A Strong Latine Identity Supports U.S. Latine Children’s Well-Being

Key Takeaways for caregivers

  • Children tend to have better health and well-being when they have a strong ethnic identity (affinity and adoption of ethnicity-based self-concept).
  • A traditional Latine cultural value (familismo) that emphasizes family bonds is also associated with better developmental outcomes.
  • Caregivers can support the development of U.S. Latine children (and possibly other children of immigrant/cultural/racial/ethnic groups) by using ethnic socialization practices that foster ethnic identity and cultural values such as familismo.
  • Communities can further support these children and their caregivers by developing policies and interventions that support ethnic socialization practices and that build inclusive community infrastructures.


America Ferrera is a television and film star (Ugly Betty, Barbie) and a political activist. In her book, Ferrera describes her family and cultural identity experiences as a U.S.-born Latina whose parents of Honduran heritage immigrated to the United States:

Speaking Spanish at home, my mom’s Saturday-morning-salsa-dance party in the kitchen, and eating tamales alongside apple pie at Christmas do not in any way seem at odds with my American identity. In fact, having parents with deep ties to another country and culture feels part and parcel of being an American. (Ferrera, 2018, p. 15)

Living with multiple social identities

As this quote illustrates, many immigrant and ethnic minorities often experience a juxtaposition between powerful influences: the immediate influence of their own parents and other family members, and the broader influence of U.S. cultural norms and expectations. Indeed, we can immediately sense the multiple social identities that manifest at the intersectionality of her Honduran heritage and U.S. identity, brown-colored skin, and gender.

Ferrera’s story is the story of many other Latinas who live in the United States. Her story is one among countless others of adaptation to successfully integrate into the large, complex social structure of the United States. Some have described the United States as a historic social experiment unlike any other in human history because of the mix of Indigenous and immigrant groups from virtually every other country in the world.

In this article, we highlight one small narrative of culture-related stories and processes that reflects the experiences of many (but not all) Latine (we use the term Latine to include all people of Latin American heritage) people living in the United States. We start with what is known about the central role of ethnic socialization practices, with a focus on U.S. Latine families.

young Latine child sits on shoulders of father

Photo by Alena Darmel

Families can teach children about their cultural heritage

Among the few well-documented factors that enhance U.S. Latine children’s health and well-being is the notion of ethnic socialization practices, which families use to teach their ethnic-minority children about their cultural heritage. Examples of ethnic socialization include exposure to native ethnic heritage language books, music, film, and stories. It also refers to celebrating traditional Latine holidays, eating Latine foods, and teaching Spanish to their children.

Ferrera’s (2018) memories of eating traditional Latine foods, dancing and listening to Latine music, and speaking Spanish at home as a child strengthen her affinity to her ethnic heritage. For many U.S. Latine children, these ethnic heritage memories are juxtaposed with the learning and exposure to experiences (e.g., listening to English-language music and stories, watching films) in the United States that embody U.S. majority cultural values and norms.

Examples of ethnic socialization include exposure to native ethnic heritage language books, music, film, and stories. It also refers to celebrating traditional Latine holidays, eating Latine foods, and teaching Spanish to their children.

How do ethnic socialization practices enhance U.S. Latine children’s development? Part of the answer lies in evidence that these practices foster strong ethnic identity (i.e., affinity and adoption of ethnicity-based self-concept) and promote traditional Latine cultural values, such as familismo (familism; identification with, support from, and obligation to the family).

Supporting Ethnic Identity

Ethnic identity refers to an individual’s identity that is acquired from belonging to and being associated with a specific ethnic group. Ethnic identity is also related to ethnic pride, affinity, knowledge, and engagement in behaviors that connect individuals to their cultural heritage. Children who are frequently exposed to ethnic socialization practices are likely to exhibit a stronger ethnic identity, which is linked to positive developmental outcomes (e.g., academic achievement, moral development, positive mental health outcomes). Strong ethnic identity is also positively associated with higher levels of self-worth and self confidence in Latine adolescents, which motivates them to perform better academically and leads them to have better well-being.

Developing bicultural identities

Many Latine children living in the United States develop bicultural or multicultural identities (e.g., Mexican American, queer Latine, Puerto Rican/Dominican). Furthermore, although somewhat less studied, Latine heritage children who develop bicultural or multicultural identities also have positive developmental outcomes. In contrast, when Latine children report a weak Latine identity, they are prone to negative developmental outcomes (e.g., mental health problems, delinquency). Parents can protect their ethnic-minority children from culture-related adversity and stressors (e.g., discrimination, prejudice, external pressures) by fostering their ethnic identity and by giving their Latine children the resources and skills they need to face discrimination and the challenges of navigating a new cultural setting.

Supporting family bonds and familismo

Familismo represents one of the most important traditional cultural values taught and engrained early in childhood in many Latine families. This value is derived from a general collectivist and communal orientation (i.e., an emphasis on the importance of connection and cooperation within the broader community) that is prioritized in most Latin American societies.

Encouraging responsiveness to the family’s needs and fostering interdependence with the family can teach Latine children to care for others and be a reliable source of social support. These benefits are reflected in research, which demonstrates that high levels of familismo are associated with better health and well-being (e.g., more successful academic outcomes, better mental health). As is the case with ethnic socialization practices and ethnic identity, familismo protects Latine children from adversity and enhances positive adjustment.

Familismo has its limits

However, the protective and enhancing effects of familismo have limits. Extremely high levels of familismo might mitigate Latine children’s positive development, as occurs when Latine children are expected to take on adult-like responsibilities and to engage in behaviors that can undermine their personal development (e.g., translating for their parents, taking care of younger siblings).

Encouraging responsiveness to the family’s needs and fostering interdependence with the family can teach Latine children to care for others and be a reliable source of social support.


Given the current wave of hostility toward ethnic minorities and immigrants in the United States, caregivers need to help their Latine children successfully navigate these difficult and challenging societal times. The good news is that scholars have documented ethnic socialization practices, ethnic identity, and familismo as culture-related mechanisms that can enhance positive outcomes and protect Latine children from adverse and trauma-related experiences. Ferrera’s (2018) description of her positive early life experiences and her well-documented accomplishments align with research showing the benefits of ethnic socialization practices and ethnic identity in Latines. When U.S. Latine families teach and foster these mechanisms to their children, they can become strengths and assets for children to thrive and succeed.

We hope communities embrace and respect the expression of traditional Latine cultural practices and values. Families and schools can take steps to support children’s ethnic identity and familial values by, for example:

  1. Encouraging Latine children to speak their native language at home, at school, and in other social settings,
  2. Supporting Latine children in creating school projects that embrace their ethnic heritage, and
  3. Providing Latine children access to resources (e.g., books, music) that promote learning about their ethnic heritage.

Although we highlighted the positive consequences of ethnic socialization for U.S. Latines, when all people invest in these practices, their efforts will result in increased social harmony and culturally enriched, healthy communities.

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