Think about it. You’re relaxing, scrolling absentmindedly through TikTok. Shortly after tapping the “For You” page, you notice a video displaying a young Hispanic adult recreating a scene you know all too well. The kid is trying to wash the dishesーa simple, everyday household taskーwhile his mother hovers over him, scornfully commenting on his style of cleaning. The video then cuts to another scene of the kid trying to find the courage to ask his mom if he can go play with one specific neighbor she doesn’t like. Cut to yet another scene, and the kid is now an adult. However, his parents are still treating him like a child. Besides making you laugh, this TikTok makes you feel seen and heard. Somehow, knowing you’re not alone in feeling this way gives you relief. The title of the video is simple: “Hispanic parents be like.”
Hispanic parents are known for being loud, boisterous, extremely peppy, and sometimes flabbergasting with their apparent inability to feel shame. But there is one specific quirk that takes the cake for being the most characteristic Hispanic family trait, and that is their parenting style. If we were to reduce it to one single definition, we could compare it to helicopter parenting.
The director of the Center for the Treatment of Anxiety Disorders in Detroit, Carolyn Daitch, defines helicopter parenting as “a style of parents who are overly focused on their children.” As a child of Hispanic parents, this concept rings a bell. Hispanic parents are known for being all up on their children’s business; from the way they dress for a specific event to the people they end up marrying and associating with later in life. They have a specific view of how their children should live their lives, what things they should focus on, who they should become, and so on. As a result, their idealistic point of view crashes once they find themselves next to a living, breathing, and thinking individual.
If you type “Hispanic Parents” in any search engine, chances are you will find thousands of videos on this topic. While some of these may be educational, others poke fun at their parenting style. A lot of creators do so by sharing their own anecdotes. Occasionally, you will stumble upon videos denouncing the wrongdoings of this style of parenting, but these kinds of videos seldom get any traction. They always end up being, as the internet eloquently puts it, roasted for being against what we, Hispanics, deem “culture.” So why is it that a parenting style that causes fear, anxiety, undeveloped skills, and low confidence is so widely accepted? Why are we so hellbent on equating culture to, simply put, abuse? I can only speak from a Hispanic point of view, and even as I broach the subject, I have to accept that it’s not as simple as saying that our parents are bad and we are better by default. The layers of this topic could easily be a thesis-worthy investigation. As for right now, I’m going to mention some key points in accordance with Hispanic kids of Diaspora and those living on our island, Puerto Rico.
I know, I know. Excusing someone’s hurtful and damaging actions just because of their past is wrong in this day and age. But, in the case of our parents, I think we need to separate our feelings and embrace their point of view for a moment. Many of our parents grew up in unstable households and equally unstable countries. Let’s focus on the household environment first. It’s not a secret that in many Hispanic countries gender norms, religious fear, and silence are strongly encouraged. Most of our parents are Gen Xers or Millennials, both of which are generations that grew up under the persecution of our most inherent traditions. In their time, being the 70s, 80s, and 90s, going against culture, and even worse, going against traditional family values, was severely frowned upon. The family was, and, to a certain degree, still is, their only safety net. For many, going against their parent’s and the church’s teachings meant living isolated from their peers and their only accessible network of survival. Hence, silence and resilience became the norm. In the case of our fathers and their own, the world saw them become emotionally stunted and academically impaired as they were thrusted into the role of becoming the sole provider from the tender ages of 13 and up. As for our mothers, they became silent, submissive, and forever servants. By now, you may be thinking: But why not defy the norms? Why not go through isolation in exchange for happiness or freedom? Their upbringing is still not an excuse. Well, my friend, that is where the country plays a key role.
Let’s look at the countries. If we look further and take a trip down history lane, we can easily tell that a lot of our parents lived during considerably hard times. Specifically, we may better do so once we remove subjectivity and step away from the American lens. We often remember the Americanized and European versions of the 70s, 80s, and 90s; which were, among bad events like the AIDS epidemic and the Spaceshuttle Challenger explosion, the site of industrial and societal developments. The same thing, sadly, cannot be said for South America and the Caribbean. Both territories underwent many tough routes of history during formative years for our then-young parents. In the same way we recognize the mental damage that our precedent events have lasted on us, we can acknowledge the trauma that has made them into who they are now.
This leads me to my second point: our history. For starters, we are not privy to knowledge. That being said, upon further research, we can easily discern that the prior mentioned decades didn’t exactly look Disneyland for Latin America. Back then, many Hispanic territories were led by cruel dictatorships, such as the Chilean 1973 coup d’etat with Pinochet, or the forced governing of Videla in Argentina in 1976. Historians and analysts have dubbed the Latin American 80s as the lost decade, due to the financial crisis that permeated it.
Consequently, years of instability and delayed economic growth ensued. Unemployment rates skyrocketed, inflation reduced the purchasing power of the masses and with this, a new era of crime, anger, and injustice reigned freely across the land. Some of the events that influenced the surge of adversity within these countries were the assassination of archbishop Óscar Romero in El Salvador and its subsequent civil war; the Falklands War in 1982, the Mexican financial crisis that resulted as a direct consequence of the increase in oil prices (concerning the Volcker era); the 1985 Mexico City Earthquake, and the Palace of Justice siege in Colombia.
Across the Caribbean, specifically in Puerto Rico, we had our own major historical events, such as the terribly infamous Cerro Maravilla murders orchestrated in 1978, and a controversial election remembered by a highly suspicious blackout that occurred during the ballot-counting process, to name a couple. Because we are currently living through similar events within the political sphere ーmost notably, Hurricane Maria and the poor government response which led to millions of supplies lost, families abandoned and a heavily disputed death toll and further on summer of 2019, Ricky Rosello’s resignationー and the rule, we can imagine how tumultuous life on the island was back then. The floods of 1985, for example, caused the mudslides of Barrio Mameyes, killing 130 people, although many believe it actually amounts to up to 300 due to the bodies never being recovered. The next year our parents witnessed the Hotel Dupont Plaza tragedy, taking 97 lives and injuring 140 others; and in 1989, category 5 Hurricane Hugo hit the island killing 61 and causing over a billion in damage to infrastructure, power, and water services. In 1996 another tragedy struck with the Humberto Vidal explosion leaving 33 dead and 69 injured and by 1998 they were struck again by Hurricane Georges devastating an entire ecosystem and human-made infrastructure.
We, as Gen Zers, have gone through many tragedies and historical events, just like them. We know how hard life can get, and you may be wondering: well, I didn’t turn out that way, so I am better than them. Let me get into more heavy detail on how this is simply not true if we were to be transported back in time.
Sense of differentiation and preservation
With these things in mind, we come to a third and final key point that, I must say, holds the strongest clutch in their helicopter parenting style. Many of our Hispanic parents grew up with the aspirational mindset of creating a better life for us for the sake of not reliving the struggles they themselves endured during their younger years. For many Hispanic children, this means becoming children of the diaspora. In Puerto Rico, it has something to do with our colonial status. I will give the first portion of this point to my fellow Hispanic counterparts.
Relocating yourself to a strange country with a couple of dollars, barely understanding the predominant language, and a fear of failure can drive anyone to a need for control. Then come their children, whom they’re responsible to protect. This fear of failure mixed with the fear of losing oneself can, and has, made them afraid of “letting go of their roots.” But what does that mean exactly? For our parents, their way of parenting is interlaced with their Hispanic identity. What they failed to realize is that the parenting they endured and consequently continue perpetuating is not a result of culture, but a result of trauma. When you’re living day to day in survival mode, your body and mind force you to ignore certain things to focus on more survival instincts. Those usually involve: gathering food, having a roof over your head, and having enough money for basic necessities. Many of our parents grew up like this, needing to worry about these issues first before even prioritizing their pain, mental toll, and unfinished dreams.
And as the years passed and things didn’t get better, the trauma response became an intricate part of their lifestyle. In the rough awakening of leaving their roots from a brutalized home into a foreign and hostile country, they refuged their minds in the comfort of that traumaー calling it home, calling it identity, calling it culture. It was, after all, a better alternative than to confront the idea of not being wanted in a country and dealing with your own demons. But that fear didn’t leave. In reality, unhealed trauma never leaves. In our parents, it only manifested in someplace else: their parenting. Deep down, they did not want us to go through what they did, so the controlling and encasing nature manifested itself in their way of showing love.
Back in Puerto Rico, it is a tad bit different. We are a colony, a colony that has never known independence and has been under two different imperial regimes. The Spaniards were our longest rulers, making the first batches of Puerto Ricans pretty similar to them. As the years went by, we began to accept our heritage and accept our similarities with the knowledge that we had managed to one, stubbornly refuse the Americanization of our second regime and two, created our own culture derived from our first. But, as the decades carried on and globalization made the communication between the island and mainland more interlaced, a new fear crept up in our emotionally stunted parents. The fear of losing their identity once again. We, as their children, became more Americanized. Some prefer American food, speaking English, and the individualistic lifestyle of Americans. With the acceptance of the good characteristics of an Americanized life, came also the search for love, belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Do the words sound familiar? Let’s pause and look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Maslow states that there are five levels within the pyramid of needs. Physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. The theory also states that “needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up”.
I like to call us the second batch of Puerto Ricans; the ones that have assimilated both the Spaniard regime and the United States into our identity. The characteristics that came from the Spaniard times are considerably older and different from our own now. We can tell by the slight deviations in our speech, our food, and our traditions. But this is only scratching the surface. When it comes to more psychological aspects of our heritage, we got stuck leveling up in “Safety Needs”.
Think about the way this reflects in our literature, our cinema, and art. And then as the years went by, and the needs still weren’t met to fulfillment, our parents perpetuated a mentality that solidified as their own struggles became apparent. But they did something that broke the cycle somewhat. They exposed us to globalization and the United States. For many of our Puerto Rican parents, the USA is a safe haven. It is a beacon of light. In that idolization, they refugeed their frustrated dreams and they embraced that idolized view and narrated that into our mentality.
When it comes to the mentality that raised us, it is a mentality stuck in a time when the USA was at its prime. To them (our parents), the United States was a place to fulfill those last three steps of the pyramid. And that focus cemented itself in us and made us who we are today: a society looking to destroy the notions that affect our emotional and mental stability, and society that threatens the very thing our parents held as coping mechanisms and called identity.
Where does that put them? A group of adults that, for many years, have lived in the refuge of their troubles by ignoring their day-to-day crisis and connecting their survival and trauma to their identity. A group of adults who, invertedly, opened the doors for their own children to explore far up the pyramid with their obsession for better jobs, better houses, and better lifestyles. We have slowly separated ourselves from their identity, and so they double down on the control. After all, it was that constant surveillance and constant micromanaging that made us who we are. Why do we rebel against our identity as Puerto Ricans? As Hispanics? Why do we, as that extremely popular audio on TikTok says, “bring that European nonsense into this household”? That is how they think.
Is this therefore inherently acceptable? The simple answer is no.
Let’s review, we have parents who, simply put, struggled alone even in their own community and accepted abuse as normality. But they weren’t blind and unconsciously they made us open our eyes. What should we do? We shouldn’t turn on them; much less, abandon them. We have been graced with the fortune of finding community niches outside of those that silence our, thanks to the internet. In that sense of belonging and support, we have to become strong to confront the problems in the physical world. It is hard, and it is exhausting, but when you realize the Hispanic helicopter parenting we know is truly a cry for help, it becomes the spark of a new change. The older Gen Z and younger Millennials have taken the brunt of keeping that spark alive and as we, dear readers, become the “older ones” it is our responsibility to never let that spark die.