Latina Biculturalism: An Exploratory Study of Culture, Family, and Self in the Lives of New York-Based Latinas

Dinorah Nieves, Fordham University


Based on interviews with thirty 1.5 and second generation Latinas from the New York City metropolitan area, ages 18 to 32, the concept of "biculturalism" is explored. Using a number of models (hybrid identities, identity conflict, and others) the study found that these women's experiences are known and narrated through their life stories as arenas of conflict and struggle as well as competence and success. The conflicts they report involve their roles as daughters who, while remaining loyal to their families and cultures of origin, are seeking to break away and discover themselves as liberated members of U.S. society. This study also found that these women's cultural conflicts foster self-criticism and introspection and push them toward success, rather than toward the mental health problems reported in the current debates around biculturalism. The women in this study tell stories in intensely emotional terms about the difficulties and conflicts of everyday life with mothers, boyfriends, friends, school, and work. They describe their lives as full of peace and speak with pride of the life choices they have made. From their stories, three relatively important findings emerged. First, in the lives of these women, there is no clear link between biculturalism and mental health problems. Second, exposure to both American and Latin American cultures seems to have provided these women with an appreciation for both family closeness and care-giving as well as a motive to achieve education, economic independence, and the continual re-examination of the social norms of their two cultures. To be bicultural, for these women, is to stand outside of one culture and use it as a framework for challenging the norms of another, a skill that provides resilience and strength. Finally, in spite of the years of conflicts and stresses that might have harmed them, they tell us that they are resilient, that their strong family ties and their sense of independence have operated as protective factors. These Latinas represent a type of person underrepresented among both academic studies and popular images: the successful and well-functioning "bicultural" Latina.

Subject Area

Womens studies|Individual & family studies|Hispanic American studies

Recommended Citation

Nieves, Dinorah, "Latina Biculturalism: An Exploratory Study of Culture, Family, and Self in the Lives of New York-Based Latinas" (2011). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3452800.