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Are Hispanic Family Values a Myth?


Nearly half of the children born to Hispanic mothers in the U.S. are born out of wedlock, a proportion that has been increasing rapidly with no signs of slowing down. Given what psychologists and sociologists now know about the much higher likelihood of social pathology among those who grow up in single-mother households, the Hispanic baby boom is certain to produce more juvenile delinquents, more school failure, more welfare use, and more teen pregnancy in the future.

And so began an essay titled “Hispanic Family Values?” by Heather MacDonald, a fellow at the think tank, Manhattan Institute, and contributing editor to City Journal.

Heather MacDonald

MacDonald’s essay, at its worst, is alarmist, in that she presents her case for the breakdown of Hispanic family values with data that definitely portrays Latinos in a negative light.

Forty-five percent of all Hispanic births occur outside of marriage, compared with 24 percent of white births and 15 percent of Asian births. Only the percentage of black out-of-wedlock births—68 percent—exceeds the Hispanic rate. But the black population is not going to triple over the next few decades.

As if the unmarried Hispanic birthrate werenÂ’t worrisome enough, it is increasing faster than among other groups. It jumped 5 percent from 2002 to 2003, whereas the rate for other unmarried women remained flat. Couple the high and increasing illegitimacy rate of Hispanics with their higher overall fertility rate, and you have a recipe for unstoppable family breakdown.

Yet, while MacDonald’s interpretation of the data would have everyone believing that the future source of all that is bad in society will be the fault of Latinos, other data is not so quick to condemn.

New data released today from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey says that of the 900,000 births to Hispanic women between the ages of 15 and 50 surveyed in the year prior to the survey, 66 percent of those mothers were married.

Also, married-couple Hispanic families were measured at 49 percent of Hispanic households — only 4 percentage points less than non-Hispanic white households.

But to be fair, the numbers are still low, or high depending on your perspective, when it comes to a culture that historically has idolized our reverence for family.

Yet, MacDonald’s essay does underscore the fact that there are grave problems within our communities.

Dr. Ana Sanchez delivers babies at St. Joseph’s Hospital in the city of Orange, California, many of them to Hispanic teenagers. To her dismay, they view having a child at their age as normal. A recent patient just had her second baby at age 17; the baby’s father is in jail. But what is “most alarming,” Sanchez says, is that the “teens’ parents view having babies outside of marriage as normal, too. A lot of the grandmothers are single as well; they never married, or they had successive partners. So the mom sends the message to her daughter that it’s okay to have children out of wedlock.”

“It’s considered almost a badge of honor for a young girl to have a baby,” says Peggy Schulze of Chrysalis House, an adoption agency in Fresno. (Fresno has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in California, typical of the state’s heavily Hispanic farm districts.) It is almost impossible to persuade young single Hispanic mothers to give up their children for adoption, Schulze says. “The attitude is: ‘How could you give away your baby?’ I don’t know how to break through.”

The most powerful Hispanic family value—the tight-knit extended family—facilitates unwed child rearing. A single mother’s relatives often step in to make up for the absence of the baby’s father.

It’s very easy to take offense with MacDonald’s essay but there’s nothing that she writes that hasn’t been noticed antecdotally by any of us with contact with our young hermanas in high school or those families for whom education is low on the list of priorities for their working-age children.

How many times have we heard young Latinas say they “want to have my boyfriend’s baby.”

Rather than be angry at MacDonald for being so blunt in her appraisal of the state of Latino families, it’s time to own up that there is reason to be more than just concerned for the future of our community and our country.

What MacDonald’s essay exemplifies is that for Latinas, the campaign to prevent teen pregnancy can’t just be a school-focused campaign. It has to start in the neighborhoods and homes where traditional Hispanic family values are nothing more than front-porch stories of how life used to be in the “old” country.

It’s going to take changing the mindset of las madres, tias, vecinas and abuelas.

Latinos have long practiced the concept of “it takes a village Â…,” but instead of raising the child, we CARED for him.

Now, it’s time to RAISE that child — and their parents too.

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