Speaking of Miley: Hey Kid, Learn From Latinos and Respect Your Elders

I did it once, and I will never do it again.

As a teenager, I committed a grievous sin in Latino culture- I talked back to my mother. 

She paused for a moment, and I saw anger in her face. She didn’t yell at me nor did she hit me. She grabbed my arm, looked me in the eye and in a stern voice said, “You will NEVER disrespect me like that again.” I was then escorted to my room to begin what would be a very long punishment phase.

Respect for parents and elders is important to Latinos. It’s not oppression or a dominance issue; it’s just the way things are.

Even as an adult, I wouldn’t dare dream of doing anything that would be disrespectful to my mother, grandparents or older relatives.

People get praise and financial reward for making inappropriate behavior the new norm and ridiculing those who adhere to values that ultimately protect all of us from hurting ourselves and hurting others.

- Kim Keller

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Disrespect can come in many forms. Talking back, rude behavior and embarrassing the family are considered shameful, and other family members are quick to put the offender back in his or her place.

I remember when one of my uncles made the very unwise decision to criticize my grandmother. He started ranting at her in the kitchen, and within seconds, the entire family was by her side with shouts of “don’t you dare talk to her that way” filling the house. The commotion died down after a few minutes, and my uncle sulked back to his bedroom.

Disrespect doesn’t always involve words; it can involve actions as well. Latino parents want their children to respect parental authority, but more importantly, they want them to respect themselves.

Latina women in the United States are at higher risk for adolescent pregnancy than are their non-Latina white counterparts. Young Latinos of both genders are disproportionately affected by STDs. Some say these outcomes are compounded by traditional cultural values that promote chastity for girls and machismo behavior for boys. Others say the modern “do if it feels good” culture highlighted by the entertainment industry is the culprit. Regardless of the cause, our kids are facing the consequences.

It’s been said that men change their attitudes about women once they have a daughter. Latino fathers want to shield their daughters from the kinds of relationships they themselves may have pursued as a hormone driven boy. Latina mothers know the challenges their girls will face, and they want to spare them from the hurt they may have witnessed or experienced. Many of them endured the heartbreak of callous boys who promised them love in exchange for sex, and many of them had to face unplanned pregnancies alone and afraid.

My mother heeded these lessons and was very strict with me. She checked my clothes before I left the house, monitored my friends, enforced a curfew and interviewed every boy who had the courage to ask me out on a date. It wasn’t a control issue; it was for my protection. My young adult self may have been physically mature enough to engage in adult behaviors, but I definitely lacked the wisdom and emotional maturity to understand the consequences.

Did I rebel after years of such ruthless oppression? No, I thrived. I saw how messed up other kids were whose parents didn’t have these values. I never went wild because I had too much respect for my mother, and I knew she wanted me to have a better life than the one she had.

I want my children’s lives to be better than mine as well. My husband and I work to instill the same values in their lives, even though some view them as out-dated or controlling. We live in a society in which shock and awe eclipse honor and respect. People get praise and financial reward for making inappropriate behavior the new norm and ridiculing those who adhere to values that ultimately protect all of us from hurting ourselves and hurting others.

Stop berating these folks. Give parents and other elders some credit. They are very wise; they know what’s down there at the end of the road, and they love us enough to try to save us from it. Latino or not, that alone deserves respect.

Kim Keller is a Latina public relations professional and the writer of the headline-making blog RoadkillGoldfish.com.

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