Mexican culture is no longer a small, cultural subset in the United States. “The Latino population, currently the largest ethnic subgroup in the U.S., is expected to grow to nearly 25% of the U.S. population by 2050” (Gonzales, Germán, Kim, George, Fabrett, Millsap, & Dumka, 2008, p. 1). It is important to note that the term Latino is not inherent to the Mexican people or their culture. Latino people and their culture may refer to subgroup of Spanish-speaking peoples or those of Spanish and Spanish-related descent. Still, the Mexican subgroup is very large on its own. “Latinos of Mexican national heritage, described as ‘Mexican origin’…account for almost 60% of U.S. Latinos and a substantial portion of this growth rate” (Gonzales et al., 2008, p. 1). The presence of this culture—originally confined to the Southwestern region of the country—is now felt throughout the country.
History of Culture
The history of Mexican culture is rich and extensive enough to warrant its own in-depth study. For the purpose of how the culture relates to drug use and treatment, focus will remain on the aspects of Mexican culture in modern terms. Three of these cultural aspects are discussed by Gonzales et al., (2008) and Cruz, King, Mechammil, Bámaca-Colbert, & Robins (2018) which should only serve to illustrate their importance within the culture. The three main cultural aspects are “familism,” “respeto,” and religious views. In fact, Cruz et al., note that familism and respeto are traditional values intrinsic to families that fall within the Mexican culture, especially amongst the Mexican youth culture (2018). Cruz et al., defines both terms, providing context for those unfamiliar with Mexican culture.
The first of these cultural values is familism (or familismo in Spanish). Familism refers to “values that emphasize strong and harmonious bonds within the…family, positive attitudes and expectations related to assisting one’s family, and the belief that one’s behavior reflects upon the whole family” (Cruz et al., 2018, p. 113). These bonds foster a strong familial bond with a highly positive connotation.
The second of these cultural values is that of respect (or respeto in Spanish). Cruz et al., describes respeto as “obedience and deference to parents, grandparents, and other authority figures” (Cruz et al., 2018, p. 113). While familismo and respeto are similar in definition, they are perceived as different enough to warrant separate mentions by both Cruz et al., and Gonzalez et al., as well as the Mexican culture. Conversely, the first relates more to the familial bond while the second has more to do with obedience (especially for Mexican youths). The third cultural value has, perhaps, the most significant impact on Mexican culture:
Ties with conventional others are also promoted by traditional religious values, the third value dimension selected for inclusion. Religious values are important within traditional Mexican culture and, when maintained, are likely to increase conformity, diminish involvement with delinquent peers, and inhibit participation in deviant activities. (Gonzales et al., 2008, p. 3).
Religion is the driving force that governs the first two cultural values. Strict adherence to all three values may succeed in protecting the developing youth in the Mexican culture in the U.S. from the negative effects of non-Mexican cultural appropriation that threatens their cultural lifestyle.
While cultural appropriation is a fact when different cultures co-mingle, the academic term is different. “Acculturation is often used as an encompassing term for cultural change along heritage and receiving cultural dimensions” (Cruz et al., 2018, p. 113). Cruz et al., goes on to define acculturation as an adoption of other cultural practices, values, and identity (2018). In this case, the culture in question is American culture.
Unfortunately, as Mexican youths and American-born youth that still relate to Mexican culture participate in acculturation, those cultural values of familismo, respeto, and religion begin falling by the wayside. As the erosion of Mexican cultural values persists, “Mexican origin adolescents are at higher risk than the general population for experiencing serious behavioral consequences, including higher rates of juvenile arrest, substance abuse disorder, and school dropout” (Gonzales et al., 2008, p. 1). This phenomenon is widely referred to as the “immigrant paradox.” Without the values to guide them, this demographic is rapidly rising.
History of Drug Use in Culture. Drug use in the Mexican culture varies depending on location. However, treatment admissions from Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in 2003 reported that “41% of admissions involved Mexican Americans” and that “across these groups, the primary substance of abuse for Mexicans…was alcohol (27.1%)” (Chartier, Carmody, Akhtar, Stebbins, Walters, & Warden, 2015, p. 74). This percentage may have changed significantly in 15 years, but the remaining 72.9% of Mexican Americans were still treated for a wide variety of drugs as opposed to alcohol.
Interesting findings come from inside of Mexico. In the more rural areas, “the traditional use of drugs such as alcohol (pulque) and hallucinogens (e.g., peyote, mushrooms, ololiuhqui, toloache) is associated with ritual, magical, religious, and healing purposes” (Wagner, Diaz, López, Collado, & Aldaz, 2002, p. 716). Furthermore, nontraditional drugs were reported as being used. These drugs include marijuana, cocaine, heroin, or inhalants, according to Wagner et al., (2002), who blame the shift from rural to urbanization in Mexico. Regardless of how remote rural communities are from large Mexican cities, not to mention American cities, are not completely isolated, and are therefore at risk to the drug problems infecting those cities.
While not necessarily illegal, Wagner et al., also reports on alcohol and tobacco use amongst the Mexican culture. “The cultural and historical roots of alcohol and tobacco use in Mexico are different from those of nontraditional (illicit) drug use” (Wagner et al., 2002, p. 716). These products were used in cultural practices during social gatherings prior to colonization, according to Wagner et al., (2002). After colonization, use became more prevalent.
Alcohol and Drug abuse treatment modalities. Successful methods and treatment plans are available to people of Mexican culture. “Early patient engagement in substance abuse treatment has been widely reported as a strong predictor of positive treatment outcomes” (Marín-Navarrete, Horigian, Medina-Mora, Verdeja, Alonso, Feaster,... & De la Fuente-Martín, 2017, p. 10). However, implementing early patient engagement in Mexico has been difficult. In order to improve this, Marín-Navarrete et al., based their study around the Motivational Interviewing (MI) method. This method is “a client-centered therapeutic approach aimed at improving treatment engagement and outcomes” (Marín-Navarrete, 2017, p. 10). It is a low-cost and easy method.
Demographics. Participants in the 2015 study conducted by Chartier et al., were all Spanish-speaking individuals. 209 of these were classified as Mexican American for a total of 56%. They “were seeking outpatient treatment for any substance use disorder, including cocaine, alcohol, heroin, methamphetamine/amphetamine, marijuana, benzodiazepines, phencyclidine (PCP), opiates, and barbiturates” (Chartier et al., 2015, p. 75). The clinic used in the trial was staffed with bilingual counselors for easy communication.
Participants in the Marín-Navarrete et al., study were listed as adults (18 to 65 years old), who had been seeking outpatient treatment for substance use (2017). However, the study does not indicate the cultural heritage. Readers are left to assume that because it was conducted in Mexico, all participants are automatically of Mexican culture.
Treatment Implications. Both the Marín-Navarrete et al., study and the Chartier et al., study admitted to an overall lack of conclusive findings with regards to acculturation and other elements. However, “findings…may show that, regardless of therapeutic approach, individual counseling delivered at the beginning of treatment along with the implementation of constant contact efforts, might boost the effect of treatment in the Latino and Mexican population” (Marín-Navarrete, 2017, p. 15), thus concluding on a positive note.
Whether acculturation is a major element in substance abuse amongst Mexicans or not, the existence of it is troubling, especially amongst the younger generations living in the U.S. With the rise of Mexican and other Hispanic cultures, it seems only natural that more effort should be taken to ensure that their physical health needs are being met in a way that is culturally sensitive. While acculturation results in healthy interaction between cultures, it is important to preserve the traditions that make each and every culture unique.
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Mexican-origin youth substance use trajectories: Associations with cultural and family
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