Friday, July 22, 2011

Immigration definitely bears on the "family values" debate (Post story)

Thursday, the Washington Post ran an interesting front-page story about “family values”, “’Nuclear Family’ the Way of N. Va.;  Influx of Hispanics, Asians helps area buck the national trend”, link here.

There is a curious quote in the middle of the story: “Emma Violand-Sanchez, a member of the Arlington County School Board, notices a distinct difference between the individualism of American culture and the more communal family values in Hispanic culture.”

“We grow up with a concept of we, versus I”, she said. “If you have toys, those toys belong to the entire family, not to one child.”

“The majority of us are Catholic, and the Church also reinforces the family. Versus living with a partner without getting married, or living independently, away from your family. Family is valued. We grow up with a sense of responsibility to be together.”

That last sentence caught my eye. In their culture, it is more important to share the values of the family group and support them than to define your own goals and pursue them.  It’s not a good thing to stand alone. It’s dangerous to “you” and to the family.  It's not your prerogative to judge other people in your immediate community and decide whether to "feel" about them on the basis of their "merit". 

Having children within marriage confers the power (and responsibility) to set priorities for those who did not have children. That guarantees a lineage, as part of a communal “survival strategy” but also makes marital intimacy last. But in an individualistic society, this kind of thinking makes the childless into second-class citizens. But it’s what the “natural family” crowd wants.  It's more about what's "right" for the group than what's "true" for the individual. Social hierarchies and the loyalties they demand tend to trump over individual ideas of justice.  

All of this weighs on the debate about sustainability and the ability of a community to survive serious outside existential challenges.  And there's no question that there is a demographic twist to the debate on low birth rates and the ability to replace the aging population. 

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