THE HISPANIC EXPERIENCE IN MARRIAGE PREPARATION
By Lydia Pesina
Director, Family Life Office, Diocese of Brownsville
In addressing the Hispanic experience in marriage preparation, it is important to highlight
that currently Hispanics constitute the largest minority group in the U.S.--38.8 million or 13% of
the population. This includes 13.3 % in the Northeast., 7.7% in the Midwest, 34.8%in the South,
and 44.2% in the West. The population is soaring because of immigration and higher birth rates.
It is also important to acknowledge the cultural and educational diversity: 66.9% are of Mexican
descent, 14.3 % Central and South American, 8.6 % Puerto Rican, 3.7 % Cuban, and 6.5%
other. Sixty percent of Hispanics currently in this country are U.S. born. In reference to theeducational diversity, it becomes incumbent on us as pastoral agents to consider the current U.S.
Hispanic reality when using printed marriage preparation materials and pre-marital inventories:
27% have less than a 9th grade education, 16% 9-12 grade education, 45.9% high school and
some college, and 11.1% a bachelor’s degree or more. (Statistics taken from “USA Today”:
Census by Haya el Nasser,November 2003).
We talk of Hispanics as a group because there are some strong common traits among the
different Spanish speaking cultures. Some traditional and colonial values from Spain transcend the
different Hispanic cultures. Hispanics tend to be conservative/ traditional in their cultural lifestyle.
Some of the commonalities include:
“machismo” in the male and more clearly definedmale/female roles
family as the nucleus of Hispanic life
strong identification with as well as strong feelings of loyalty, reciprocity, and solidarity
with nuclear and extended family members
a sense of obligation to provide material and emotional support to members of nuclear and
extended family. These traits are especially evident in new immigrants.
There are distinctdifferences, however, within the Hispanic community when it comes to
aspirations and behaviors that are very much shaped by their own family of origin experiences.
In the U.S. Catholic Church today, there are few, if any parishes and dioceses with no
Hispanics. Regardless of the particular marriage preparation programs or models currently being
used in parishes and dioceses across the nation, oneof the challenges is to provide comprehensive
marriage preparation to a population that is diverse in language, culture and socio-economic
status. I believe that the challenge is even greater for the parishes and dioceses where the
Hispanic population is a relatively new reality.
In my home diocese of Brownsville, which constitutes four counties on the Mexican
border at the southernmosttip of Texas, our population is approximately 800,000 Catholics,
about 85% Hispanic primarily of Mexican descent. Because our reality is more typical of the
Southwest but not of the rest of the country, in preparation for this presentation I e-mailed about
fifteen Marriage Preparation Ministers from different dioceses and parishes from around the
country and asked them to share with me whatissues, needs or concerns they have encountered in
providing marriage preparation to Hispanic couples in their parish or diocese. I also asked what
has been unique and/or significant in providing marriage preparation to Hispanic couples in their
area. I will include a few responses that I received along with my own experience in addressing
some of the special considerations one needs to take intoaccount to provide effective marriage
preparation to Hispanics. I will also look at the present challenges, the good news of what the
evolvement of present practices already provides, and what questions we might address in shaping
the future direction of marriage preparation to Hispanics.
Some special considerations when providing effective marriage preparation to this
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