|The structure of Puerto Rican families in a context of migration and poverty: an ethnographic description of a number of residents in El Barrio, New York City|
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Tags: family, New York, New York (State), Puerto Ricans
THE STRUCTURE OF PUERTO RICAN FAMILIES IN A CONTEXT OF MIGRATION AND POVERTY: AN ETHNOGRAPHIC DESCRIPTION OF A NUMBER OF RESIDENTS IN EL BARRIO, NEW YORK CITY
Pablo Navarro Hernandez
The purpose of this study was to present a description of family life among a small number of Puerto Rican residents of the East Harlem community in New York City. Based on the observation of their day-to-day behavior, a model of the kinship structure was constructed. Background information on Puerto Rican migration and adaptation was offered, giving special attention to a variety of demographic data describing these migrants and to the emergence of ethnic categories and their importance to family behavior.
The socially assigned roles of men and women were explored, giving attention to the belief commonly held in this community, that men are of the street and women are of the home. Related topics were presented, such as: male and female sexuality, virginity, and male violence; and the native concepts of "macho" and "hombre" were contrasted. The division of roles by sex within the family was shown, pointing to a matricentral pattern and demonstrating that Puerto Rican males play a very important role in maintaining the complex rules of "respeto" within the family.
The concept of "hogar" was defined, and the "compadrazgo" (ritual co-parenthood), "padrinage" (godparents), "hijos de crianza" (voluntary pro-parenthood), and "como familia" (affective kinship) kinship categories were explored. Also shown were then changes in the composition of the family through weddings, births, deaths, and subjective changes that resulted in separation, segregation, fragmentation, and ruptures, as well as the importance to the family of a family history as seen in the myths of the kinship group.
The study utilized a variety of ethnographic research techniques, such as interviews, geneologies, logs, and participant observation. The fifty-six adult informants as a group were representative of class, residence, educational, and employment patterns of this community. They also reflected the more subjective characteristics of "normality," since an effort was made not to include informants seen as "deviants" by members of the community.
The model built from this empirical observation demonstrates that there is a logical and coherent structure that enables families to function in this community. Underlying all the existing kinship relationships of what can be called "family" are three basic principles. First there is collaboration of the "hogares." Those that constitute an "hogar" are responsible for meeting most manifest functions in the family, but these "hogares" are imbedded in a rich web of reciprocal relationships with other "hogares," with the state serving as the ultimate source of assistance. The second basic principle is reciprocity. This reciprocity is shown to be non-symmetrical, not necessarily of the same type, not necessarily between the same individuals, and not limited to material things, since reciprocity of affection seems to be of great importance. The third basic principle is that of matricentrality. This means that a woman in her role of mother is the emotive center of the family, that the daily life of the family is organized around her person, and that it is she who provides continuity for the kinship group.