Nicole Rose and Dr. Greg Thompson, Anthropology Department
Researchers define familismo as a “strong identification with the family” (Triandis, Marin, Betancourt, Lisansky, & Chang, 1982). Sabogal et al. said that “perceived support from family,” “family obligations,” and third, using family as cultural “referents” are important parts of familismo(Sabogal, Marín, Otero-Sabogal, Marín, & Perez-Stable, 1987). All researchers seem to have an underlying assumption that familismo-style relationships are phenomena that occur between blood-relation (Sabogal et al., 1987)(Steidel & Contreras, 2003)(Triandis et al., 1982)(Davila, Reifsnider, & Pecina, 2011). I argue that Mexican kinship is not defined simply by blood relations and that a kin group can be formed through reciprocal relationships. Familismo relationships can therefore be formed among people that are not biologically related.
This study was a family-centered ethnography, which employed participant observations, and informal interviews among 4 different Mexican-American families. The study took place in Provo and Orem, Utah.
Family responsibilities and obligations are one of the important defining features of familismo. “Family Obligations” is defined as a person’s “perceived obligation to provide material and emotional support.” (Sabogal et al., 1987). Calzada et al notes that “the notion of familial reciprocity involves an obligation to provide whatever support is needed by other family members,” (Calzada et al., 2013). There is a family obligation to participate in reciprocal relationship. Sacrifice, as mentioned by Sabogal et al., one half of that reciprocal relationship.
Sahlins stated that reciprocal gift-giving is a way that people establish post-natal kin. Sahlins states that when “the exchange may create a ‘fellowship’ between them, the mutuality of being that is the hallmark of kinship,” (Sahlins, 2011b). Considering the fact that concept of family obligations (as expressed through reciprocity) is such an important part of the familismo literature, it is possible that when these reciprocal relationship occur outside a family, they are a way for kinship relationships to begin.
In my field experience, I saw these reciprocal relationships initiated by children. Because of my time limitation in the field, I could not see the relationship develop into a fullfledged kin relationship. However, these relationships could potentially develop into a kin relationship.
On a home visit to Sarah and her family – one of mothers of the four families that participated in the study – Sarah’s Anglo-American friend and daughter were there visiting. Sarah’s daughter tried to giver her Barbie away to the red-haired Anglo- American’s daughter. Here is an excerpt from my field notes:
As the two women stood in the kitchen discussing Ana giving her Barbie away, Ana walked up to them, looked up at the red haired woman, and explained with a straight face that she doesn’t play with the Barbie anymore, and she doesn’t need it anymore. Her serious face and quiet voice seemed to indicate that she was sincere about the words she spoke. The Anglo-American woman, though, continued to decline the gift on behalf of her daughter. Ana and the two women slipped into the other room to discuss the matter further, but when they returned into the kitchen, Ana’s little friend didn’t have the Barbie doll in her hand anymore.
This excerpt from my field notes gives the impression that giving something to someone who is not in the family is an act of one-sided sacrifice that is not reciprocated. While we don’t know what kind of relationship the two girls have, we do know that Ana seems to be holding up her end of a reciprocal relationship by initiating a sacrifice. One of the other families that participated in the study had a 4-year-old daughter named Sandra. She had an opportunity to not only initiate a sacrifice, but also to follow through with an entire reciprocal relationship. Here is an excerpt from my field notes:
I sit at the kitchen table with Sandra, and Dona’s oldest daughter while Dona stands in the kitchen preparing a snack. Dona asks if I like “pepinos,” (cucumbers) and I say yes. She puts slices of cucumber and pineapple covered in lime juice and salt in small plastic baggies and hands them out to her daughters and her sons that were walking through the kitchen. Sandra comes back to the table and silently shares a cucumber with me, because I don’t have a bag yet. As I snack on the cucumber, Dona walks over and gives me a bag with a ton of cucumbers in it, more than what the kids have in their baggies. Once I have the plastic baggy in my hands, Sandra silently opens up her bag, and leans the opening towards me for me to give her one of my cucumbers. As soon as I put it some food in her bag she closed up her bag.
This experience is a perfect example of a reciprocal relationship. Sofie expected me to return her sacrifice with a sacrifice of my own. I felt that because she asked for something back, it made the exchange more comfortable. She initiated a relationship typical of an in-family relationship, as described in familismo literature (Calzada et al., 2013)(Sabogal et al., 1987). This type of reciprocal relationship is described in the literature, but as only occurring between blood relations. The fact that Sofie initiated the same reciprocal relationship with me – a person that is not biologically related to her – illustrates that relationships between people who are not blood related can still fall under categories set by familismo scholars.
In conclusion, relationships with non-blood related people can turn into family relationship in a Mexican-American context. Sahlins states that post-natal kinship can be formed in various ways, including reciprocal gift-giving. This type of kin relationship is described in the familismo literature within blood-ties (Smith-Morris et al., 2012)(Sabogal et al., 1987)(Calzada et al., 2013). However, after observing families in the field and performing interviews, I saw that these same relationship were also present between people that were not blood related. The presence of these relationship outside what scholars define as “family” illustrates that reciprocal gift-giving are important parts of the Mexican-American kinship system.