Familia, Preguntas

Question of the week: Immigrant parents and sympathy

My mom’s an excellent story teller. She may embellish a bit (sound familiar?), but she has a way of drawing you in, making you laugh and making you beg for more tales of her “little life.”

I thought of one of those stories last week while having $1 beers with Sean. We shared stories of immigrant parents and their peculiar way of dealing with childhood injuries. It just didn’t match up with what the sitcoms depicted.


Ureño Saldivar family, 1968 Luz (my mom, far left in the photo) was 11 or 12 at the time*. The family was living in Lincoln Heights at the time. For the most part, Luz was a good kid, but she was mischievous. She also liked apricots. One afternoon, Luz was walking around the neighborhood with a friend when she noticed ripe apricots hanging from a neighbor’s tree. She asked her friend to keep an eye out for cops while she climbed up the chain link fence to be able to reach the tree. As she was about to grab an apricot, Luz’s friend called out, “hurry up, someone’s coming!” Luz lost her footing and slipped. As she slipped the point part of the fence scratched against her thigh leaving a large, bloody gash. Obviously, she was hurt.

Luz went home and found her older sister, Socorro (quite the fitting name, since it means “help”; standing, second to the left in the photo). She desperately needed Socorro’s help to clean and bandage the cut, and hide it from Mamá Toni. If Mamá Toni found out, she’d be angry that Luz had (a) gone out with a friend when she was supposed to be at home doing chores and (b) tried to steal fruit from a neighbor’s tree. The painful gash on her leg was the least of her worries.

Luckily, Socorro was studying to be a nurse and came through. She cleaned up Luz’s cut and bandaged her up.

Mamá Toni never found out.


Sean and I agreed that in a sitcom, the white middle class kids would never be scared to go to a parent after an injury. Sure, Bobby Brady would learn a lesson, but he didn’t have to fear nalgadas (a spanking). Sean and I wondered if our experiences were similar because we were the children of immigrants.

That got us to this week’s question.

La Pregunta: Are immigrant parent’s less sympathetic (or harsher) than US born parents?

*I’ve heard the story a dozen times, but I’m sure I have some of the core details wrong. Sorry, mom! I know for sure apricots and a fence were involved.


13 thoughts on “Question of the week: Immigrant parents and sympathy

  1. I have a similar story as your mom’s with maybe a very similar scar to go along with it. When I got hurt, I didn’t tell my mother because I too was not supposed to be out. At the very best, I would have gotten a “That’s what you get for not following the rules”. At worst, well, the 4-5 inch gash wouldn’t have been the only thing hurting so I never told. Whenever I tell this story to friends it never fails. Those with parents born in the US gasp and can’t understand how such a thing is possible. Those with (hispanic) immigrant parents just nod and totally get it.

  2. AJ says:

    Interesting question. My mom (immigrant) and my dad (US born) both have countless stories like your mom’s. I’m thinking it’s maybe not an immigrant vs. US born thing so much as a culturally specific thing.

  3. My family on my dads side – him, my uncles and aunts, all of em – is hardcore…they spank us for any misbehaving. My dad probably spanked me every weekend (I was a notoriously bad child). Luckily for me though, my parents divorced when I was five and from about the age of 12 to 20, I rarely saw my dad, if at all…and my mom let me do anything I wanted, and I mean anything. I don’t know what side of my family, my strict fathers side or my free reigning mothers side is more typical. Ive seen many immigrant families in both camps.

  4. Veronica says:

    I dont know what to think about this one.. I was the oldest and never had anyone to cover for me when I was bad… hmmm but I kinda agree with AJ on this.

  5. Momo says:

    All that my immigrant mother had to do was give me the evil eye and I knew I was gonna get it when I got home. Or worse yet, if we got home and she didn’t hit me, I knew the shame that I had caused her was much too damaging and incurable. I don’t know much about US born parents, but I don’t think they use that shame factor in their punishments as our parents did.

  6. chidolitis says:

    I don’t think that they aren’t sympathetic. They just understand that we can be stupid and know that as much as we are “individuals” we need some guidance…in the form of a flying chancla.

  7. The obvious answer is ‘depends on the parent’.

    Mom would probably tear me a new hole next to the original.
    Dad would fret and take care of it instantly and quietly.

    both are quite undocumented.

  8. both my parents are immigrant and this is how it went with my family: i can count the three times my dad hit me and it was not at all hard but the unfamiliar act of aggression from him towards me did get my attention, and i was afraid to get to know it better so i shaped up real quick…and in all honesty, i completely deserved what i got. i know my dad’s father was a pretty harsh disciplinarian so it was something my dad did hesitantly. my mom said her father never hit her but i have to tell you that she had a temper (that must have been pms related) and had the flying chancla thing down to a science along with all her sisters because recalling certain events i do think she over reacted often. i’ve heard my mother lament on how hard she was with her first born as opposed to me and i can’t imagine how that might have been since i wasn’t around yet. and if i ever have kids i think i would like to handle things the way my father did it.

  9. chispa says:

    i also agree it is a cultural thing. my older sister was smart about this – when my parents moved into our home, our neighbors were predominantly white. so when my sister was in trouble and about to get a spanking she would run outside. she knew my mom wouldnt hit her with the chancla outside b/c the white neighbors might see. ja ja ja ja ja ja!

  10. Sarita says:

    I agree it’s cultural and maybe not exclusive to Latinos. When I was 8 or 9 I thought I got AIDS from drinking from a Gatorade bottle whose lid hadn’t popped when I opened it (I know, I know, but this was before I knew how people got AIDS). I couldn’t tell my parents because a) I wasn’t allowed to drink Gatorade and b) I got the contraband when I snuck with some friends to the corner store. I remember one night crying and wishing I could tell my mom. But I decided I would rather die from AIDS than from her killing me when I told her what I had done.

  11. I think it’s totally a immigrant parent’s thing, and probably a cultural thing, but I also think its at least partially a gender thing. That’s what HP’s comment got me thinking anyhow. I think most mothers are more free reigning towards their sons, and the daughters are nearly always on lockdown. But, it also depends on the parent. My friend’s dad totally had her on lockdown, whereas my dad was the nice one and my mom was the jailkeeper. However, in nearly every instance in my family and friends, the sons are basically allowed to do whatever they want.

  12. Isela says:

    I was raised by my grandparents, whom I hear were very strict and all about giving nalgadas! According to my uncles I was raised like a princess compared to the way they were raised. Even my mom says she wished she had it as easy as I did when she was younger. My grandparents are something like like 10th generation but boy are they old school. So I think for my grandparents they started out with extremely harsh parenting techniques and then eased up on their ways once I came around. Who know’s maybe it’s because they were getting old.

  13. Pea,
    Heh. I think it’s these kinds of things that really make the differences stand out.

    I didn’t think the answer was this cut and dry either, but I posed it that way for discussion. Maybe people of color just raise their kids differently.

    Your experiences are not valid ’cause your’re a republican… I kid. I don’t know any Mexican or immigrant parents who fit in to your mom’s style. They were all pretty strict.

    I was one of the older kids. My brother and I got more of the spankings than the younger ones.

    Oh… the shame factor. You bring up an excellent point. I know a lot of what my parents would say when angry would be like, “what are people gonna think?”

    Guidance in the form of a flying chancla… you should totally copyright that.

    Of course it does. As my dad got older, her went from spankings to lectures. I think we disliked the lectures more.

    I get you on “we deserved it” thing. I didn’t get hit much either. But the threat was there and it did make us shape up.

    Your sister is smart, no wonder she became a doctor. My brother never ran outside even though both of our neighbors were white. I guess he’s not that smart. Heh. Oh and my mom NEVER hit us with a chancla or threw it.

    Wow! That’s a great story.

    Chicana Skies,
    I’m sure the immigrant and cultural things go hand in hand, right? My parents were pretty even handed between the boys and me and my sister. I’m probably the one with the most freedom — even if we are all adults — but it’s only because I don’t live there.

    I think age is definitely a factor too. Plus, at some point kids are too big to spank. By the time you came around, your grandparents probably hadn’t spanked anyone in a while.

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