Karelys Beltran, 25, moved out when she was 18.
“I was feeling suffocated. It was a tiny house with two parents, two twin brothers, and myself, she says. “I was trying really hard to walk the line of respecting them the Mexican way and growing in this new culture.”
While leaving the nest was not an easy decision for Beltran, she is part of a growing trend of Latinas claiming their independence. While Latino men are moving back home more than ever before, Latinas are more likely to live on their own.
According to a study by the Population Reference Bureau (PRB) in 2007, before the recession, 12 percent of Latino men returned home. The figure has now grown to 21 percent. For Latinas the figure only increased from 9 to 11 percent.
“If you look at this over time from 2007 to present, there is a really big increase of Latino men living at home with their parents,” says PRB demographer Mark Mather.
One of the most significant factors attributed to this trend is education. While more Latinas are pursuing a higher education, and consequently earning higher incomes, many of their male peers are falling behind.
Fiction writer Matt Mendez, 35, used to volunteer for a community college scholarship program called Adelante, which was geared toward Latino men to try to close the achievement gap.
“Chicanas have been better at adapting to a consumer economy and taking advantage of education. We seem to have a resistance to education, caused in part by fear of the classroom and a feeling that it is not for us.” He believes this kind of early conditioning can lead to both financial and emotional dependence on their families as adults.
For many second generation daughters, however, straddling two disparate cultures can cause severe tension between them and their families.
Cynthia Martinez, 29, also moved out when she was 18. She points out the double standard that’s common in many Latino cultures: “I know in my family, the women are held to stricter social standards then the men. For example, my sisters and I, when at home, have to be in at a certain time, even as full fledged adults. My male cousins, on the other hand, are encouraged to have social lives… and to date.” Women’s behavior is more often patrolled and scrutinized, which can lead to resentment. This can be an impetus for women to leave home and never move back.
Some Latinas are also tired of the household burdens relegated to only daughters. Brenda Muñoz, 19, moved out when she was 18 to become more independent. She believes that Latino sons “have it easy” while daughters are expected to complete many chores. In addition to all of her school work, she was expected to cook for the whole family, while her brother had no responsibilities at home.
Beltran believes Latino men have it easy, and mothers make it easy for them to stay. “Maybe Latina women are getting tired of being held up by all these rules but expected to act like contributing adults,” she says. “In the meantime, what I see, is that men are babied even into adulthood.” A family’s attempt to control and protect their daughter may actually push her out the door.
For many second generation Latinas, the skills they learn from theirs mother are very useful when beginning to live on their own. Trina Hernández, 29, says, “I think growing up learning to take care of the home, help your mom with daily chores and with your siblings really helps a girl grow up.”
As the women in our communities become more educated, and consequently more exposed to different ideas and lifestyles, they will be less likely to accept repressive cultural norms. Hernández believes times are changing for Latinas. “Those days are gone and it’s time we learn that it probably worked back in the day, but in a world where everyone is capable of taking care of themselves and others, why not do it?”
Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and freelance writer living in Chicago. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Illinois at Chicago, was a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship to Madrid, Spain, and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Mexico. She is currently a book reviewer for Kirkus Reviews and a contributor for The Huffington Post, AlterNet, and Mamiverse. Her poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in Pleiades, Witness, Anti-, Hunger Mountain, Crab Orchard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Copper Nickel, and others. Her nonfiction has appeared in Jezebel, Ms. Magazine, and American Public Media. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or erikalsanchez.com.