One’s family is the most important aspect of life for most Mexicans. It is believed that “what God has united cannot be separated by man”. In respect of this, family relationships are typically very close. One’s family tends to have a major influence on the individual, providing a sense of identity, community and support.
There is a general expectation placed upon Mexicans to be loyal and committed to their family by putting the interests of the family above their own. Close-knit family relations provide Mexicans with a network of security and support, particularly in times of need. This is especially relevant to the lower classes as the extended family can be crucial to helping an individual cope with hardships during difficult times. People from this social bracket tend to be more open about their family’s personal problems so that others can aid them in their time of difficulty. Neighbours often play a large role in this way.
Mexicans don’t have a great amount of privacy from their family as parental authority generally continues throughout a Mexican’s life, even after they have become a fully independent adult. The family also forms the basis for many people’s social circles. Mexicans are generally very close with the extended relatives from all different generations. They tend to mix and socialise a lot. For example, it is not uncommon for someone to invite all their cousins to functions, or for grandparents to attend teenagers’ birthdays.
The average Mexican household structure varies between social classes. Most households consist of the alone, but multi-generational living is still common in both rural and urban areas. In cities, this usually occurs among lower classes due to economic necessity.
Traditionally, couples sought to have as many children as possible in accordance with Catholic standards. The Christian proverb says, “you must have as many children as God sends you”. However, this has changed in contemporary times, especially in urban areas and among the middle and upper class, as contraception has become more socially acceptable and popular. Today, the standard size is between three and five people. As a result of this generational difference, many Mexicans have over a dozen cousins (due to their parents’ generation having many siblings) while their own children only have a few.
Children are not always expected to move out of home when they come of age. The high costs of independent living and tertiary education means that only children from more privileged classes tend to leave their parents’ home to study. Most children stay in their parents’ households until they get married or a job opportunity requires them to move/leave. For families in the lower class and rural areas, a child’s departure for study or a job is seen more as a sacrifice on their behalf than a rite of passage.
Broadly speaking, Mexico is a very culture and men have more authority than women. Gender roles and dynamics vary by region, socioeconomic class and also between rural and urban areas. However, approximately 70% of all Mexican households have a male head of house (jefe de familia) who is the primary income earner and decision maker for the family.1 Generally, this is the oldest male (often the father). In some traditional households, mothers will also answer to their adult sons. For example, it is still common for adult males to go back to their mother’s house at mealtime so she can feed him lunch or dinner.
There are a few female-headed households in Mexico. However, over 75% of women who are in the position of household authority are either widowed, separated or single for some other reason.2 Therefore, many women gain a position of household authority through necessity or surrounding family breakdown, or because they do not have a partner.
The set of attributes generally perceived as ideal for males and females in are known as ‘machismo’ and ‘marianismo’ respectively. While is generally not as strong in Mexico as it can be in other countries, men are expected to be masculine, self-reliant and dominant under these cultural standards. Meanwhile, the ideal for women is heavily influenced by the iconography of Roman Catholicism. The Virgin Mary (or the Mexican Virgin of Guadalupe) symbolises the epitome of femininity that Mexican women are expected to follow and embody. In this way, women are often expected to be self-denying so they can dedicate themselves to the family. It is generally their duty to be the homemaker (cooking and cleaning up after their male family members) regardless of whether they are also employed. A ‘good’ wife, mother, sister or girlfriend should feel a sense of pride and fulfilment in in doing so.
The traditional attitudes surrounding these ideals are shifting. Most women still fulfil the domestic role; however, female submissiveness is far less of a popular quality than it once was. For example, many among the younger generation would find it extremely insulting if a man actually asked them to do the housework and impressed the tasks upon them. There is also an increasing trend of husbands and wives sharing domestic chores in the middle and upper classes of cities.
There is often a double standard between Mexican parents’ perceptions of their sons and daughters. One may hear Mexican mothers praise their son’s perfection despite evidence of bad behaviour. Mexicans are still very proud and protective of their wives, mothers and sisters; however, females are generally blamed for mistakes more often than men. All this being said, Mexican gender ideals vary depending on multiple factors, such as socioeconomic backgrounds, urbanisation, regions, age and religiousness. Therefore, these attitudes can differ significantly between (and even within) Mexican families.
Dating and Marriage
Mexicans often meet their partners through their academic studies, community social events, cafes and bars. Generally, parents’ approval of a partner is very important to Mexicans. Therefore, couples usually meet at pre-arranged places until they are prepared for family visits. This may vary in some areas where it is unsafe or disapproved of to travel alone at night. In these cases, the man will meet the woman at her home to escort her to their date.
Public displays of affection between couples are normal and acceptable. However, this is usually avoided in front of family members whilst still dating. Chivalry is important throughout the dating process, especially in more conservative and religious circles. On dates, men are expected to behave like gentlemen whilst women usually act aloof. It is thought that the man needs to charm and convince the woman into liking him by making romantic gestures, such as buying her flowers, paying for her expenses and buying gifts. Some men may make grand gestures, such as hiring a mariachi band to serenade. Others may be more casual throughout the process. However, it is still common for men to make ‘piropos’ (flattering personal comments or pick-up lines) at any given opportunity.
More Mexican couples are choosing to live together unmarried; however, marriage remains very important. People usually marry around their mid-twenties or later. However, this age is often younger in rural areas. Men usually ask for parental permission to marry their daughter before engagement. Marriage ceremonies and services usually follow the Roman Catholic tradition. However, some couples may choose to have a civil ceremony.
It is generally easier for older men to find partners than older women, as their reasons for being single are not socially scrutinised as much. If a woman is not in a serious relationship or married by 30, there is a general public perception that something is wrong with her for men not to want her. The social stigma around this can be very strong, perhaps influencing some women to accept a mediocre partner in order to avoid being single at an older age. However, some urban women (generally from the middle and upper classes) are choosing not to be perturbed by this pressure and are concentrating on their careers. This gender double-standard is also lessening with the younger generation.
Same-sex marriage is legal in the capital of Mexico City and the court system is seeking to effectively legalise the practice throughout the country. However, there continues to be much social stigma surrounding homosexuality. Comparatively, Mexico has quite a low divorce rate. This is partly because the Catholic Church generally discourages it.
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