CLUES, which stands for Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio, describes itself as a “linguistically and culturally relevant resource and service nonprofit organization by Latinos for Latinos.” The organization provides programs and services to a range of Latino individuals and families, including new immigrants and those with low incomes. Now, CLUES staff members have published a book that details the fundamental resources the organization offers, tries to help readers struggling with financial, identity, and other issues, and shines a light on many of the problems Latino immigrants face when they enter the U.S.
As someone outside of the Latino community, I found that reading My Family, My Self: The Latino Guide to Emotional Well-Being increased, hugely, my understanding of Latino culture — and in doing so revealed just how little the U.S. does to help immigrants.
Immigrants are, after all, the very foundation of our country, and when schools fail to teach us about the many cultures that define America, and fail to discuss how our differences are as important as our similarities, we lose sight of what makes the U.S. a special place. And when we don’t talk about poverty, abuse, crime, and injustice — both the kinds that immigrants initially flee, and the kinds that they unfortunately may find when they arrive here — we lose touch with humanity.
The book focuses on issues including personal and family identities in a different culture, emotions, substance abuse, discrimination, financial stability, and spiritual support. The CLUES authors tell stories that illustrate recurring issues Latino immigrants face, drawn from their own encounters while providing services. Chapter summaries are in both English and Spanish, and include questions for readers to reflect on. Important themes include the differences between family-based Latino culture and individualistic U.S. culture, as well as the ways that more rigid gender roles in Latino culture can clash with the somewhat more fluid ones immigrants find when they arrive in the States.
As is the case with many other immigrant communities, parents who come to the U.S. often rely on their kids to understand the new language and its nuances, and this can create tension within the family. In the case of Latino immigrants, CLUES staff members write, first-generation children start to develop different value systems — and their parents begin to feel powerless and insignificant because of their dependence on their kids to understand American culture.
These make up only a small portion of the challenges Latino immigrants face, and emotional and physical symptoms like stress introduce a whole new set of burdens that make assimilation even more overwhelming. As the authors note, the language barrier often leaves parents and older immigrants at a loss to express the confusion, fear, and disappointment they feel — and it can also prevent them from accessing health care.
In such circumstances, people of all backgrounds sometimes become dependent on alcohol and drugs to numb themselves to difficult times. And although getting help is hard for all kinds of people who develop substance-abuse issues, the authors highlight that it is especially difficult for Latino immigrants. As CLUES staff members have seen, Latino immigrants must overcome an ingrained cultural pride, as well as financial and language barriers, to get the support they need.
The book talks, too, about unfair unemployment practices, discrimination, and housing and legal issues that Latinos face. In addition to the discrimination that already exists, the authors write, there is an added issue when immigrants are hesitant to request information out of a fear of authorities. Organizations like CLUES hope to dispel misinformation and offer assistance.
Finally, the book encourages readers to draw strength from spirituality and religion. The authors write that faith can bind families together, help community members face disappointments and challenges, and strengthen their resolve to find reasonable routes to the hopes, dreams, and safety that originally brought them to the United States.
Although I have no direct connection to the Latino community, I believe that organizations like CLUES can help reduce challenges for those who have recently entered the States. And although My Family, My Self is intended for a Latino immigrant audience, it might not be a bad idea for members of other, more privileged communities to read it and begin to understand just how difficult immigration can be.
My Family, My Self: The Latino Guide to Emotional Well-Being
Hazelden, June 2014
Paperback, 240 pages