Aug 02, 2015


The Challenges of Today’s Latinas

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source: Gabrielle Elise

The Latina Immigrant Woman

Twenty-year ago, a significant number of studies in cross-cultural psychology focused on the mental health of immigrant Latina women.  Issues of depression, anxiety, acculturative stress, separation and loss, and lack of financial and social resources were among the reported challenges facing this growing population.

As a graduate student in psychology and as the daughter of immigrant parents, I was mesmerized by this field of study.  It was the personal story of my parents, my family — one generation removed from mine.  And so, armed with research skills and academic opportunities, I embarked on a journey to learn more about these inspiring stories.

Fifteen years ago, my dissertation explored the relationship between cross-cultural migration and the mental health of Dominican immigrants living in New York City.  I interviewed 125 Dominican immigrants who kindly and openly shared their migratory experience. Nothing was left unsaid:  the reasons for their decision to leave their beloved country; their hopes and dreams for a better future; the painful separation from loved ones; and the challenges of adjusting to the promised land.

Today’s Latina Woman

Today, I find myself learning about the personal stories of the daughters of immigrants.  It’s a story I know well, as I, too, am a second-generation Latina.  As a therapist, I have also had the priviledge to work with group of second and third generation Latinas who are educated, resourceful, ambitious and identity themselves as both Latinas and Americanas.

Their social-educational profile if often impressive.  Many of them have graduated from excellent universities, some of them have master’s degrees, and work as lawyers, professors and physicians.

But if you look and listen closely, there is more to their success story. While they may not face the same challenges their mother’s generation faced as new immigrants, today’s Latinas are faced with a new set of stressors.  It’s a paradox — having access to the social, educational and economic opportunities seems to complicate how they negotiate their bicultural existence.

Four Challenges:

1.  Work, Life and Family Balance: For Latinas, it is not just about “work and life balance” — the word “family” ought to be inserted there, to accent the importance we place of our family (both extended and nuclear families).  For career-bound and professional Latinas, balancing is more than balancing work and your personal life.  We have mami and papi to take care of. We have high standards on being a mother, a wife and a home-maker.  We enjoy cooking our meals, and having a clean home.  At the same time, we are passionate about our careers and we have professional goals and dreams we want to achieve. We also have friendships we want to nurture and keep close, and we want time for ourselves.

In simple terms, we want it all.  We’ve been given the opportunity to see beyond — we are able to appreciate all that we can become and accomplish.  But we also want to be home with our children and family, passing on the love and cultural traditions that has made us who we are today.

For today’s Latina, balancing it ALL can be quite challenging.

2.  Not Quite Economically Empowered: While bilingual, bicultural Latinas are being profiled as a growing, economically empowered population, this is all relative.  Compared to whom, are they economically empowered?  And, to what extent are they financially prosperous?  How does their income and earning potential compare to that of White women?

Undeniably, their careers afford them more financial resources than those enjoyed by her immigrant mother, but, in the context of her new life, her dollars only stretch so far.  The reasons?  There is still a lack of Latina women in leadership roles, executive corporate positions and high tier professional jobs.  Having access to and successfully navigating these fields can be difficult, given the lack of role models and mentors available to Latina women.  Often, too many talented Latinas get stuck in mid-level positions or professions that limit their earning potentials.

Frustration can easily ensue when they are faced with the realization that they cannot always pursue life goals that are important to them, such as completing an advanced degree; staying home to raise their children; home ownership; and self-employment.

3. Finding A Mate Who Is “Latino, Educated, Open-Minded and Supportive:” A 30-something professional Latina client in my private practice once told me that she was tired of looking for a “Latino, educated, open-minded and supportive” man.  She had dated several men, including Latino and non-Latino men, and felt confused about her options.  She wanted to find someone who shared her cultural heritage and values, and who could also understand well and support her career as a physician.  She loved dancing salsa and visiting the country her parents were born in, so she longed to find someone who could enjoy those same interests.  This was something she couldn’t readily find among the non-Latino men she dated, although she felt connected to these men at a different level.

My client’s dilemma is not uncommon among educated Latina women who embrace both their Latino cultural heritage and their American lifestyle.  When it comes to finding their ideal mate, they often feel they need to give up certain qualities (in a man) in exchange for other ones.

4.  Passing On Cultural Heritage and Language to Children. Today’s Latinas, whether they are bilingual or dominant-English speaking, most want to retain or reconnect to their cultural heritage.  More importantly, they want to pass their culture and language on to their growing children.

Teaching children to speak Spanish, while fostering cultural pride, is not as easy as it may sound at first.  This requires a conscious effort on the part of the parent, especially when both parents are highly acculturated.  This becomes even more challenging when parents live in communities that lack cultural and ethnic diversity, or when extended families do not live close by.

The need to keep la cultura alive is a real one.  It symbolizes the immortality of our cultural lineage.  And as we become cultural gate-keepers, we are pressured by both pride and guilt to pass on to our children a piece of our abuelas, our mothers and ourselves.

What does this mean?

These are over-arching themes that require more extensive dialogue. There are many other challenges we face, including pure exhaustion from our multiple life roles, lack of self-care, and loss of traditional supportive networks.  As we continue to discuss these issues, it is important to examine how these challenges impact the wellbeing of today’s Latina woman, and her overall quality of life.

What other challenges would you add to this list?

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Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Angélica Pérez-Litwin

Dr. Perez-Litwin is the Founder & CEO of ELLA Leadership Institute, a multi-platform professional development organization designed to advance the careers and leadership of women. She's the creative force behind the LATINAS THINK BIG™ national tour, sponsored and live-streamed by Google.

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  1. As a Dominican, first-generation immigrant, I can identify with both aspects of this artcile: a witness to my parents’ struggles, and a 30-something Latina in the American society. I am a life coach, focusing on helping today’s generation find peace in a world of chaos…and it has certainly been a journey for me to get there! Thanks for the article – I feel a community growing around me!


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