Hispanic Americans/Latinos

Hispanic Americans (also called Latinas and Latinos) are defined as individuals of Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American, or other Spanish cultures or origins, regardless of their race (CSAT, 1999b). LGBT Hispanics, regardless of the differences among the nationalities represented, have many common values, including strong religious faith, altruism, family values, and spirituality. They contribute greatly to their community, regardless of the fact that they may come from diverse and separate cultural systems and socioeconomic realities.

In treating Hispanic clients, the family is the cornerstone. The support network consists of the family and a host of other individuals who may or may not be related. For new immigrants, the stress of learning a new language, new cultural norms and behavior, and the sense of loss from leaving family and other loved ones behind can be overwhelming.

Homosexuality may be privately acknowledged, but it is usually not discussed openly. Hispanics may be more reluctant to self-identify as LGBT than members of the mainstream culture. The perception of sexuality as an indication of identity is often overridden by identification with the community. Mainstream culture tends to label a person who has a sexual encounter with someone of the same gender as gay, bisexual, or lesbian. In Hispanic culture, some men who have sex with men do not consider themselves gay if they play the dominant role in the sexual act. When treating Hispanic clients, providers should respect this distinction.

Values. Group needs and objectives, family values and ties, and trust (confianza) are respected. Traditional values, some of which are rooted in the Catholic faith, are honored. Many Hispanic Americans consider religion central to their lives. Latino/Latina clients appreciate recognition of the emotional, family, and spiritual challenges related to substance abuse problems. Clients likely will maintain a high level of privacy about subjects of a personal nature (illness, addiction, sexual behavior). In most families, the family respects strong gender roles. Machismo, the strong sense of masculine pride or exaggerated masculinity, and other traditional male attitudes can be barriers to seeking treatment for substance abuse and to coming out. Males are the center of the family, and many gay, bisexual, and transgender men find it difficult to acknowledge their sexual and gender identities. Drinking is a socially accepted behavior in some families, and young children are allowed to drink beer and tequila as a rite of passage. Caseres and Cortifias (1996) report that for gay Latinos “the bar can be a surrogate home where they can find their other family, who fulfill[s] some of their needs of emotional support in a nonjudgmental context . . . the bar life nurtures, relieves guilt, and becomes an emotional shelter where they can find a new, positive, and valuable world.”

Language. Using nonscientific, nontechnical terms and descriptions applicable to the client’s cultural background (Mexican, Colombian, Puerto Rican, etc.) is recommended. The use of Latino, Chicano, or Hispanic differs among groups and communities. An interpreter may be necessary to successfully treat some Hispanic clients or their families, and bilingual staff members are an excellent resource.

Nonverbal behavior. A professional and respectful physical contact, such as shaking hands at every greeting, helps create a safe space for the client. Maintaining eye contact denotes attention and understanding.

Learning styles. Family members, especially heads of families, are a source of guidance, counseling, and instruction. It is important to empower individuals to learn about their situation and to know that they can seek support within their own community. It is necessary to remember that for most Hispanic Americans the learning process is based in the context rather than the process. Using a hypothetical third person when giving examples to avoid embarrassment and discomfort about intimate subjects is an effective approach.

Healing. Healing is influenced by strong religious beliefs that are often based on traditional Catholicism, although other practices may be followed. Spirituality and religious beliefs are generally very strong and can influence the decisionmaking or behavioralchange processes.