Immigrants Face Up to American Family Values
New language, new jobs - and a new child-rearing environment
BERNARDINO JUAREZ remembers well the May morning 11 years ago when his first child, Bernardo, was born. He drove his wife, Estela, to the hospital and helped her check in. Then, following the tradition of men in his native Mexico, he said goodbye and headed off to work. ``I didn't stay, because we come from a different country,'' Mr. Juarez explains. ``There, the mother is supposed to take care of the kids. The father is supposed to work and support the kids.''Skip to next paragraph
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Months later, during a child-development class the couple attended at a nearby community center called Family Focus, Juarez learned that American fathers remain at the hospital, often participating at the birth. So the following year, when their daughter, Edith, was born, he stayed until after the delivery.
The incident typifies the kind of adjustments immigrants make as they rear children in a new country. Beyond the usual challenges of learning a language, finding a job, and adapting to a new culture, parents must come to terms with different attitudes toward discipline, education, and domestic duties.
``Some of the things we learned from our parents don't work now,'' says Mrs. Juarez, who came to the United States 11 years ago. ``It's hard. Some people don't want to change. They don't want to betray their parents. They say, `I was raised this way. I will raise my children in the same way.' But it's not right.''
For many newcomers, this assimilation is a lonely process. But for those who have access to innovative programs like the nonprofit Family Focus center in Chicago's West Town neighborhood, there is the comfort of shared experiences. The Juarezes spend hours each week at the drop-in center, one of six scattered around the city.
On a rainy Friday afternoon, Blanca Almonte, the director, gestures toward a long table in the center where a dozen Hispanic women are making cloth dolls. Their children play in the next room. ``Most of these women come from extended families,'' she says. ``They are having to do a reassessment of values and customs. You have to look at what you're going to change. You have to adjust. At the same time, you don't want to completely abandon your cultural heritage. What do you keep? How do you decide?''
Sometimes those decisions rest as much with the children as with the parents. Eva Mannaberg, who teaches English to immigrants in Evanston, Ill., says, ``There's a reversal of roles. The children know what is going on in this culture. The parents lag behind and have to learn from their children. Kids know how to dress, and they know American food.''
Sitting in the dining room of their immaculate second-floor apartment, the Juarezes talk about these changes in their own family, and their efforts to preserve parental authority.
``I was spanked a lot,'' Mr. Juarez admits. ``But if I did that with my children we would be in trouble. Social workers tell us, `When you're real mad and angry, sit on your hands.''' Mrs. Juarez adds, ``Today, spanking doesn't work with children. You have to talk to them, explain. There's more communication.''
Then there are the differences between the relative safety of the small town in Mexico where the couple grew up and the dangers, real and perceived, of Chicago.
``I'm afraid for my children,'' says Mrs. Juarez, who walks her son and daughter to and from school each day. ``I worry about gangs. I keep them busy with a lot of activities so they don't hang around in the streets.''