Mexico and Central America, Part 1: Family Culture and Traditional Roles

When considering how one would want to ingratiate oneself into Mexican and Central American cultures, collectively hereafter referred to as Central American, I find that it is similar to how one would try to be a part of another family, in fact a lot of cultural norms are similar to the family structures, mi amigo.

Individuals in Central American societies operate as part of a larger machine or group. While there are select individuals who have the power to make decisions, these choices are made with the whole of the group in mind. Going back to the family analogy of Central America, the father or “padre” of the family (society)makes decisions based on what he thinks will be the best solution for the entire family. There is an affinity in Central American societies for group affiliations; meaning, in order to be “accepted” into society as a whole, one must identify with a group, business, association, etc. While individuals exert some independence from society, like that family, individuals will always look to their families or groups for stability. Hierarchy in groups is also reflected in society as a whole, where deference is given to bosses and subordinates, consequently fall in line.

Many Centro American societies, especially Mexican societies, are very paternalistic, which is often reflected in their political systems. Paternalistic societies indicate that the man is the head of the household and therefore has an obligation to the family to care and maintain it. Basically these societies will look after their own families and friends. Keep in mind while dealing with Centro American societies, there is a strong commitment to caring for their family (read: business organizations).

Since it has been established that many Centro American societies are paternalistic, this implies that there are distinct gender roles in these societies. A woman’s expected role is to care and nurture the family. There are very few women who serve positions other than administrative work in the business sector. Women who are looking to do business in this part of the world, be aware of the machismo! Comments that are made in these countries made be thought of as “come ons” to those of us in the United States, but should not be taken personally. Generally they should be ignored, and it is best not to encourage these advances. Additionally, women have to work harder to maintain the respect of her Central American male colleagues, treading a fine line of not being too aggressive and not too soft where authority can be questioned.

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