Academic journal article Social Work

Making a Difference: Women of Action in the Community

Academic journal article Social Work

Making a Difference: Women of Action in the Community

Article excerpt

This article presents findings from a qualitative study of Hispanic women who were active in their communities, that is, who were "making a difference." (The U.S. government identifier "Hispanic" encompasses the peoples of more than 25 countries. This article uses interchangeably the women's own ethnic identifiers.) There are numerous reasons for social workers to consider the contributions of these women. Because Hispanic people are the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States (Schick & Schick, 1991), social workers should increase cultural competency with this population whenever possible. Also, becoming more knowledgeable about gender and ethnic aspects of diversity supports the profession's efforts to eliminate discrimination, oppression, and injustice.

Because of the exploratory nature of the study, the findings generate a range of questions for social work practitioners and educators. Issues include bias in the literature, the lack of relevant developmental theories about Hispanic women, the significance of mentorship and relationship, acknowledging Hispanic women as generalist practitioners, and the possible negative effects of professionalism. All of the issues point to areas for further research and are challenges for the social work profession.

Literature Review

The social sciences and popular literature on Hispanic women, families, and culture is fragmented, disconnected, and not easily accessible. Much of the early writings of the 1970s characterized Hispanic men as macho and Hispanic women as passive and subservient (Melville, 1980). However, beginning in the 1980s, these stereotypes, especially the roles of women, were challenged (Andrade, 1982; Baca Zinn, 1980; Gonzalez, 1982; Melville, 1980; Vasquez-Nuttall, Romero-Garcia, & De Leon, 1987). According to Andrade (1982),

there is a complex interaction of social class, race, sex, and regional history involved in the development of Hispanic family roles. Failure to acknowledge the interactive force of each variable ... will lead to an overly simplistic or generalized portrayal of the role, influence, and behavior of Hispanic women within their families and communities. (p. 97)

A common factor in Hispanic/Chicana/Mexican American women's roles in family, employment, higher education, civic involvement, and leadership is the centrality of relationships. This relational emphasis coincides with self-in-relation theory, which links relationships with the empowerment process (Gilligan, 1982; Miller, 1986, 1991; Surrey 1991a, 1991b). Proponents of this developmental theory have contended that at least for women, "the self is organized and developed in the context of important relationships" (Surrey, 1991b, p. 52). Although the significance of relationships for women is still at times pathologized, its meaning is increasingly being understood and valued. Relationships are a source of power and effectiveness: "Because this kind of power transfers effectively to movement and action across many relationships, individual activity experienced in a context of shared activity can feel very powerful and sustainable" (Surrey, 1987, p. 9).

A relational connection documented in the literature is the significance of role models and mentors. The support and encouragement of teachers and counselors as well as family was cited as a contributor to the success of Mexican American women in higher education and in their professions (Aguilar &Williams, 1993; Avery, 1981; Bauman, 1983; Cardoza, 1991; Frase-Blunt, 1991; Gandara, 1982; Mackowski, 1991; Salas Rojas, 1992; Sellers, 1987; Vasquez, 1982). Family can include not only immediate and extended members, but also people in kinship networks, the neighborhood, the geographic community (Avery, 1981), and the Hispanic community at large (Melville, 1980; Pardo, 1990).

Using these types of tools, Hispanic women have been active in social change in many areas, ranging from labor force movements to the Chicaria Feminist Movement (Amott & Matthaei, 1991a, 1991b; Bonilla-Santiago, 1991; Castro, 1986; Garcia, 1990; Gonzales, 1980; Raines, 1988; Rose, 1990; Ruiz, 1985). …

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