Globe, Migrants, Multiculture, United Kingdom

Challenges of raising Latin American children in the Diaspora

In the troubled wake of the United Kingdom riots a couple of decades ago people were shocked, angry and wanted to hold someone responsible. Due to the surprise at how young many of the rioters, much of the blame predictably landed on the parents for an “inability to control their children”.


Patrice Gerrard


“It’s about respect,” one person said. “Parents would never let their kids get away with this in Mexico.” For this to be true, there must be some extreme, fundamental contrasts of parenting methods in British and Latin American families.

When you take a first glance at the two cultures there does indeed appear to be a difference with regards to relationships between young and old.

Most noticeable is the seemingly universal and unconditional idea throughout the Latin America that respect is earned with age.

The continued courtesy of using “usted” when addressing older people is one small example. In the UK many believe that, though the ‘respect-for-your-elders’ attitude was around 50 years ago, its presence is no longer commonplace. This argument is somewhat justified when you see a child mocking a pensioner on the bus or overhear a phone conversation of them swearing at their parents. Nonetheless, uncontrollable children do exist in Latin America too. For instance, the on-going narco-violence in Mexico has led to many of the cartels recruiting really young kids, with parents unable to do anything about it. Films like “Sin Nombre” and “Ciudad de Dios” show how gang mentality; also blamed for the riots, can completely fracture parent-child relationships.

It is estimated that up to 200,000 Latin Americans now live in London with around twelve per cent of them under the age of sixteen. The first generation Latin Americans still largely outnumber the ones born here and so their parenting methods are unlikely to have changed. Gastón’s family moved to London from Argentina when he was two:

“As a child I would get smacked a lot when I did something naughty or spoke rudely. I once went to the house of an English friend and I couldn’t believe it. He said a bad word and instead of hitting him his mother just told him to sit on the stairs for a few minutes. I thought he had it so easy!”

Talking back to parents is something children do in most cultures. Yet it is given an interesting twist when living in a country with an unfamiliar language:

“When I first came here my English was very poor, but children pick up languages so quickly,” explains Antonia from Colombia. “My daughter would say things to me in English that she would never get away with in Spanish because I couldn’t understand.” Around the world, the British are still subject to the long-running stereotype that they are cold and reserved when it comes to personal relationships. Latin Americans, on the other hand, are thought to be much more expressive with their emotions.

There is lots of hugging, kissing, and being a mummy’s boy seems more like a fact of life rather than an insult.

There is also a reluctance to leave parents. It is not unusual to find Latin Americans living in their family homes until they are married.

In Britain many young people seem to fly the nest at the first opportunity. As soon as they hit eighteen and university beckons, they pack up their bags and are soon living on their own for the first time.

The role of religion also has a major influence on family. It is estimated that over 80 per cent of Latin Americans consider themselves Catholic. Religion in the UK, however, is on the decline. Many people believe that having a faith and being brought up in a religious household gives children important moral values not found elsewhere.

While it is true that Catholicism emphasises on the importance of family (big family reunions always happen in Latin America around Semana Santa, El Día de los Reyes and so on), this togetherness can still be found outside religion. The millions of Britons who don’t call themselves Christians, still refer to Christmas is a “time for family”.

There still remains a large gap between the number of first and second generation Latin Americans living in the UK. Nonetheless, this gap will only shrink and there will soon be many more British born Latin Americans. This will surely lead to the mixing and dilution of the parenting culture in their veins with that of their surroundings.

(Photos: Pixabay)

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