, says that her mother was terrified that she and her brothers would lose their “Mexican-ness.” She remembers she was berated for getting home late after hanging out with her church friends though she and her friends never drank or did anything inappropriate while her brothers were allowed to sleep over at their girlfriends’ houses. She and her mother used to have screaming matches as a result of their disagreements.
A lot of us also grew up perplexed by Caucasian mother-daughter relationships both in real life and on TV. I remember I was completely shocked when an acquaintance of mine said that her mother was her best friend. I could not relate to the Gilmore Girls whatsoever. Ana says that her “Anglo friends either treat their mothers as best buddies or don’t talk to them at all” and that the media rarely ever shows a realistic Latina mother-daughter dynamic. The only time I even remotely related to a mother-daughter relationship was when I watched the movie Real Women Have Curves. Adriana, 32, says that she has only related to the relationships in The Joy Luck Club. Ana feels that nothing “has come close to reflecting an accurate relationship between an immigrant Latina mom and American-born Latina daughter.” The movie Spanglish showed the tension between an immigrant mother and a young daughter, but not how the relationship may have evolved as the daughter got older.
LATINAS AND DEPRESSION
In communicating with these first-generation Latinas, it was clear that family was incredibly important to them and their mothers. I have seen this in my own family and community. In a 2008 study of 6th- and 7th-grade inner-city Latino youths, Hugh F. Crean found that though research on Latino parent-child relationships is very limited, it does show that “Latino Americans attribute more importance to the family as both a source and recipient of emotional support than do non-Latinos.” He also found that mother-daughter conflicts were more intense than conflicts in other parent-child relationships. This contention put Latina girls at increased risk because they may lack important support resources. Research shows that adolescent Latinas have a higher suicide rate than any other ethnic and racial minority.
A study from the journal Depression Research and Treatment points out that adolescence is a time in which young people grapple with the desire for autonomy and their desire for connections with their parents. The difference in acculturation between US Latino parents and their children add another challenge. The study also found that girls with higher involvement in their culture expressed more of a connection to their mothers and those who felt closer to their mothers had less depressive behaviors.
MOTHERS, DAUGHTERS AND DAUGHTERS
All of the women I spoke with have improved their relationships with their mothers over the years by increasing communication and making the effort to understand the culture in which they were raised. It was clear to me that these women loved their mothers and wanted to mend or improve their relationships. I have done the same with my mother over the years. We now have the luxury of retrospection. However, the scars still remain for some women. Proper resources, such as low-cost family counseling and culturally sensitive mental health initiatives could help prevent depression in young girls and help them navigate their conflicts with their mothers. More accurate representations of this dynamic in the media might also help young Latinas feel less alone.
It’s also our responsibility to address these problems if we see them in our own families or communities. I have tried to mediate problems between my mother and younger brother with the knowledge that I have gained over the years. And lastly, we must use what we’ve learned from our own experiences in our relationships with our mothers with our own daughters. Their well being depends on it.