Cultural Competence in the Assessment of Poor Mexican Families in the Rural Southeastern United States

By Hancock, Tina U. | Child Welfare, September/October 2005 | Go to article overview

Cultural Competence in the Assessment of Poor Mexican Families in the Rural Southeastern United States


Hancock, Tina U., Child Welfare


Increasing numbers of poor Mexican immigrant families are settling in the rural southeastern United States. Most of these families are from isolated agrarian communities in Mexico and are headed by unskilled laborers or displaced farm workers with little education. Child welfare workers and other service providers in rural communities may be poorly prepared to address the needs of this population. This article provides an overview of the cultural, social, and family dynamics of first generation, working class Mexicans to promote cultural competency among helping professionals. An ecological perspective is used to examine the strengths that poor Mexicans bring from their culture of origin, stresses of the migratory experience and ongoing adaptation, shifts that may occur in family structure and functioning, disruptions in the family life cycle, the role of social supports in family adaptation, and effect of institutional discrimination on family well-being. Suggestions also are made for essential components of adequate in-service education.

One of the most significant demographic changes in the United States in recent years is the dramatic growth in the numbers of Latinos migrating to rural communities (Fluharty, 2002). This trend is particularly pronounced in the southeastern United States, where the Latino population quadrupled during the past decade in predominantly rural states such as Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee (Marotta & Garcia, 2003). A large majority this population is of Mexican descent (Schmid, 2003), have lived in the United States for less than five years (Marotta & Garcia, 2003), and entered the country illegally (Lacey, 2004).

Mexican immigrants settling in the southeastern United States tend to be unskilled laborers or displaced farm workers. Most arrive directly to rural areas in the Deep South from isolated agricultural communities, having never resided in metropolitan areas in Mexico nor lingered in border towns (Lacey, 2004). New arrivals most often are young, speak little English, and have little formal education (Roosa, Morgan-Lopez, Cree, & Specter, 2002). Typically, families make staggered transitions, with the husband arriving first to find work and the wife and children following in about a year (Garcia, 2001).

As compared to their urban counterparts, poor Mexicans immigrating to rural communities usually face greater obstacles to economic advancement, including stronger resistance from longtime residents to their presence (Fluharty, 2002; Neal & Bohon, 2003). Lower hourly wages, higher unemployment, substandard housing, lack of transportation, and restricted access to basic services place many Mexican immigrants in rural areas at higher risk for a range of problems (Fluharty, 2002). In addition, rural service providers may be poorly equipped to span cultural differences between poor Mexican clients and themselves, and they may fail to identify and engage this population's strengths.

Service providers in rural communities need to acquire the essential knowledge and attitudes to make culturally competent assessments for appropriate interventions with poor Mexican immigrant families. To facilitate cultural competence, this article provides an overview of the cultural, social, and family dynamics of first generation, working class Mexicans residing in the rural southeastern United States. An ecological perspective is used to highlight the systemic barriers Mexican families face in their pursuit of improved life circumstances, but also family strengths and resiliencies associated with traditional Mexican culture.

The author's interest in this population stems from four years in an antipoverty program designed to improve educational, health, and economic outcomes for poor rural communities in south central Mexico. After returning to the United States, curiosity of the adjustments newly arrived Mexican immigrants go through in rural communities prompted a literature review. …

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