Para Servir*: Social Capital among Latino Families in Northwest Ohio

Article excerpt

This study examined the ways in which Latino families and their communities produce social capital in Northwest Ohio. The sample consisted of 30 Latinos, 19 women and 11 men. Qualitative methods were used to gather data. The findings demonstrated that Latino families are collective based and social capital is a critical element of their family systems and their communities. Social capital is produced through service and leadership. Different factors, both strengths and challenges, have an impact on the development of social capital. Important strategies for practice and research are provided to give family and consumer sciences professionals insights on how to partner with Latino families and their communities to develop social capital.

The late civil rights and labor leader Cesar Chavez said, "We cannot seek achievement for ourselves and forget about progress and prosperity for our community . . . Our ambitions must be broad enough to include the aspirations and needs of others, for their sake and for our own" (Cesar Chavez Foundation, 1995). Chavez sought to bring national attention to better wages and improved living conditions for migrant farm workers, but he understood that to have an impact he would need the assistance of those from more privileged backgrounds. He worked endlessly, speaking to large crowds and sharing his philosophy of service, leadership, and giving back to others. As a result, he attracted the attention of political figures and Hollywood celebrities who became huge supporters of his nonviolent movement.

There are slight variations in the definition of social capital. Bourdieu (1986) defined it as the roles different individuals play in social networks, with an effort to enhance the opportunities a person has to resources, information, and social status within that community and the larger society. Focusing on the family system, Hogan (2001) stated that social capital dealt with relationships across generations, ensuring their success through healthy outcomes, interdependence, and desirable family outcomes. Hogan also stated that social capital in the community was interconnected to the family system's social ecology. Thus, social capital served as a "bonding agent" that integrated families and communities. Latino families have been described as sociocentric, which is conducive to the development of social capital (Salinas, Viramontez Anguiano, & Ibrahim, 2008). Trueba (2002) determined that social capital and cultural capital within Latino families and communities serve as resiliency mechanisms.

Social capital was not a foreign concept to Cesar Chavez and other Latinos. Social capital is deeply rooted through family and community service and engagement for Latinos; it is manifested within families and their communities, forming a network of service and leadership. Specifically, this has been drawn out over the generations through a collective sense of la familia and the values Latino families have in serving la gente, the people.

This role of being the "servant" is played out through the dedication to Latino families and communities. Thus, an appropriate paradigm to understand Latino leaders and their development of social capital is servant leadership. Greenleaf (1977) based servant leadership on teamwork and community. A servant leader's goal is to involve other individuals in the process. Key to this holistic interaction is the foundation of ethical and caring behaviors that benefit the people involved and different segments of society. Cesar Chavez was an excellent example of a servant leader. Ramirez (2006) found that Latino leadership is nested in a social capital foundation that centers on character, competence, compassion, and community servanthood. The ultimate objective of the collective nature of the four Cs of Latino leadership is to ensure the well-being and success of Latino communities. It does not matter whether these leaders are educated or "organic intellects" who are not formally educated but respected by the community. …