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A Latina woman’s frame of reference? It’s the family, says new study

Hispanic women tend to feel more fulfilled in their lives than non-Hispanic women, according to a new small-scale market study, “Can a Latina Have it All?”

It’s not that Latinas don’t want some of the same things as “general market women,” but that they have a different frame of reference, says Angela A. Rodriguez, director of Strategic Insights at Alma, a Hispanic advertising agency, and author of the study.  “A ‘home,’ for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean a large house with a white picket fence, but simply a place of gathering for their families.

“They define their happiness,” says Rodriguez. “They’re saying that they want peace of mind, education, and a home.”

According to Rodriguez, Latinas are more grateful and perceive success in a profoundly more positive way. “Even if they’re second or third generation, they’re still very close to their roots and it’s hard to separate them from kind of the hardship of being an immigrant and the struggles they may have faced or have seen their families face,” she says.

The study found that 91 percent of the participants agreed with the statement: “I have more choices for what to make of my life than my mother had,” and 78 percent of young Hispanic women believed that that balancing work and family was a luxury they were grateful for.

“So when you ask them about having it all, that picture is so recent in their minds. They’re grateful that they have the choice, that they have the luxury of trying to figure out a balance between work and family,” Rodriguez says. “It’s not the struggle to find balance because their life is so much easier than what they maybe grew up with.”

Rodriguez also points out that some of these women grew up in tough situations, so making the difficult decision to stay at home and lose income is something that may come more naturally to them. Many may already have the skills to rebalance their budgets.

The authors of the study used a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods to gather their information. Three hundred and seventy one Hispanic women from an online research community were surveyed online and 20 were ultimately handpicked for in-depth interviews to further explore their views. They ranged in income and educational attainment, but all felt and self-identified as middle class.

The participants belonged to two different groups– “Preservers” and “Fusionistas.” The Preserver Women are defined as Spanish-oriented with high Hispanic cultural affinity. They retain most of their Hispanic culture and family values, and are mostly foreign born.

The Fusionista Women are those who are English-oriented with a dual cultural affinity. While they have ties with both cultures, their Hispanic affinity is as intense as Preservers’, and although they tend to be English dominant, Spanish is an essential cultural connection.

Rodriguez says that the discourse about “leaning in” and “having it all” has excluded Hispanic women and other women of color, which is one of the reasons she set off to do this research.

“There were women who were saying, ‘You know what? It’s different for women who aren’t in a privileged situation. It’s different for women who can’t have a nanny,’ ” she says.

Rodriguez says that for “general market” women, there’s a certain amount of identity that is rooted in their job, no matter what it is. She believes this is is an individualistic and very American idea. “When we talked to Hispanic women, it just wasn’t there,” she says. “They just didn’t need the kind of identity that work gives them in that same way.”

Two-thirds of the respondents, whether currently employed or not, reported being “happy with the work opportunities that are in front of them.”

The most surprising part of her research, Rodriguez says, was when she interviewed college-educated women. She tells the story of a 27-year-old nurse who decided to stop working to take care of her children. The  young woman was optimistic about her choice and never felt like she had lost a part of herself. Rodriguez also spoke to an engineer with a Masters degree who decided to stay home with her children and was not at all conflicted about her choice. Not surprisingly, the study found that family was the center of most of these women’s lives.

Rodriguez believes that whether a young Latina stays home full time, part time or not at all, her choice is not about what she gives up, but what she gains in that process.

Erika Sanchez NBC Latino avatar

Erika L. Sánchez is a poet and writer living in Chicago. She is a recipient of a Fulbright Scholarship and the 2013 “Discovery”/Boston Review poetry prize. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, or www.erikalsanchez.com

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