12 Gender Roles Across Borders

Rebecca Rodrigues


The piece I have chosen deals heavily with the gender roles among the Latin culture. Written by Vicki L. Ruiz in 1998 and published in the United States, her work goes into the psychological and political attributes that affect the wellbeing and comfort of Latina women. Vicki’s work centers around Latina women immigrated from Mexico and their families, specifically, the raising of their children in modern oppressed society. We are introduced to a very different perspective, not quite like any we have seen in other modern-day American families. Ultimately, we see the day-to-day conflict of raising a family in a completely different culture, language, and society.

Imagine leaving everything you know, abandoning all you have built, and waving goodbye to the only family you’ve ever known. Imagine the heartbreaking thought that you may never see any of it again. Imagine the loss of the most delicious foods, the mouthwatering smells only to become a memory. Imagine listening to certain songs and knowing you won’t hear the instruments dance that way again. Imagine hearing one language your entire life and being able to comfortably let words flow from your tongue to not being able to ask for water anymore. Imagine holidays much smaller and much harder. Imagine birthdays preferred to be forgotten. Imagine being unable to bury the loved ones who grew alongside you. Imagine starting over, because without doing so there would be nothing else for you besides despair.

Now imagine building your own family. Building everything from the ground up again, kissing the heads of your spouse and children because they’re all you know. Imagine knowing it’s finally safe and you can send your children to school knowing you’ll see them again. Imagine the new recipes you’ve come to learn, the smells giving you a new warmth and satisfaction. Imagine hearing new music and dancing to it with a new grace. Imagine learning a second language and growing more confident in it and now you become bilingual. Imagine holidays becoming all the more cherished and personal. Imagine birthdays becoming bigger celebrations of a better life. Imagine living freely. Imagine starting over, because there was no other choice, but you find peace in that.

To magnify the severity of this journey, imagine being a woman and being told you have to handle and raise a family according to the standards of the new world you walked into. Despite all you’ve been through, the weight of the world only grows heavier on your shoulders.

Vicki L. Ruiz takes us on those emotional and very real experiences, all while experiencing the oppression of Americanizing immigrants. Is it necessary? Can it be avoided? What emotional distress comes with this journey, and more importantly who is it truly helping? The need to control modern American culture is toxic alone, yet in order to find peace, it is evident Latina women in these situations prefer to blend in, in order to be overlooked and left alone.

From Out of the Shadows : Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America[1]

As a child Elsa Chávez confronted a “moral” dilemma. She wanted desperately to enjoy the playground equipment [2]close to her home in El Paso’s Segundo Barrio[3]. The tempting slide, swings, and jungle gym seemed to call her name[4]. However, her mother would not let her near the best playground (and for many years the only playground)[5] in the barrio. Even a local priest warned Elsa and her friends that playing there was a sin[6]—the playground was located within the yard of the Rose Gregory Houchen Settlement, a Methodist community center.

While one group of Americans responded to Mexican immigration by calling for restriction and deportation[7], other groups mounted campaigns to “Americanize” the immigrants[8]. From Los Angeles, California, to Gary, Indiana, state and religious-sponsored Americanization programs swung into action. Imbued with the ideology of “the melting pot,” teachers, social workers, and religious missionaries envisioned themselves as harbingers of salvation and civilization[9]. Targeting women and especially children, the vanguard of Americanization placed their trust “in the rising generation.[10]” As Pearl Ellis of the Covina City schools explained in her 1929 publication, Americanization Through Homemaking[11], “Since the girls are potential mothers and homemakers, they will control, in a large measure, the destinies of their future families.[12]” She continued, “It is she who sounds the clarion call in the campaign for better homes.”[13]

Just an immigrant writing about other fellow immigrants ; )

  1. Ruiz, Vicki L.. From Out of the Shadows : Mexican Women in Twentieth-Century America. Cary: Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2008. Accessed December 2, 2019. ProQuest Ebook Central.
  2. The term “desperately”, signifies that gravity of how something so simple isn’t attainable. We aren’t told why, but it is evident that something is very wrong.
  3. We’re given a glimpse of the locating/setting for this work.
  4. The innocence in this sentence really shows how sad it is that as a child, Elsa couldn’t do a very simple activity. It shows the desperation for safety and purity of innocence.
  5. This shows the lack of income or support for this community. Having only one playground signifies that funding is going elsewhere (not towards the healthy development of a child)
  6. Showing the severity of the matter, it is taken to the extreme where religious factors are brought in in order to frighten the children from playing.
  7. Why is the response required at all? Restriction and deportation are extreme verdicts.
  8. “Americanize” meaning take away their cultural roots and all that they knew before. Discrediting who they were and what their traditional culture signifies.
  9. Teachers, social workers, and religious missionaries all take it upon themselves to “fix” the “crisis” when in reality not every immigrant is a sob story that needs a hero.
  10. The rising generation applies a lot of pressure to all the mothers, in this case, targeting the women to disregard their own goals and not put themselves first in any manner.
  11. Homemaking is different in various countries, to enforce one way over another pushes the concept that one culture is superior to another. “Gender and Cultural Adaptation in Immigrant Families - Dion - 2001 - Journal of Social Issues - Wiley Online Library.” Accessed November 20, 2019. https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/0022-4537.00226.
  12. The fact that the mothers are put in a position where they control the destiny of their family name is empowering, however strenuous to the capacity one can take alone.
  13. Better homes, signifying that leaving all you had behind and sacrificing everything isn’t enough if your home doesn’t match with the American cultural standards. “Gender and Cultural Adaptation in Immigrant Families - Dion - 2001 - Journal of Social Issues - Wiley Online Library.” Accessed November 20, 2019. https://spssi.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/0022-4537.00226.


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