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Saturday, September 29, 2007

Latino Kids In Gangs...Are Parents To Blame?

In light of all the present gang activity in the Central Coast, many people ask themselves and those who might have an answer why is it that these, at times, very young kids are out and about with no parental supervision of their activities, their friends or the bad habits they might be picking up along the way. People have asked me as recently as last Sunday, when I was invited to talk about the Mexican/Latino cultural heritage, how is it possible to talk about the importance Latinos give to family, and at the same time completely ignore their children. Now, that’s not necessarily what happens, although I recognize why the perception is such.

Raising our children:
In order to start from the beginning I should say that the way children are raised here is, for the most part, foreign to us Latinos. Children here have a lot of more freedom, more privacy and more decision making opportunities. In our Latino culture one acquirLes those “privileges” with age. Kids are supposed to obey what mom and dad, and the grandparents, and the teachers say. Parents never leave it up to the kids whether they want to do something or not. They just tell their kids what to do, period. By the same token, a kid in the Latino culture is rarely allowed to lock their bedroom door not letting anyone – especially his/her parents – to come in. We feel that children’s activities need to be supervised to prevent them from getting into trouble. Why we think like that? The perfect example on this is the episode at Columbine HS where both assailants had an arsenal kept in their room, and the parents never knew about it.

The break-down.
When Latinos come to the US we find out, the hard way sometimes, that kids are treated differently here. The structure for kids is not as “rigid”. In fact, compared to the kind of structure we’re used to, we feel that there’s none here for us to rely on, and to make kids abide by the rules. I remember a time when I was at the beach with my then, 4 year old daughter. I was reprimanding her because she kept running into the water on her own, while I was busy with her sister. At some point, I held her hand preventing her from running off once more. She was yelling as only a kid with a tantrum can. A woman came out of nowhere, and proceeded to threaten me that if I didn’t stop my reprimand, and let “the poor little girl” go, she would call the police on me. Of course she backed off immediately when I told her that I would hold her responsible if that “poor little girl” drowned. Boy… was I confused with the whole incident! The lady wanted me to let my daughter do as she wished? Or did she think it was a good idea to leave my other daughter by herself on the beach while taking care of the first one in the water? I am strong-spirited, so people do not intimidate me easily, but others frankly don’t know how to react or what to do. They feel their authority has been taken out of their hands, and they have not been given an effective/viable alternative to deal with children or teens’ strong will. Now, if we’re talking about school, parents are rarely made aware of any discipline and/or academic problems until it is too late, and the bad behavior has, unfortunately, become a habit for kids. It is then when parents throw their hands in the air, helpless and not knowing what to do.

My concern...
It is concerning that the immediate assumption is that Latino parents don’t care about their children, or that they don’t try to solve the problem. This assumption generates a lack of trust (“…what kind of people is this that don’t care about their children?”), and ill feelings against a race as a whole. I work on a daily basis with these families, and I have yet to hear a parent tell me that they don’t care about what happens to their kids, or that they are not afraid, more so than the rest of the community, to see their kids die because of street violence.

The solution…As usual, it all comes down to education. Yes, parent education in this case. There are great programs for parents out there, which combine prevention techniques on how to set boundaries and discipline, with making parents aware on how the system works here, what is available to them, and what their rights are. Of course these programs/trainings cost money that in many cases families don’t have. It would cost around $6,500 to train 30 individuals who will hopefully be able, in the future, to train other parents. If you are interested in more details or if you want to sponsor a training, please contact me

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Cross-posted at

Monday, September 24, 2007

Parenting Is Not a Popularity Contest!

By Silvia Uribe

After speaking to a desperate parent, I decided to share my personal experience as a mother of two with those who feel sad and fearful of not being able to do a good job with their kids.
We have always known that being a good parent has never been an easy thing. We seem to always be judged not only by our own kids, but also by estrangers who may see that our moral values, style or customs differ from the norm. But having faced these, I think that the challenge is well worth it.

It is more so, if you come from a different culture, country, era, or whatever other differences there are, like we do. Yes, I might not look of a particular background, but my husband I have certainly taught our children our Latino, Mexican/Spanish to be more specific, ways with the “oh, so expected” whining on their part. The main thing we taught them is that family comes first, before work, friends, money and everything else. We’ve taught them this by example. We have also taught them to not only interact with adults, but also to respect and learn from elders, and for instance, to have the courtesy of standing up and giving them their seat when a room is full, and no more seats are available; to say hello and good bye when there is a person as they come in or out of a place; to eat at the dinner table (with manners too), and to share the good and bad of the day. As they were growing up, I never let them stay over at their friends’ home, no matter how well I knew them, which raised many eyebrows among their peers’ parents. If this is not terrifying enough for many, allow me to share that locks on doors and drawers are never used in our home to preserve our “privacy” to the point of not knowing who or what is kept behind doors (remember the Columbine High School incident, and what an arsenal these boys kept in their rooms without the parents knowledge?) We substitute locks with respect and trust. When there was a party, I always made sure to talk to the parents of whoever invited them to make sure they were going to be present (I can still remember the rolling of my kids eyes every time they handed me their friends' parents’ phone number). During high school age, I always suggested that the party would be at our home, just to make sure that things would not get out of hand. Oh, and as far as camps go I went with them to most Girl Scout camps, and we had a lot of fun together (scary huh?) Among many other things, we taught them the value of waiting for things, of nurturing their spirit, and their mind, of observing and analyzing people and situations, and the value of being able to accept “no” for an answer, but also the ability to recognize when they should and shouldn’t be persistent about their desire.

We had rough times, in which (not surprisingly) they really didn’t particularly like me, since I was the vigilante eye upon them. In those situations I always ask one thing from them: TRUST. What they couldn’t see through the crystal of their youth was that we were also teaching them patience, reasoning, decision making skills, and of course, responsibility. At the same time, they were gaining self confidence, and they were creating a self image that did not depend on others’ opinions. There were, and still are, rules at home for everyone to follow, including us parents. So, when my oldest daughter asked me what would change for her at home when she was about to turn 18, the answer was very easy: NOTHING! She would still have to follow the rules, as the rest of us did. Of course, as they were growing in age and maturity, they acquired a lot of more freedom, they started driving, working, socializing, and filling their time with fun and interesting activities like traveling the world (without us parents), to the point that the “fight” for freedom became a moot point, since they earned it with responsibility.

Yes, we had to be very firm, even strict at times, and it was certainly not always easy. Parenting is not a popularity contest, alright! We constantly had to endure the never ending “…we are not in Mexico anymore, mom…”, and the “…but all my friends do it…!” The truth of the matter is that we adapted and adjusted to a new culture, and we perfectly fit in the community, but we kept our identity. We had to teach our kids according to who we were, our moral values, and our culture. We had to make some tough decisions, risking being perceived by our children as “the bad guy”, but, in our view, that’s an ok price compared with the peace of mind of knowing that they’re well equipped for life now.

Our daughters have had a successful school career; one of them graduated from UCSB, holds a professional job in town, and is creating a name for herself in the community. The other one is still a student, has a job, and a very nice group of friends. But what I see as the most important thing is that we enjoy a wonderful, loving, and strong family relationship, where support, trust, loyalty, and respect are present for all of us all the time. We know we can count on each other! Hopefully, they will be able to replicate this, one day, with their own family.

So, if this kind of situation sounds familiar, whether or not you’re from a different background, don’t lose your calm, your cool, your charm or your strength when faced with difficult periods with your children. Recognize that you are just in the middle of the tunnel, trying to get to the other side, and you will….with time and patience. In the meantime, know that the prize to that patience and persistence will be to know that your children are strong, happy and prepared to fly on their own. So, for us at this point I can only say: so far, so good!

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.

Friday, September 14, 2007

What's Going On Between Men and Women?

By Silvia Uribe

This is the question that a 23 year old posted on my website. She was referring to the kind of relationships that happen today which follow no rules, have no expectations, and over all, no commitment. She indicated she’s noticed that in past times – as close as the previous generation – lines were clearly established, approaches were understood and accepted, and basically everyone knew how to play the game. “Not today – she claims. Today people meet, and if they like each other pretty soon they’re sleeping together. They don’t necessarily know each other, and they don’t trust each other but they decide to share a house, and in many cases, their finances. How is that possible?”
According to her, in the past, things were clearer and easier to understand, therefore, people knew exactly where were they standing, how to act, and what were the expectations on both sides. “For God sake, we don’t even know how to introduce our significant other: as a friend, or as a boyfriend? What’s the line and when you cross it? and… these are the easier to answer questions, because there are others more complicated, such as how to choose who to date, or go out, or hook up with? We are not even clear on what we’re doing and what to call it. Are we to choose based on character? Well… that’s a problem too - according to my young reader-. "In the past men were “manly” enough to go after who they wanted, to court, and to take the risk of being rejected. Men now sit back and wait to see what the woman is willing to do. They take a comfortable position instead of a pro-active one. If we are talking about choosing based on education, this can certainly post a problem for those women who are not only obtaining their Bachelors, and Masters, and PhD’s, but who also like to read, travel, and have a variety of interests. How about based on drive? Then, even more of a barrier! - and she proceeded to ask me, - How many young guys you know that are a go-getter, a goal setter, and a trail blazer with high dreams and ambitions who know where they want to go, and how to get there?" (Let's admit it, this kind she describes, has never abounded.)
I see her point. However, I think that a lot of those unattractive behaviors that men present have not only been accepted, but they have been encouraged by women, and here is why. We have been confused between being independent, smart, and strong in more than one way, and not needing a man’s strength, support, and advice. We have clearly sent them the message that we don’t need or want to admire them, trust them or depend on them in any way. Why? Just because that’s what the old idea of “feminism” is all about? Yet, I still have to hear a woman say that she feels great having a mediocre, lazy man, with no imagination who only likes to be taken care of, next to her. I truly believe that we need to adjust the expectations that women have of men, and that we start taking a modern, more mature approach to the concept of feminism. Can we mix the feministic values, in which I totally believe, with a less self-sufficient, aggressive, almost "macho" attitude that women so much deplore when a man exhibits it? Can we be who we are, without undermining who men can be? If we let them open the door for us, it does not mean that we don't have the strength to do it. If we let them court us with charming details, it does not mean that we cannot also set clear limits. Can we, please, reach a healthy and much needed balance between who we are, and what we want in a man, and find an articulate way to convey it? It is possible, and several strong, smart women I know can attest to it, and have a great "manly" man by their side. The good news is that it is up to each one of us. Men are not going to want to leave their comfortable position, unless they see the need for it. We have to be the driving force of this particular change in them, for our own good.

Silvia Uribe is a freelance writer with a Latino perspective.