It's that Familismo: Cultural Tensions & Career Development in Academia

Image of iceberg with the words

'Cultural iceberg' image from "Activity 1: Exploring your Cultural Iceberg," by Together for Humanity Foundation Ltd, n.d. Creative Commons License (CC BY-NC 3.0). 

fa · mi · lis · mo

A Latino cultural value, refers to the importance of strong family loyalty, closeness, and getting along with and contributing to the wellbeing of the nuclear family, extended family and kinship networks. 
(Ayón, C., F. Marsiglia & M. Bermudez-Parsai, 2010)

About a month ago, I received a message from a fellow Latina librarian living and working in the Midwest. "I wanted to ask" she said, "How do you feel about the shift from public to academic, are you glad you made it?" As we talked the conversation turned to work-life balance and eventually, to familismo. Having the ability to speak with someone who could say, "Yes, it's that familismo, I totally get it" was a breath of fresh air.  But at the same time, it left me thinking as to why for most people I meet in academia, I have always defaulted to explaining my familismo in a roundabout way. 

Family is very important to me. I say that quite often. It's the only way I can get most people to understand my hesitancy to spend too much time away from my family; to move too far away from them. But it's so much more than that. Familismo is at its root a collectivist culture value, one that may seem out of place in immigrant Latinx families, where a strong focus is placed on the need for the individual to succeed. But familismo takes that individual success a step farther - if an individual succeeds, the entire family will benefit from their success, not just the individual themselves. And in much of the literature I examined for this post, this line of thought is seen as problematic for various reasons. 

Quick Survey of the Literature 

First, some important notes: Not every Latinx individual will subscribe to familismo. Further, it can be expressed in various different ways among family units. Not expresssing familismo as a cultural value does not equate to not having strong family ties.

In Construction and Initial Valdiation of the Marianismo Beliefs Scale (2010), the authors note traditional gender roles can be ascribed to familismo. Specifically, the article references several studies that note that familismo for men results in their becoming a financial provider, while women are expected to provide physical and emotional support. Familismo is therefore tied often to enabling machismo (strong, aggressive masculine pride) and marianismo ("feminine" virtues of purity and moral support/strength). 

Similarily, Sarah Ovink (2014) notes in her article, They Always Call me an Investment: Gendered Familism and Latino/a College Pathways, that familism influences the value that Latinx individuals place on the college experience. Specifically, Ovink (2014) mentions that while both Latinas and Latinos feel pressured to succeed and link success to a college degree, for women, a college education is seen as essential to achieve independance (p. 269). These gendered familism values further intersect with the loss of traditonal family support structures due to recent immigration or incorporation into other cultural values. Ovink (2014) does conclude however, that her research suggests familismo "may encourage greater long-term educational attainment" for Latinas (p. 283). 

In terms of mental health, there are studies that link familismo to positive outcomes. Ashley Bennink (2013) does a good job of summarizing the findings of these studies: "For example, the one by Ayón et al. (2010) found that this cultural value may protect against symptoms of depression and that, similar to the findings of Harker (2001), familismo may '[…] protect and strengthen the psychological well-being […]' of the person in general."

Within academia however, Latinx professionals, in particular women, may encounter pushback from peers and mentors. Often Latinx professionals are not willing to move and place an emphasis on consulting with family before making major decisions. In Abriendo Puertas, Cerrando Heridas (Opening doors, closing wounds): Latinas/os Finding Work-Life Balance in Academia, the testimony of a Latina academic simply referred to as "Erica", notes that a hesitancy to move is often interpreted as being grounded in fear (Hernandez, Murakami, & Rodriguez, 2015). "Mentors have urged me to not be afraid to leave the nest. Other Latina faculty at other institutions have received similar advice and criticism for decisions based on 'being too afraid to be on their own' (Hernandez et al., 2015, p. 119)."

Familismo and Librarianship 

When I was still a library school student (just last year!) I too was often told by mentors that I needed to "step out of my comfort zone." What that meant in their context, was to look for jobs beyond the positions that were close to home. It wasn't bad advice, but it also wasn't great advice. What it did was make me feel as if my familismo was holding me back rather than ensuring I have a support system that keeps my mental health in check. To their credit however, and as shown in the literature, familismo can be gendered, and many do believe it to be a burden rather than a welcome responsibility. 

Understanding the role of familismo in Latinx culture helps improve cultural competency skills and in turn, can assist in guiding interactions with colleagues and the students we serve. Navigating this tension between collectivist and indivualist cultural values is one that we, as individuals working in libraries, face on a daily basis. Extending this line of thinking to better understand how academia can and cannot faciltate this tension on a personal level is a practice I think we all can commit to. 

References

Abennink. (2013, October 16). Teaching culture: Familismo [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://ayudadoctor.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/teaching-culture-familismo/

Ayón, C., F. Marsiglia & M. Bermudez-Parsai (2010). Latino Family Mental Health: Exploring the Role of Discrimination and Familismo. Journal of Community Psychology 38(6): 742-756

Castillo, L.G., Perez, F. V., Castillo, R., & Ghosheh, M.R. (2010). Construction and initial validation of the Marianismo Beliefs Scale, Counselling Psychology Quarterly, 23:2, 163-175. DOI: 10.1080/09515071003776036

Harker, K (2001). Immigrant generation, assimilation, and adolescent psychology well-being. Social Forces 79: 969-989.

Hernandez, F., Murakami-Ramalho, E., & Rodriguez, G.M. (Eds.). (2015). Abriendo puertas, cerrando heridas (Opening doors, closing wounds): Latinas/os finding work-life balance in academia. United State of America: Information Age Publishing. 

Martinez, M.A. (2013). Re(considering) the role Familismo plays in Latino/a high school students' college choices. The High School Journal, 97(1), 21-40. https://doi.org/10.1353/hsj.2013.0019

Mendez-Luck, C. A., Applewhite, S. R., Lara, V. E., & Toyokawa, N. (2016). The Concept of Familism in the Lived Experiences of Mexican-Origin Caregivers. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 78(3), 813–829. http://doi.org/10.1111/jomf.12300

Ovink, S. (2014). They always call me an investment: gendered familism and Latino/a college pathways. GENDER & SOCIETY, 28(2), 265-288. DOI: 10.1177/0891243213508308