The Value of Loyalty in Family Stress Around Acculturation

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Eleonora Bass, Psy.D.

Without sadness, there is no happiness. Without hate and apathy, there is no love. Without betrayal, there is no loyalty. Understanding the despair and aching pain of betrayal can make one understand the importance of loyalty. The author Anna Godbersen once wrote, “So this was betrayal. It was like being left alone in the desert at dusk without water or warmth. It left your mouth dry and will broken. It sapped your tears and made you hollow.”

Loyalty is a value closely associated with trust, commitment, patriotism and devotion, to name a few. Loyalty and all of its related values are reflected in the biopsychosocial aspects of an individual, affecting a person throughout the developmental trajectory and at every ecological level. The value of loyalty has also been historically important in the development of Latino nations; it is a value that takes precedence in times of war, and is important when speaking about allegiance, patriotism, and changes in government. To Latinos immigrating to the United States, loyalty to the Latino culture becomes a topic of thought and conversation as parents and children acculturate to life in the United States, possibly having concerns about how much they can allow themselves to acculturate while still remaining loyal to their own culture and background, and asking themselves questions like, “Are we traitors to our culture/country if we become too Americanized?” For Latino immigrant parents and their children, who are acculturating at a faster rate than their caretakers, the issue of cultural loyalty seems to be present, with parents interpreting their children’s acculturated behaviors as being disrespectful to family traditions and cultural beliefs. Lastly, loyalty is a significant interpersonal value in all attachments and relationships, including the client-therapist dyad which suffers inevitable ruptures (e.g., sick days, holidays, tardiness, hurricane days, empathic failures) that can feel like betrayal to the client.

During my time in Costa Rica, the value of loyalty evinced itself in various situations that differ from the traditional views on loyalty; however, the vast applicability of loyalty as a value makes it all the more interesting. The most memorable encounter with loyalty in Costa Rica was when one of the host mothers spoke of how Costa Rican husbands cheat on their wives. She spoke about it in a matter of fact way, as if a cheating husband is part of the marriage vows and that type of behavior should be expected and tolerated if the husband is able to continue providing for the family and be present at important family functions and occasions. This was baffling to me, and I was disturbed to hear some of my peers tell me that their host mother’s had the same mindset. In this case, the husband is not being sexually loyal to his wife but is acting in a socially acceptable way if he remains loyal to his family by providing monetary support and being a physical presence during holidays, birthdays, etc. The idea of a divided or compartmentalized loyalty never occurred to me and made me realize that not only can loyalty be understood in a variety of contexts but the value itself is quite dynamic.

For Latino immigrant parents who are experiencing conflict with their acculturating children, the value of loyalty can be integrated in interventions by reducing conflict and increasing effective communication between parents and their children. Through perspective taking exercises and psychoeducation about the differences between Latino and. American values, parents and children should be able to understand that: 1) Children are not being disloyal and are not betraying their culture by engaging in some behaviors that are typical of their American peers; and 2) Parents are not old fashioned and are not trying to prevent their children from having experiences that their American friends are having. Another important aspect is including a treatment component that increases the children’s pride and involvement in the Latino culture, and, in other words, sustains their cultural loyalty and works toward biculturalism, the most adaptive form of acculturation. As the children become more acculturated to life in the United States, and if they are able to hold on to their Latino roots, they grow in their position to successfully navigate both cultures and the advantages of effective biculturalism are great for themselves as individuals, their families, and their communities. From a biopsychosocial model, working to reduce the chaos of conflict in families of different acculturation statuses per generation provides the opportunity for each family member to add a protective/resiliency factor that could promote overall good mental health.

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