The age old battle between Dominicans and Puerto Ricans is one many Latinos are all too familiar with. It's ironic considering how close the islands are to each other and the many cultural similarities they share. But cultural clashes within the Latino community is a common issue, not just for the two neighboring Caribbean islands. We've seen it with Colombian and Ecuadorians, Costa Ricans and Salvadorans, Caribeños and South Americans, and that's just naming a few.
Who speaks better Spanish? What tastes better, rice and beans or pupusas? What music is better, cumbia or bachata? These are just some of the battles some of us grew up hearing. So we chatted with clinical psychologist Dr. Karen Caraballo, who specializes in Latino families, along with a few Latinas, to talk about the common obstacles and tensions that come with having parents from different parts of Latin America and how to deal.
"From the census perspective, Latinos are mixed — period," says Caraballo. "But for Latinos, we're able to identify our differences more because there's pride associated with each country of origin. We also identify our traditions and customs, and that's where the clash comes from." This clash is all too common in many mixed Latino homes, at times leaving the kids awkwardly stuck in the middle. In some cases, it could even effect which culture the child identifies more with.
"It was hard because you love your parents equally. But growing up my mom's and dad's family were like night and day," says 27-year-old Jaylah Sandoval from Miami. "I didn't feel comfortable around my mom's Salvadoran family because they were so traditional and strict. I found my dad's Costa Rican side of the family to be more fun, flexible, and more up to date with things."
Another important factor when it comes to cultural conflicts are the parents’ relationship with their own culture.
"How assimilated or acculturated that parent is with their own culture impacts how the child identifies with that side of themselves," says Caraballo. "Is that parent pushing their child to assimilate with their culture? Are both parents teaching their children to embrace both cultures?"
In many Latino families, it's the mom's side of the family that the child tends to identify with more. "Moms typically spend more time with the kids so there's more opportunity for them to share their culture. But this also depends on what the child's relationship with both mom and dad looks like,” Caraballo adds.
"Earlier on, I identified more with being Cuban and often left out my Argentine side. Even now I still find myself more connected to my mom's Cuban side," says 31-year-old Sugey Palomares based out of New York. "My mother had a strong cultural influence in the household, from what we ate to what we listened to, and even what religion we were exposed to."
There are also subtle — and sometimes not so subtle jabs — thrown from one side of the family to the other.
"There were times when my Puerto Rican side of the family would joke about my Dominican side of the family. They'd say, ‘Oh Dominicans speak bad Spanish or are so loud. Little jabs here and there," says 30-year-old Cynthia Almodovar who lives in Queens, New York. "It never affected which one I identified more with, but it definitely made me view Dominicans in a certain way for a while."
Even for someone like Maria Hernandez, a 25 year-old medical receptionist in Long Island, who has always been in tune with both her Dominican and Cuban side, she ran into some identity issues after her parents divorced.
"My Cuban step-mother would always look at me strangely when I would listen to bachata. I'd speak with a Dominican accent around my Dominican friends but would switch it back to a Cuban accent at home," Hernandez adds.
More factors tie into this as well, not just how both sides of the family relate to one another.
"How your other culture is perceived by others in your neighborhood, school or by your peers also matters," says Caraballo. "It can determine whether you feel proud or ashamed of your background."
So how do you overcome these cultural clashes and embrace both sides? Dr. Caraballo suggests educating yourself about both cultures and discovering the things that make them both unique.
"Learn the history, customs, traditions, holidays, music, food, and identify with the positive things from each culture," Dr. Caraballo adds. She also suggests to speak up.
"You need to communicate with both parents that you aren’t comfortable with each putting down the other culture," she says. "Setting limits and educating our parents and family members is important because at the end of the day, we should be more united as a community."