Sounding Off: Loida Rosario “The Latina-‘Chinese’- American Moms”

The now-famous Wall Street Journal article about Yale Law professor Amy Chua and her book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother generated more than 5,700 comments on the Journal's website, more than any other article in the history of The firestorm of commentary surrounding her strict mothering technique  covered the gamut and included comparisons to the cultural influence on motherhood from a wide variety of ethnicities. One voice, however, was missing: The Latina mom.

So here’s an attempt to describe the Latina Mom. To be inclusive, I will segment Latina mothers by socio-economics and demographics, both important considerations ignored in the Wall Street Journal article and subsequent commentary.

The Teenage/Very Young Mom

Some may call this a national crisis: although nationwide 34 percent of teenage girls become pregnant at least once before they turn 20 years old, among Hispanics, the rate is 51 percent. The implications of this one statistic for marketers are many. These very young mothers are largely unprepared for parenthood and may lack the maturity necessary to deal with the challenges of child rising. Although most marketers will stay away from focusing directly on this market, they are wise to understand that the Latina mom is often younger than the general-population mom and, therefore, a different approach may be needed to reach and educate her about brands and services.

 Of course, this mom is a “struggler,” too: she might be busy trying to finish high school or going to a trade school. The last thing on her mind is to spend three hours a day making her children practice piano lessons (as did Amy Chua). She’ll spend her money, if she has any, on essentials. These young Latinas will largely value education as a way to improve their situation and that of their children. But like other young women, they still read Cosmopolitan Español and likes to go dancing with friends.

The Traditional Mom (Lower Income)

Sixty-seven percent of Latinas moms with children under three years old work outside the home. These mothers are increasingly responsible for helping their husbands or significant others make end meets on usually meager salaries. Some may work two jobs. Although equally committed to raising their children and providing for a good education, with the support of the extended family these mothers focus on strict discipline that may keep their children away from neighborhood troubles. These children are expected to do more on their own, as well, and to participate in extracurricular activities to the degree that it does not conflict with the parent’s job schedule. And forget violin and piano lessons. Not only is there rarely enough money to pay for these sorts of luxuries, but the parents are simply not home enough to supervise the type of practice necessary to master these activities. 

Regardless of age, these moms still enjoy their lives, are aspirational and positive about the future and their ability to break the circle of poverty.

The Traditional Mom (Middle class)

In the traditional nuclear Hispanic family, the father likes to take the lead in supporting his family.  Depending on the educational background, the moms in these families are less likely to be the “humble,” overly dedicated mom portrayed so often in the media. Yes, she’ll value her role as the mother and ultimate caretaker, but she may be more self-reliant than commonly assumed and may carry the pantalones in the household.

She is also aspirational and has high expectations for her kids. In this sense, she shares traits with the “Chinese” mom by limiting things like TV , demanding that the children help around the house, respect their elders, and focus on educational achievement first. She may force her child take a music class, but will celebrate even the most out-of-tune sounds coming from the instruments. She may have the ay bendito syndrome – the trait of feeling sorry for the hectic school, sports and music schedules of the children – and would be proud with a half-hour practice a couple times a week. After all, in the end she’d rather her kids were happy and good people that prodigies striving for Carnegie Hall.

Even many moms from lower income households will reflect this type of behavior. It is about being proud and ‘honor’ your family by being the best a child can be. Fun will still be valued.

The New Latina Mom

The most acculturated of the groups, the “new” Latina mom may be better educated, having delayed motherhood in pursuit of a meaningful career or college education. Delayed is a relative term, of course; as for her marrying and having children while still young (late twenties at the latest) is likely to be important.

She’s independent, bilingual and bicultural. She’s lived most of her formative years in the U.S. or was born here. However, she cherishes her Hispanic heritage and values. She will consider education highly important, but her disciplinary style may be more accommodating to American philosophies based on her self-education through magazines and other experts and her own experiences growing up in a very strict home environment. Yet she will go back to mom and dad for advice on items of importance like child rearing and financial matters. She is very family oriented and wants her children to be proud of her two identities: Hispanic (or better yet, her parents’ country of origin) and American.

She would emphasize achievement yet also accommodate her children’s wishes.

Las Abuelas

Regardless of their economic situation, las abuelas are a force to be reckoned with in Hispanic families. Sons idolize them and daughters secretly admire them. She will have a say in the rearing of the young in the family, either by choice or by duty. Her golden-year dreams are to be with her grandchildren and to support her already-adult children in their success. Stronger in temperament and likely to adhere to stricter views of discipline (e.g,. a little spanking is good), she will trust no experts, but her own experience in the matter of raising children and is likely to be vocal about it. Regardless of her level of education, she will be supportive of educational achievements but not at the price of abandoning family responsibilities and enjoyment of life. “Success” is defined in her own terms: she may set the defining standards for the family to follow. She is likely to be both a softer version of the “Chinese”’ mom, yet harder in some ways.

Some universal truths can be extracted from the original Wall Street Journal article: parenting is hard –  ultimately,  it requires the ability to give love and discipline at different doses and amplitude depending on myriad individual situations. It also takes time, lots of time. For those of us who are blessed to have healthy children and income to support them adequately, it is still the hardest thing to do. For the rest, it is even more difficult.

For marketers, be wise. Try to understand your target markets and the cultural factors affecting their behavior. Latina Moms are their own version of “American-Latina-Chinese” moms.