Italian Mexicans - Kinship



Italian Mexican marriage, residential practices, and kinship system generally conform to those of the larger Mexican society: they are characterized by serial monogamy, bilateral descent, a mixture of patrilocal and neolocal nuclear and extended families, and partible inheritance.

Marriage. Serial monogamy is the common form of marriage among Italian Mexicans. The Catholic church has strong sanctions discouraging divorce. Should a couple divorce, neither individual can remarry with the benediction of the church. Should a spouse die, however, individuals are free to remarry. Among the parental generation of Italian Mexicans, group endogamy is strongly viewed as preferable to exogamous arrangements. In original communities, such as Chipilo, Puebla, the great majority of marriages are endogamous. In the satellite community of La Perla de Chipilo, Guanajuato, on the other hand, of seventy-five marriages between 1963 and 1988, 52 percent were exogamous and 48 percent endogamous. Typically, when a woman marries a non-Italian Mexican, the couple resides outside of the community, but an Italian Mexican man is likely to bring his non-Italian bride to live in the Italian Mexican community.

Domestic Unit and Inheritance. The Italian Mexican household is a locus for the reproduction of a rather widely cited Latin American and Mediterranean household ideology that emphasizes hierarchical, patriarchal authority. Gender is a major form of inequality within households, and there is a visible gap in status between sons and daughters that is created and maintained by differential access to farm resources and inheritance. Although ideally inheritance is partible, the reality is that sons but not daughters, who are expected to marry and be supported by their husbands, compete for the inheritance of all or part of the farm (i.e., de facto patrilineal partible inheritance). Sons' bargaining power within the household for resources, and ultimately inheritance, is conditioned by their age and location within the domestic cycle. As sons get older, they start their own petty businesses raising pigs or goats for sale, generating extra spending money for themselves but also demonstrating their entrepreneurial skill to their father. Those with the most skill are likely to enhance their bargaining power and receive the favor of their father—an especially important factor in determining who will inherit the family farm.

There is a second aspect to understanding households that is generational. Through the 1960s, households tended to be large and extended, often with ten to twelve children and multiple generations. This has created problems of inheritance and succession. In the 1970s mechanization began to be adopted by many of these large households, effectively "squeezing out" older sons (especially those who were married and had started their own families and who were, consequently, costly for their father to support), whose labor was replaced by that of younger sons and machinery. Younger sons were more likely to be working on the farm when the father reached retirement age (around the age of 60 to 65) and thus to inherit the estate (these conditions therefore favored a type of ultimogeniture).

The youngest generation of married sons has smaller families (two to five children) and can now rely on machinery as well as the increasing use of wage labor to replace household labor.

Socialization. Early socialization takes place within the home. Parents tend to be strict with their children, often disciplining them physically. Children are taught to speak Italian as well as Spanish. In original communities such as Chipilo, Puebla, schools are staffed by Italian Mexicans, and classes are often conducted in Spanish and Italian. In satellite communities such as La Perla de Chipilo, Guanajuato, children must go to nearby Mexican towns to attend school. Formal education is attaining increasing value. Many Italian Mexicans go well past the mandatory six years of education, and a large percentage attend high schools and universities.

From an early age, children are socialized to accept an occasionally blurred division of labor: boys do farm chores, and girls learn domestic tasks. Older adults report, however, that prior to the adoption of mechanization in farming, women frequently did the milking and field work during critical stages of planting and harvesting.

An important rite of passage for boys and girls around 10 years of age is their first communion in the Catholic church. Another rite, the quinceañera, is celebrated on a girl's fifteenth birthday. It introduces her to the community as a marriageable woman and displays her family's wealth. The main ritual is a lavish feast hosted by her relatives. This modern custom is gaining popularity in mestizo areas of Mexico where the standard of living is improving. Both of these rites have religious dimensions and serve as opportunities for establishing broader kinship ties through compadrazgo; they are also social occasions marked by a fiesta, or festival.


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