Mexican Americans are Americans of full or partial Mexican descent. As of 2018, there were about 36.6 million Mexican Americans living in the United States, making up over 60% of the U.S. Hispanic population. As Americans with roots in Mexico, Mexican Americans have a unique culture that combines elements of mainstream American culture and traditional Mexican culture.
Here are some of the key values that are important in Mexican American culture:
- Familismo – Familismo refers to the importance of family in Mexican culture. Loyalty, closeness, and solidarity within families are highly valued. Mexican Americans tend to have strong family ties and feel a sense of responsibility to support their immediate and extended families.
- Respeto – Respeto means respect in Spanish. Mexican Americans emphasize teaching respeto and good manners to children. Respect is shown to elders, authority figures, and the family structure.
- Religion – The majority of Mexican Americans identify as Roman Catholic. Religious celebrations play a big role in cultural traditions. Even those who don’t regularly attend church may still observe religious sacraments and holidays.
- Collectivism – Mexican culture tends to be collectivistic rather than individualistic. The needs of the group are prioritized over individual needs or desires. Working together and contributing to the community is valued.
- Simpatia – Simpatia refers to pleasantness and politeness in social interactions. Mexican Americans try to be polite, agreeable, and likeable in relationships. Direct confrontation is avoided.
- Festive Spirit – Mexican culture is known for being lively, fun, and fond of celebrations. Social gatherings with food, music, and entertainment are common. Big events bring the community together.
- Mexican Pride – Mexican Americans have a strong sense of ethnic identity tied to their Mexican roots and heritage. Cultural traditions are maintained and passed down through generations.
Family is incredibly important in Mexican American culture. Here are some key family values:
- Strong Bonds – Family members are very close and supportive of each other. There are strong emotional bonds even across extended families.
- Loyalty – Family comes first. Mexican Americans feel a sense of responsibility and loyalty to support and defend their family members.
- Interdependence – Family members are interdependent on each other for financial, emotional, and practical support. Resources are shared within an extended family network when needed.
- Multigenerational – It’s common for multiple generations to live together in one household. Elders are respected for their wisdom and experience.
- Traditional Gender Roles – Traditional gender roles within families are still observed to some degree. Men are considered the heads of households and breadwinners. Women care for children and elders.
- Family Honor – The actions of each individual reflect on the entire family. Bringing honor and avoiding shame for the family is important.
- Respect for Elders – Older relatives are respected and cared for by the family. Their advice and life experience is valued.
For Mexican Americans who are Catholic, religious values shape their worldview and day-to-day lives:
- Faith in God – God and Catholic teachings provide guidance on how to live a moral, meaningful life.
- Importance of Sacraments – Sacraments like baptism, first communion, confirmation and marriage are important Catholic rituals.
- Religious Holidays – Holidays like Christmas, Easter, Our Lady of Guadalupe are celebrated with family traditions.
- Spiritual Life – Prayer, going to mass, and developing a relationship with God are part of everyday life.
- Parish Community – The local parish is the center of community life for many. Volunteering and participating in church events is valued.
- Marianismo – Marianismo is the Mexican ideal of the self-sacrificing, nurturing mother figure. The Virgin Mary is revered as a role model for women.
- Destiny and Fate – There is a cultural belief that individual destiny and fate is in God’s hands.
Mexican Americans also tend to share a strong work ethic rooted in their cultural values:
- Hard Work – There is a high value placed on working hard and being a productive member of society.
- Providing for Family – Men feel an obligation to financially provide for their immediate and extended families.
- Perseverance – Challenges are met with optimism, determination, and perseverance until goals are achieved.
- Responsibility – Mexican Americans have a strong sense of responsibility to their employers and communities. Commitments are taken seriously.
- Entrepreneurial Spirit – Many start their own businesses and find innovative ways to provide for their families.
- Future Oriented – Parents strive to provide a better future for their children. Education is seen as the path to upward mobility.
Though becoming less traditional, Mexican American culture still upholds some distinct gender roles:
- Breadwinner and head of household
- Physically strong and tough
- Hard working provider
- Fixes things around the house
- Disciplinarian for children
- Makes final decisions for family
- Caretaker of home, husband, and family
- Responsible for cooking, cleaning, childcare
- Nurturing, gentle, and supportive
- Connector of family ties
- Upholds family honor
- Often in charge of family finances/budgeting
Younger generations are shifting away from strict traditional gender roles, but some expectations still influence family dynamics.
Respeto, or respect, is central to the Mexican American value system. Key elements of respeto include:
- Respect for Elders – Older relatives are viewed as wise and are treated with great respect.
- Respect for Authority – Parents, teachers, bosses, and elders deserve compliance and deference.
- Polite Speech – Using formal Spanish speech shows respect. Children are taught to speak politely to elders.
- No Confrontation – Direct confrontation or questioning of elders is considered disrespectful.
- Respected Roles – Each family member has a role and hierarchy that should be respected.
- Minding Manners – Having good manners shows respect and proper upbringing.
Failing to demonstrate respeto within relationships and social structures is a serious cultural taboo. Children are expected to obey and abide by guidelines of respeto to become honorable Mexican Americans.
Celebrations and Traditions
Mexican American culture is vibrant, joyous, and heavily influenced by traditions. Celebrations bind families and communities together.
Major holidays are centered around religious celebrations and family:
- Christmas – Christmas Eve dinner is the biggest celebration with foods like tamales, pozole, bacalao. Families attend midnight mass then open gifts.
- Day of the Dead – Honors deceased loved ones. Families build altars and bring food, flowers, and mementos to grave sites.
- Easter – Observed with mass, family dinners, egg hunts. Traditional breads like pan dulce are eaten.
- Our Lady of Guadalupe (December 12) – Honors the patron saint of Mexico with processions, dancing, mariachi music.
- Quinceañeras – Lavish coming-of-age party when a girl turns 15.
- Baptisms, First Communions, Confirmations – Important Catholic milestones.
Food is central to Mexican celebrations and daily family life:
- Tres Leches Cake
Cooking traditional Mexican recipes and serving them with pride is a way to honor family heritage.
Music and Dance
Mexican folk music and dance are popular at parties and religious events:
- Mariachi – Traditional mariachi bands with trumpets, violins, guitars.
- Ranchera – Lively country music from rural Mexico.
- Banda – Brass and percussion band music.
- Norteño – Accordion-based music from Northern Mexico.
- Tejano – Blend of polka and Mexican cumbia from Texas.
- Folklorico – Colorful, regional Mexican folk dances.
Challenges and Changes
While Mexican Americans are proud of their cultural heritage, there are some challenges navigating mainstream American culture:
- Language barrier – Many immigrant families struggle with English and gravitate toward Spanish-speakers.
- Discrimination – There is a long history of discrimination toward Mexican Americans rooted in racism and xenophobia.
- Educational obstacles – Mexican American students have statistically lower high school graduation and college attendance rates.
- Economic disparities – Many remain working class with higher poverty rates than non-Hispanic whites.
- Cultural assimilation – Younger generations often feel torn between Mexican and mainstream American values and norms.
Mexican American culture has evolved over generations in the U.S. While core values remain, families are changing:
- More egalitarian gender roles – Strict gender norms are shifting as more women work and pursue higher education.
- Weakening of extended family – Mobility for work weakens extended family networks.
- More English spoken – Monolingual Spanish-speakers are becoming rare.
- Spanglish culture – English and Spanish mix in speech and media.
- Declining Catholic Church attendance – Younger generations are less observant Catholics.
At the heart of Mexican American culture are strong family bonds, religious faith, a joyous spirit, and a strong work ethic. Traditions and customs provide continuity between generations as families maintain connection to their Mexican roots while embracing aspects of mainstream American culture.
Mexican Americans navigate between two cultural worlds as they inherit time-honored Mexican values and adapt to life in the U.S. Those core values of familia, respeto, community and celebration underlie and endure through generations of change and assimilation.