Written by Andrea Matias-Lemoine, Service Coordinator, Mecklenburg County CDSA
What if you were to wake up tomorrow morning in a country where you do not know the language, culture, laws, and system… ? What if, in addition to that, you have a child with special needs and desperately need assistance? Where do you go? Who do you speak with?
Many of the families we work with come from other countries, and each of them has a story that marks their past, present, and future. As early interventionists, we must pay attention to the needs, priorities, similarities, and differences of the families we work with.
Immigrants are confronted with various psychological conflicts when they realize that they must learn a new language, understand a different culture, create a new support system, and, in some cases, even make modifications or adjustments to their identity. Some of them may experience a condition called Ulysses Syndrome. This term was coined by Dr. Achotegui from the University of Barcelona and refers to a set of symptoms experienced by immigrants who struggle with their adaptation to a different culture. He identified a minimum of seven different migratory hardships and/or severe stressors that immigrants experience.
I was born in Argentina, and my answer when people would inquire where I was from used to be very simple… I am from Argentina or Argentinean. However, I soon discovered that I was also “Latina/Hispanic” and learned what this term meant to others. Hispanic or Latino is just a term used to identify a category in the Census form. “The designation has since been used in local and federal employment, mass media, academia, and business market research. It has been used in the U.S. Census since 1980. Because of the popularity of “Latino” in the western portion of the United States, the government adopted this term as well in 1997, and used it in the 2000 census.” (Wikipedia)
For me, it is more than that. It is a multifaceted term to identify a rich mix of values, norms, traditions, and dialects. In my opinion, the following are some points that characterize the Hispanic/Latino culture:
- Yes, we all speak Spanish, but with different variations. Spanish is a rich language and has many different dialects, even within one country.
- Family is very important in our lives. We value our families and extended families, too. We were raised to respect and care about family, especially where the elderly have a significant role in the dynamic of the family.
- We are very social and enjoy personal interactions. Being surrounded by people is an essential part of our identity, and we share a communication that transcends the spoken language. Non-verbal communication is an important component too. We are emotional and expressive. We use facial expressions, physical touch, hand and body movement, voice pitch, and sounds.
- The transmission of traditions in regards to beliefs, celebrations, practices, and stories are passed from one generation to another, particularly in oral form. You may go to a family’s home and observe the preparation of a piñata for a child birthday party, a special cake for a teenage girl for her Quinceañera (15th birthday party), or even the set up the nativity scene at Christmas time.
Wait, at this point you may be thinking, “So, what is the difference between me and the Hispanic/Latinos community?” In truth, many of these characteristics may sound familiar to you because you recognize them from your own family or from other families you work with from non-Latino backgrounds. The reality is that America is a mixture of different cultures, beliefs, values, traditions, and norms. What makes us different actually makes us similar, and, if we want to create a deeper understanding of diversity as providers, we need to start with a deeper understanding of ourselves. Every family is unique unto itself, regardless of the ethnic origin of its members. While many Latino/Hispanic families may possess the characteristics mentioned before, you will also find families that are different, perhaps being more reserved or celebrating different family traditions. Working with diverse families means, not only providing services in their language, but also taking the time to become familiar with the beliefs, traditions, and social interactions that create the unique culture of each family. Only with that perspective can we create a process of reflection where, as early interventionists, we can improve our capacity to be empathetic and assist parents during their path in the early intervention program to best support their children.
So the next time you work with a family that comes from another country think about this… it is not a language barrier… don’t you agree?