Report cites a tug of war between traditional expectations, American reality for Latinas

May 22, 2008 

AM Single mother

Modesto resident Braulia Cantoran, 36, gives a kiss to daughter Alexandra, 9, as she holds daughter Angela Maria, 3, at righ.

ADRIAN MENDOZA — Modesto Bee

Although Latinas tend to have less education and earn less money than most women, they have the highest birthrates, according to a newly released report from the Pew Hispanic Center.

The fertility rate of Latinas is one-third higher than that of non-Latinas. Immigrant Latinas tend to have the most children, while U.S.-born Latinas have the highest rate of single motherhood.

The report released earlier this month is based on U.S. census data that also shows 35 percent of immigrant Latinas who gave birth from 2006 to 2007 were unwed. About 34 percent of non-Latina women in the United States gave birth out of wedlock.

There is a chasm between the traditional Latin American expectations of women and the reality Latinas face living in the United States every day, said Monica Lopez, of Cooperative Agencies Resources for Education. Her group works with single parents, trying to further their educations.

"Once your kids are out of your sight, they are in another culture," Lopez said.

Latino parents trying to instill traditional values in their children are not preparing them to deal with the problems kids face, said Pedro Elias of Planned Parenthood.

Parents and grandparents who grew up in Latin America rarely talk about sex and contraception. "They know people are having sex, but they just don't talk about it," he said.

Divorce rates not explored

While Latinas have the highest teen birthrate among major ethnic groups in the United States, it does not entirely explain the single motherhood rate among Latinas.

Like non-Latinas, many single Latina moms are divorced. The Pew survey did not explore divorce rates. However, it found that six in 10 immigrant Latinas in the United States are from Mexico.

Mexicans tend to be more secure in their marriages than U.S. citizens, according to the Legatum Prosperity Index. It found that 90 percent of Mexicans say they are in strong marriages while only about half of U.S. couples declare they are in strong marriages.

Braulia Cantoran, 36, thought she was in a strong marriage. She was living the traditional Latina life, with one daughter and another on the way when her marriage began to fall apart.

"It just didn't work out," she said.

So Cantoran, who never attended high school, divorced her husband and started taking classes at Modesto Junior College. It was a tough choice, she said.

"My husband was my life. I thought divorce was the end of the world. Then I saw I'm not alone. Other people divorce and find the energy to support their kids. It's hard, but not impossible," she said balancing her 3-year-old on one knee while keeping watch on her 9-year-old.

A different view of sex

American-born Latinas' high rate of single motherhood is startling to Librado Ulloa, a youth group leader at St. Frances of Rome Catholic Church in Riverbank.

Ulloa said he tries to instill the importance of marriage and abstinence in young Latinas, but he says the church is working against a more alluring culture in which sex is less sacred and women have a stronger sense of independence.

He said U.S.-born Latinas want to adhere to their families' values, so they don't plan to have sex and may not know about birth control. But when they are away from their families, they want to fit in.

Once pregnant, they tend to keep the baby, said Memo Benitez, associate youth minister at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Turlock. He said the church frequently discusses abortion and discourages it.

Sabiola Garcia, 20, of Modesto said there is no single cause of U.S.-born Latinas' high unwed birthrate. Caught between two cultures, they find themselves in a challenging situation.

Bee staff writer Eve Hightower can be reached at ehightower@modbee.com or 578-2382.

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