Mexican American Women Can Be More Than Housewives And Mothers

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Due to cultural views and strict religious beliefs many young Mexican American women in the Coachella Valley are often discouraged from choosing a major that would take too much time away from future family obligations. Therefore, they are encouraged to stick to traditional stereotypical careers. It is my understanding, that both cultural view and religious beliefs play a role in young Mexican American women’s choice of a college major. I believe the information contained in this research project would be helpful to high school counseling departments and college advising groups. If we can understand that a person can have a strong religious belief and still aspire to be something more than a housewife and mother, one might be able to encourage young Mexican American women to follow their dreams and become who they wish to become.


Graduating high school is a great accomplishment for many students, and the prospect of entering college is perceived as a new and exciting experience. However, for some students the whole process of going to college can be extremely hectic and overwhelming, for there are so many things to consider. Do you choose a public school or a private school? Do you need to consider the overall cost? What about your parents, is this where they want you to go? More importantly than where you go, is what are you going to study? The method of choosing a college major can be very complicated. It can cause a great deal of anxiety, because for some this decision will likely be one of the most important decision we make. This research paper will look at factors that influence some Mexican American women within the Coachella Valley and identify which factors are most influential. I will evaluate research on career development theories and examine the impact of culture and religion on this process. I will offer an example of my own research by presenting a summary of an interview I performed, along with my analysis of the interview. In the end, it is my hope that the knowledge gained from this paper will be used to encourage young Mexican American women to follow their dreams and become who they wish to be, not who society perceives them to be.

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For clarification purposes, the term Mexican American shall be defined as an American born individual of Mexican ancestry. However, due to the absence of research explicit to Mexican American women, the materials cited in this paper will include Hispanic women and Chicanas. “The term Hispanic includes people whose origin is Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the countries of Central and South America” (Tienda & Ortiz, 1986).


Located in Riverside County, California the Coachella Valley (see figure 1) is a desert area comprised of nine incorporated cities and 3 unincorporated cities, with Palm Springs being the most familiar. The Valley (as is it commonly referred to) is approximately 45 miles long, beginning at the San Bernardino Mountains and ending at the Salton Sea. It spreads 15 miles across, surrounded by the San Jacinto and the Santa Rosa Mountains. The San Andreas Fault runs along the Little San Bernardino Mountain range.

Equally important is the population within the Coachella Valley as it varies depending on the time of year. In fact, January’s population can exceed 800,000, while the population in July is barely 200,000. According to the 2010 US Census Data the Race and Ethnicity breakdown of the Coachella Valley as follows: Hispanics – 71%; White – 25%, with the remaining 4% listed as Other.

Politically speaking, in 2017 the city of Palm Springs elected the nation’s first all-LGBTQ city council, consisting of a bisexual woman, a transgender woman and three gay men. According to the Riverside County Board of Voter Registration, the majority of registered voters in the county are affiliated with the Democratic Party, while large portions of the Coachella Valley (except for Palm Springs) are affiliated with the Republican Party.

Career Development Theories

“There is perhaps, no college decision that is more thought-provoking, gut wrenching and rest-of-your life oriented or disoriented than the choice of a major” (St. John, 2000, p. 22). There are various theories in which the career decision making process is seen as a systematic approach in which one simply weighs the cost of college against the benefit of the college degree. These various theories perceive the process as strictly an objective and logical process. However, Murtagh, Lopes, and Lyons (2011) theorize that some individuals use an ‘other than rational’ approach when deciding on a career. Within their research they theorize people will sometimes use not only rational measures, they may also depend on emotion, intuition, and cognition, either together or separately, to reach a decision.

In the same way we must also recognize that parents play an important role in shaping their children’s education not only through their direct resources (i.e., income, cultural capital) but also by enculturating values beneficial to achievement. In the research conducted by Sherkat and Darnell (1999) they speculate that the influence of religious practices, such as regularly attending religious services, normally produces the educational outcome the parents prefer. Likewise, their research suggests that this positive educational outcome is a reflection of how religious teens are the kind of youth who perform well in school due to their dedication to their religious studies.

Conversely, “spiritual issues are minimally addressed in the career development literature as a whole and counselors are typically not exposed to coursework devoted to spiritual issues during their graduate training” (Ingersoll, 1994, p. 99). Ingersoll expresses the need for career counselors to have access to this type of information in order to completely address the individual as a whole person. Ingersoll’s research conveys to us the necessity of incorporating all the personal dimensions when counselor’s offer advice to the students they serve.

Similarly, the research done by Milot and Ludden (2009) states, “adolescents who reported higher levels of importance of religion had more college plans, and higher levels of school bonding and learning goals, than those reporting lower religious importance, even after parental social support was accounted for” (413). Their research provides evidence “for the importance of researching the institution of religion as a separate and influential context for adolescent development” (421). Additional researchers, such as Rogers and Franzen (2014) also convey to us that “research has demonstrated that a person’s religious orientation has an influence on various social outcomes, such as educational attainment and income” (583).

Granted, the existing career development theories are flawed. Practically all of them do not take religion or spirituality into account, nor do they acknowledge cultural or gender differences. Most early research had been conducted and focused completely on white males. As such, it is important to note that many career experts advocate for understanding that the process of career development is different for women than is it for men. In addition, “women’s career development is unique because of the intertwining of work and family” (Fitzgerald, Fassinger, & Betz, 1995, p. 68).

Speaking to the uniqueness of career development in women, Krumboltz (1999) reminds us that “women of color have similar experiences to white women; however, their experiences are different because of the element of culture” (xi). Furthermore, Krumboltz articulates that major career development theories ignore these cultural differences and inform us that there is not a comprehensive model to address a culturally diverse population. Yet, in the research of Rivera, Anderson & Middleton (1999) they express “that the career development process for women is considerably different from that of men with women dealing with issues related to gender role expectations, racism, sexism, and self-efficacy” (2). Moreover, we see in the work of Bingham and Ward (1994), that the researchers noted the world of work, family involvement, community influence, language, socialization, sexism and racism all influence the career development of ethnic minority women. They specifically noted that, “these categories cannot be neatly divided and they overlap and perhaps are not even separable” (168).


Colander and Giles (2008) state “the debate over a women’s ‘proper’ place is alive and well in the public sphere, and this debate is particularly salient in religious communities which have deeply rooted convictions concerning gendered roles with the home” (526).

Since its inception, anthropology has long debated the definition of culture. Culture is complex, it is not universal. Geertz (1973) states that cultures provides us with direction to establish a sense of consistency between permanence and change. Culture, as a whole, includes knowledge, customs, beliefs, morals, laws, art and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society. Culture can be applied to all societies, as the general definition of patterns of behavior. I belief culture to be one element of the career development process.

In his book, Hispanics in the United States, Moore (1985) explains that career decisions become even more complex for Mexican American women when we add the element of culture to the process. He expresses how Mexican American women’s career decisions are further complicated by their cultural expectations. He continues to clarify that this complexity is based on the women’s perceived responsibility to maintain their culture and to transmit it to others within the family structure. In Segura and Pierce’s (1993) article, they add that the elements of language, family structure, sex roles and religion are the foundational elements within the culture. It is these elements that impact the Mexican American woman’s career development process. Segura and Pierce (1993) continue to articulate the importance of the family structure with the Chicano culture. Their article examines ‘familism’, which in the Chicano culture includes family size, family unity, multigenerational households, and interaction with the extended family.

As result of the importance of the family structure, we can assume that adherence to family traditions is expected. If we look at the family structure within the Hispanic culture, we will find it is grounded by a dominant father figure. The mother, in her passive role, is dependent upon this male figure. The Mexican American women not only deals with these traditional sex-role stereotypes within her culture, but she must also deal with male domination. In their article on sex-role attitudes, Ortiz and Cooney (1984), examine how traditional sex roles are found to be more prevalent in first- and second-generation Hispanic women. They tell us that because of their perceived maternal duties, they are not expected to contribute to the work force. This is due to the notion that as mothers they are responsible for maintaining the family structure, as well as passing down these traditional teaching their daughters the traditional practices within their culture.

In addition to the important of the family structure, is the element of religion. “For women in religious communities, the tension between career and mothering aspirations may be problematic. This may be particularly true for college aged women, who, for the first time, may be considering how they career pursuits coincide with their maternal goals” (Colander & Giles, 2008, p. 528). Women make up more than half of the Catholic Hispanic population, and as stated before it is their duty to maintain the family’s religious beliefs. This tradition, in part, helps to explain the formation of the Mexican American woman as a saintly and passive person. She is a person who must sacrifice herself for the benefit of her family. If a Mexican American women should begin a career and delays having children this may not be acceptable within her community.

Rogers and Franzen (2014) state, “religious discourse idealizes certain forms and functions of the family, defining them as legitimate, valuable and morally correct” (582). They continue by expressing how women’s religious beliefs construct a foundation for them to “make sense of and understand gender roles” (582). Therefore, they conclude that religion plays a big part in shaping our gender roles.

My Interview and Analysis

While working on my master’s thesis I had the opportunity to interview a first generation Mexican American woman in the Coachella Valley. Here are some of the highlights from that interview, along with my analysis.

Maria is a 20-year-old first-generation Mexican American woman who is attending a community college. She is unmarried and lives at home with her parents. She is still undecided in her choice of majors. During our conversation she expressed how she wanted to be an automobile mechanic because she enjoys working on cars with her brothers. She talked about her excitement of going to her first official automotive class. Yet, as she was discussing this class with me, I could hear her voice change from excitement to despair. Then she stated that on the very first day of class several of her male classmates told her that she should just go home and make babies, as no one would ever trust a female to work on their car. As you can imagine, she was devastated.

Our conservation continued and she expressed to me how ironic it is to live in the Coachella Valley. She talked about how the politics on one end were so very different from the politics on the other. She expressed her feelings on being ‘less than’ those in the LGBTQ community. She said that because she was a Mexican and a woman, her goals were not as important as those of everyone else in the community.

It is my opinion that this scenario validates the struggle that occurs as Mexican American women decided their futures, including what their college major will be.  


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