that less acculturated Latino youth living in the U.S. are generally healthier, a phenomenon known as the “healthy immigrant effect.”
For instance, research has found that Latino youth who are less acculturated are less likely to binge drink and use drugs, and more likely to wear seatbelts and eat breakfast on a regular basis.
The Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, March 2005 article is available only by subscription, which I don’t have, therefore I cannot comment on the methodology or the validity of the study itself. For instance, studies showing the dropout rate being as high as 50% have been disproven, but, for the sakes of a discussion of the topic, let’s assume the study is valid. The results don’t surprise me.
The study found that, out of 7270 Latino and white students from 7th to 12th grades,
only 7 percent of students spoke mostly Spanish. Three-quarters of participants had never had sex. The researchers also found that Latino students who mostly spoke English were nearly 70 percent more likely to have sex than white students. However, Spanish-speakers were significantly less likely than white students, bilingual and English-speaking Latino students to say they were having sex.
Besides pointing out that Latino is not a race (Latin America is populated by people of all races), these numbers mean that the 509 children who spoke mostly Spanish were less likely to have sex, and more likely to live healthier lives. (The good news is that 5,453 haven’t had sex.)
Latin Americans come from all backgrounds. I came to the Continental USA at the age of 17, out of my own initiative, as a college student. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and therefore was an American citizen from birth. I was fully bilingual, and so was my entire family. My parents were working, middle-class, homeowners, each had a college education, and had been married to each other for twenty-plus years. While I was a college student they and my siblings continued to live in Puerto Rico. The rest of my large extended family lived in similar circumstances and worked in the traditional professions, some traveling often to the USA and other countries because of their work. My circumstances weren’t exceptional and thousands of other Puerto Rican students (among them several cousins) attend American colleges and universities. Some stay in the continent, some return to Puerto Rico after graduation; I decided to stay. In my case, uprootedness was a wonderful thing. In that, again, my circumstances weren’t exceptional.
Conversely, there are thousands of Latino immigrants who come to the USA under very adverse circumstances. They might not be here legally. They don’t know the language. The family might have been told to come to the USA by a dominant father, without as much as the opinion of the mother having anything to do with the decision. The parents might not have completed a grade school education and might not be literate in their native language (most probably Spanish, but there are other native languages in Latin America) beyond the equivalent of a third grade level. They might already have other relatives in the USA living in what could best be described as reduced means, but who manage to send remissions to their other relatives in their homeland. Uprootedness is, to the children of these families, a crisis. This group of immigrants aren’t too different from other generations of immigrants who have come, and continue to come, to the USA during the last two centuries from dozens of countries around the world.
A couple of years ago I visited with a neighbor who ran a local English as a Second Language Program during the daytime, which was attended by poor Latin American (mostly Central American) women. Most of the women had not completed a sixth-grade education, and two of them were barely literate in Spanish. While they all lived in nuclear families, some were in common-law marriages. Several of the women were taking the class without their husbands’ knowledge, who, as a means of control, preferred that their wives not know English. Invariably, the husband was the one who had decided that the family move to the USA. One woman’s family was undocumented, the rest were in various stages of attaining legal residence status. All their children of school age attended the local public schools and were learning English — and many were already fully bilingual. The mothers had to rely on their English-fluent children as translators and interpreters. The children, once they became fluent in English, would speak English among themselves. The fathers were usually working six days out of seven, most of them holding two jobs.
In families like this, the mastery of English becomes a source of power. Children who speak mostly Spanish live in a much different family dynamic than those whose mothers rely on them for information on the outside world. The mother has more power in a solely-Spanish speaking family than in a family where she’s the only one not speaking English. She can inculcate traditional values more strongly than in a family where she’s relegated to a secondary, or tertiary, role, first because of language, and later when the children are better educated than either parent.
But back to the study. The study finds that “less acculturated Latino youth living in the U.S. are generally healthier,” and defines acculturation as students who “mostly speak English”.
But acculturation is not just language.
Prior generations of immigrants, once they arrived in the USA were taught, by the public schools and by other civic organizations, traditional American values; more specifically, middle-class, Protestant values, within a Judeo-Christian tradition. People learned to read English by reading the King James Bible. The Protestant work ethic was promoted through Horatio Alger stories, and the value of delayed gratification was spoken of. School curricula stressed discipline and the “three R’s”, and included famous sermons, such as Governor John Winthrop’s A Model of Christian Charity. People were taught and encouraged to serve their communities through volunteering, a most American trait. In short, immigrants were directed towards what it meant to live in an American culture; no one assumed that simply knowing the language meant one was acculturated.
Public schools have long since changed, some for the better. Ideally, public schools would teach about the Protestant roots of the American colonies and how that became the basis for the Constitution of the United States; and about the Judeo-Christian tradition and its influence on the Civil Rights movement. But many don’t, and controversies on whether the 10 Commandments or the pledge of allegiance have place in the classroom rage all over the land. At worse, inadequate public schools can be like the ones in the UK that Theodore Dalrymple describes,
Had the educational system stifled her self-esteem? Quite the reverse. Our schools have fulfilled the liberal educators’ every dream, abandoning educational achievement as their goal and systematically replacing it with nurturing self-esteem—or at least self-conceit— leaving their pupils unaware of their own disastrous ignorance, unable even to read properly, and without a counterweight to their chaotic home environments. Perhaps if the accused, and all the young people around her, had been treated with a firm but benevolent guiding hand when they were younger, the tragedy might have been averted.
Latin media is saturated with images of sex. The women presenters on programs such as De mananita, Al rojo vivo, and other news magazine formats all have had breast implants and wear their clothes two sizes too small. Jerry Spinger-type talk shows, and soaps — telenovelas — are sexually explicit. Spanish-language MTV is not different at all to English-language MTV. You can’t blame solely the media for the incidence of teenage sex. However, I am curious what the attitude is among Latino English-speaking children when they have sex-ed class and find out that extramarital sex is not only countenanced, but that you are actually shown how to sheath a banana with a condom — by a teacher, in a classroom. Are these children taught that a condom is not 100% reliable? I know a lot of people who came to this world because the condom didn’t work. Are these children taught about STDs and the high incidence of STDs on young people? Are they told about the new 3-DCR HIV strain?
Minorities are directed towards a culture of dependency on the state, and many agree to a victimization role. The pregnant teenager would feel no shame in having a child out of wedlock, and might even be encouraged to find government support for the child, instead of having to marry the father of her child. The state will provide, when it comes to material goods.
So, as I see the situation, the family dynamic changes: the circumstances relegated the mother to, at best, a secondary — maybe tertiary — role. The schools don’t provide a structure, or a foundation, of traditional values; many rely on self-esteem instead of actual academic achievement. The media’s bombarding the kids with sexual imagery, often combined with imagery of violence and drugs. What it comes down to is that the children are superfically acculturated to the media images and the language, but not to the values, of the culture. Call it a pop-culture acculturation: Americans eat hot dogs and burgers, so that’s all you eat.
While I might argue on the finer points of the study, from what I read I generally agree with the findings. I don’t have any idea what the study has in mind by “what it means to be ethnically Spanish,” since my grandparents were from Spain, and being Spanish is not the same as being Latin American. But I do know that all children need structure, and that values are the foundation of that structure, here in the USA or anywhere in the world.
Language is not acculturation.
(Cross-posted at Blogger News Network)
Update I made a few minor grammar and punctuation changes, and added that the study’s results don’t surprise me, a sentence that I accidentally omitted. My apologies.