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Understanding Latino Cultural Values and Developing Our Own Solutions

From its very beginnings, Alianza has affirmed the need to develop systems of support for victims/survivors within our communities; the need to create solutions that take into consideration the challenges and obstacles facing Latinas/os, our belief systems, our values and norms, the positive and negative aspects of our culture.

Culturally based approaches need to look at elements of our culture that have been used to defend violence, to reinforce secrecy, and to allow abuse. They also need to acknowledge the many aspects of our culture, our traditions, and our beliefs can serve as protective factors; can provide guidance and positive influence.

This calls for identifying and critiquing traditions and values that make women more vulnerable to abuse and that support men’s oppressive relationships with women, on the one hand, and for acknowledging and supporting practices and values that are protective and that model and support healthy and functional relationships between men and women.

Culturally appropriate programming should also take into account the diversity-within-diversity of “the Latino community.” Failure to respectfully embrace both our differences and commonalities places us at risk of division. We have many nationalities; we have race and class differences, internal racism, and privilege; we have mixed nationalities; we have gay and lesbian families; we have recent immigrants as well as those whose ancestors lived in North America prior to the founding of the United States; we have monolingual Spanish speakers, monolingual English speakers, bilingual Spanish/English speakers; as well as individuals and families whose mother tongue is one of the dozens of indigenous languages of this continent. We have different religious/spiritual beliefs and practices; we have people with disabilities; and we have young and old. Embracing our internal diversity challenges us to confront our own racism, homophobia, classism and other forms of internalized oppression and privilege.

Faith, Religion, Spirituality and Domestic Violence

Culture and Religion/Spirituality

Alianza has always believed that in developing domestic violence programs that respond to the cultural and linguistic needs of Latino families, service providers need to take into account the importance of spirituality in our culture. There are many differences among Latinos, but regardless of particular religious or spiritual beliefs, there is often a pervading sense of connection and of having a common belief in something greater than our individual selves. This is reflected in our profound emphasis on respect and on the essential value of every person. Domestic violence programs that fail to make room for spirituality that embraces and encourages functional, respectful and egalitarian relationships in the process of healing and change miss an important source of support and strength for both victims/survivors and for batterers.

And just as we must recognize and acknowledge both the positive and negative aspects of our culture-the positive values and strengths that are part of our histories and traditions, so too must we recognize the positive and negative aspects and influence of religion on our families and communities.

In June 2003, Alianza organized a gathering entitled: Forum on Latinos Who Batter: Hope for Those Who Hurt Others. During the forum, a discussion on the significant influence of religion or "the Church" on Latino culture generated intense feelings and a vigorous discussion among participants. Although there was a general consensus that religion has been profoundly important to the Latino community, there were disparate views on the nature of religion, about what the actual impact of religion has been, and how it helps or hinders the practitioner's work with men who batter.

While all acknowledged the turbulent and repressive history of "the church," especially institutionalized religion, and the influence of conservative and fundamentalist church teachings, some participants sought to separate church politics and clerical hierarchy from its unfettered spiritual teachings and progressive priests and ministers.

Several participants cited examples of individual priests who have done wonderful healing work in their communities and parishes. A growing number of church leaders have joined in condemning family violence and some have housed or supported programs that work with survivors and/or batterers.

Some participants countered these positive examples with angry rebuttals concerning repressive Church admonitions and rules that help perpetuate and validate sexism and homophobia. They noted the influence that some religious teachings and beliefs have had on encouraging women to stay in abusive relationships for the sake of keeping their marriages intact.

After listening to varying points of view and experiences, participants set aside the unresolved issues which emerged, and achieved consensus in reaffirming the primacy of spirituality in their lives and how spirituality is needed to heal the wounds of violence of practitioners, survivors, and for batterers.

Partnership with Faith Trust Institute

More recently, Alianza has joined a partnership with the Faith Trust Institute, Institute on Violence in the African American Community and the Women of Color Network to explore ways in which we can work together to develop frameworks that recognize the powerful role that faith, religion, culture and spirituality play in the healing journey of survivors of abuse.

Representatives of the four groups participated in the Institutes Think Tank on the Intersection of Ethnic and Religious Culture in Domestic Violence which took place October 18-20 in Washington, DC and have had or scheduled subsequent meetings to develop goals and objectives that evolved from the meeting.

Faith Trust Institute References and Resources

These resources will help you learn more about abuse and violence. The information will connect you with people, programs, and additional resources.

Culture and Religion Are Integral to Healing Approaches and Practices
by Adelita M. Medina, Executive Director Alianza
FaithTrust Institute Newsletter
February 15, 2010