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Latinx Familismo & Setting Personal Boundaries

Merging Your Collectivistic Roots with an Individualistic Society

Growing up, it’s likely that your mother and father—and your Abuela, Tio, and older primo—spoke of the importance of family, of supporting each other, and of staying united. La familia es todo, they would say—and repeat—sometimes sounding reminiscent of a direct warning. The underlying message likely became clear to you by the time you reached grade school: You have a duty to your family, now and forever. 

Familismo—or devotion, loyalty, and commitment to one’s family—is engrained in the minds of younger Latinx generations by the elders in the family starting at an early age. Values like independence, chasing your dreams, and personal boundaries? Not so much.

In many Latinx families, collectivism—or prioritizing group needs over individual needs—seems to grow stronger upon immigration to the United States. Both familismo and collectivism are essentially tied to survival—or at least, they were for your parents or grandparents when they first arrived in this country. Immigration, and the struggles of acculturation and achieving financial security in a new country, are traumatic in many ways. This is likely a central reason why your family may acculturate to an extent, but familismo endures. It is what got them through some of their greatest hardships. Family was the only thing they knew they had in the midst of so much uncertainty.

While familismo certainly offers support and security, it can also be highly stressful when you’re trying to survive in an individualistic society. Below we will discuss ways you can set personal boundaries so that familismo serves as a catapult—and not a barrier—for you to reach your goals and aspirations.

Be honest with your family about what you want, whether it’s going after a career that requires you to move or steering away from the family business to pursue your own interests. Remember that your parents and grandparents are here, in this country, because they were once courageous dreamers. They left the country and community that they knew and delved out into the unknown. They had to leave their own parents and grandparents behind in pursuit of a better life. You might have a lot more in common with them than you think.

Accept that your family may reject you and disapprove of your decisions—at first and maybe for a while. No matter how old we get, having the approval of our family remains important and meaningful, especially among Latinx families. However, when you speak up and disagree with their opinions and views, be prepared for some backlash. Your family may act as if you betrayed them when you stand up for what you want or oppose their views on your role in the family. It’s important to keep in mind that their rejection and disapproval likely won’t last forever—and it isn’t personal. What they are really upset at is the fact that someone is challenging that which provides them a sense of safety and security: The united family. Give them time and do your best to avoid taking their attitudes—or remarks—personally. Responding with, “I know you’re upset, but I hope that you’ll understand that this is the best decision for me and it would mean a lot to me if I had your support.” These words show your confidence in your decision, your commitment to set boundaries, and your respect for the important place your family holds in your life.

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