“She married a gringo?” relatives would ask in dismay.
“I am not talking to my daughter enough in Spanish. She won’t be able to speak to her family,” I tell myself. “Mira nena, hoy español only!” I yell in a panic. (Both husband and daughter are great Spanish speakers, but I digress.)
My real pangs of guilt surface whenever I hire a Latina babysitter or cleaning person. They are “mi gente,” and I often overcompensate in dollars or praise. Why? Because of Latina Guilt.
According to Maribel Mejia, a psychologist in East Los Angeles, this guilt is palpable. She says it may originate from the differences in privileges and opportunities that allow some of us to be more successful than others. For example, I was born in Puerto Rico, where you’re a U.S. citizen from birth. I have never had to worry about visas or go through any immigration process. That’s not the same for those from nearby Dominican Republic or Central American countries like Honduras and others.
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“It’s the idea that quote, ‘they didn’t have it as easy as you'” Mejia explains. She adds Latina Guilt in some women manifests because of cultural standards. Some working Latina women may ask themselves: Shouldn’t I be cleaning my own house? Here comes the guilt when we hire someone to clean our dirty laundry and scrub our floors. These traditional roles for Latina women—mother, cook, housekeeper—stay with us despite the progress we’ve made.
Mejia recounts her own personal story. She remembers a male family member encouraging her to go to school but warning her: “learn to cook or you will not be able to get married.” As our roles as Latina women progress in society and we learn to accept that it’s okay to not fall victim to those stereotypes, our guilt may diminish, she explains.
But, is it selfish for me to overcompensate with the domestic workers I employ, just to make myself feel better? Even with special treatment and extras here and there, I still feel I am disrespecting these women, many of whom have become part of my family.
Mejia says to base your compensation on the value of the service being provided, no matter the person’s ethnicity. The person doing the work receives what is due to her and you don’t have to feel guilty for overcompensating for your guilt.
Also consider donating to a group that helps struggling Latinos. “You can give to undocumented immigrant causes or to charity,” Mejia says. “It’s about doing something good.”
So just like with any other guilt—Mommy Guilt, Daughter Guilt, You-Name-It Guilt—all we can do is do our best, be honest with ourselves and persevere. Come to think of it, that doesn’t seem too difficult. It’s what all we Latinas, regardless of our socioeconomic status, were really born and raised to do.