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Mexicans & Central

Presented by: Angelica Reynoso
& Jenny Nguyen

Mexicans & Central Americans

Latinos are the largest nonEuropean ethnic group in
13% of US total
Common language:
English, French,
Portuguese, native
Indian dialects

Mexico & Central America consist of Belize,

Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras,
Nicaragua, and Panama.

of Mexicans are mestizos (mixed Indian & Spanish ancestry)
30% are native Indians
10% are whites of Spanish descent

History of Mexicans in the U.S.

Immigration patterns have changed over the years
Mexicans living in America & their descendants can be classified in the
following groups:
Chicanos - born in the US & those who immigrated from Mexico &
became U.S. citizens
Braceros - work here legally but remain Mexican citizens
Unauthorized migrants - enter country illegally
*Note: use of identifiers may vary regionally or by generation

Before the US declared its independence in 1776, Mexicans lived in

what is now called the American Southwest for 100s of years
they welcomed American settlers; however, were outnumbered
economic & political control of the region weakened
End of Mexican-American War in 1848: Mexicans living in this
territory became U.S. citizens
From 1900-1935
10% of Mexican population migrated to the US
During the Great Depression, 10,000s of unauthorized migrants
were repatriated & sent back to Mexico
After Great Depression
the need of cheap labor increased
Bracero Program

Current Demographics
Census (2005)
27 million Chicanos & Braceros in the US
Majority lives in CA & TX
Mexican-Americans are now migrating nationwide
~11-12 million unauthorized migrants living in the U.S. in 2006
Economic pressures in Mexico
Escape life-threatening poverty
Political pressures in the US increased border security, immigration
limits, & social program restrictions

Socioeconomic Status
Mexican Americans occupy 3 main social classes:
1. Migrant farm workers
2. Residents of the urban barrios (neighborhood)
3. Growing number of acculturated middle-class
Median family income: 30% below national average
23% are below poverty level
80% graduate from high school

Live in homogeneous communities
La Raza the people
first promoted in 1960s as pride & solidarity movement for all
persons of Latin American heritage
Cross-cultural marriages are becoming more common

75% Roman Catholics
Traditional religious ceremonies: Baptism,
Communion, Confirmation, Marriage, the
Novenas - 9 days of prayer for the deceased

Many believe they have no direct control over

their own fate
Rest are mostly practice Protestant faith

The Chicano Family

Most important social unit in the Chicano
community is the family
the well-being of family comes before the
Chicano father
Women are subservient to their
husbands (however, this is
Children are cherished
Grandparents are honored & are often
involved in child care

Traditional Health Beliefs & Practices

Indian supernatural rituals combined with European folk medicine introduced

from Spain
Health is a gift from God
illness is almost always due to outside forces
Health care is traditionally sought from a hierarchy of healers
senoras or abuelas are health experts
First Option (Home Remedies)
Pepto Bismol
Alka Seltzer
Vicks VapoRub

Second Option:
yerbero (herbalist)
sobador (massage therapist)
patera (midwife who specializes
in small children care)
botanicas (pharmacies) - where
traditional herbal remedies are
Third Option:
curandero (healer)
his/her practice can
counteract the hexes or
spells of brujo (someone
who works with the devil)
faith is crucial; prayer is the
primary treatment

Illness is believed to be due to:

1. Excessive emotion
2. Dislocation of organs
3. Magic
4. Imbalance in hot or cold

Traditional Food Habits

Blend of native & European foods
prepared with Indian (Aztec) &
Spanish cooking techniques
Ingredients & Common Foods

chile peppers, beans, cocoa, corn,

these ingredients were basis of
Indian cooking before the arrival
of the Spanish

Aztec Foods
Consist of fat or oil, mostly vegetarian
Corn (staple grain), legumes, fruits,
Spanish Contributions
Cinnamon, garlic, onions, rice sugar cane, wheat,
and hogs (important for protein & lard), alcohol
Mexican cuisine is very diverse
Diets differ between areas because of the
availability of local fruits, vegetables, or meats
Most poor Mexicans consume corn, beans, and
One-dish meals are served with tortillas
caldos, sopas-secas, chilaquiles
Grilled (carne asada) or fried (chicharrones)
All parts of animal are used

Mexico is famous for stuffed foods - tacos,

flautas, enchiladas, tamales, quesadillas,
Vegetables are usually part of main dish
Desserts - usually made with eggs
flan, huevos reales
Common beverages - coffee, aguas
naturales, beer, tequila, mescal, whiskey

El Farolito in Placentia, CA
Photo taken by: Jenny Nguyen

Regional Variations
Mexican Plains - northern & central regions of Mexico
Corn, beans, squash, greens, cactus fruit, cactus
leaves, cheese, beef
ex: pozoles, queso fundido
Tropical Mexico - southern coastal areas of eastern
Seafood & freshwater fish, tropical fruits, 90% of chile
peppers are produced here
Yucatan - isolated jungles, descendants of the Mayans
Food wrapped in banana leaves
Southern Mexico - more tropical & Indian-influenced than
any other region
Cacao trees - mole is the renowned sauce

Meal Composition & Cycles

Daily Patterns: 4-5 meals - breakfast, coffee break or
brunch, lunch, snack, dinner
Snacking is frequent - morning to midnight
tostadas, botanas (cocktail food)
Special Occasions
Sundays, family celebrations, holidays
Weddings, Baptisms, Quincinera, Three Kings Day,
tamales, moles, capirotada

Role of Food & Etiquette in Mexican Society

Meal planning is wifes responsibility

Insult not to eat everything
Food sharing is important (Indian worldview)
Rejecting food or drink is a severe breach of social
Refusal of an dining invitation is considered rude
Meal begins with Buen provecho!
Hands above table, wrist resting on edge
Portions are usually large
Leaving table before others is impolite

Therapeutic Uses of Foods

Hot-cold system of diet & health
Derived from Arab system of humoral medicine from Spanish with Indian
Must stay in harmony with environment
Hot: strength / Cold: weakness
Unbalanced meals can cause illness
Hot conditions: pregnancy, hypertension, diabetes, indigestion, evil eye
Cold conditions: pneumonia, colic
Herbal Medicine
Chamomile - believe to cure colic, cramps, anxiety, insomnia, itching eyes
Mint & anise tea - nausea, gas, diarrhea, colic
Hypertension - treated with garlic, passion flower, linden flowers
Diabetes - botanical remedies

Contemporary Food Habits in the U.S.

Mexican Food have significantly influenced cooking in the US
bordering the nation
Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California
Texas: fusion tamale pie, nachos, ground beef as
common protein for stuffing, use of cumin, ancho and
jalapenos (Tex-Mex)
New Mexico New Mexico Chile dominates seasoning
(used in chile verde)
California taco shops & Latino grocery stores
The market for Latino food has become a $3 billion/year industry.
Salsa beats all condiments sales, including ketchup

Adaptations: Diet of Latinos In the U.S.

Less Acculturated:

Fat sources from whole milk & added fat through food prep
Consume more fruits, rice, beans, less sugar and sugar-free beverages

More Acculturated:

Fat sources from fast foods, snacks, and added fats

Dietary Changes

Greatest changes occur between 1st generation born Mexico and 2nd
generation born in the U.S.
Corn tortilla consumption decreased 69%

1st Generation U.S. Born: increase consumption of breads cereals

margarine mayonnaise butter, potato chips, french fries, eggs & American
Preference for sweets & carbonated drinks usually increases in the U.S

Meal Composition and Cycle

Breakfast: eggs beans meat and tortillas or pan dulce
Lunch (large): beans tortillas meat or a soup or stew
Dinner (light): tortillas beans or meat and rice or potatoes
-Small breakfast and lunch, larger dinner
-meal skipping is popular
-Meat & cheese common in meals
-Soda, kool-aid, juice, beer,& coffee consumed w/
meals or snacks
Licuado: milk, chocolate,eggs and bananas

Special Occasions
Mexican costumes for holiday meals are
- extensive meal prep saved for Sundays
and holidays
- tamales, enchiladas

Other Secular Holidays

Independence Day- September 16
Liberation from Spain
ethnic unity: mariachis, traditional clothing
Food: colors of the Mexican flag

Cinco de Mayo- May 5

widely recognized by all ethnicities in the U.S.
historic victory over France
Mexica Aztec New Years Day- gaining popularity in
Mexican American communities

Chiles en Nogada
Recepie available at

Nutritional Status
Life expectancy
Similar to non-Hispanic whites
Overall mortality rates are lower For Mexican Americans
Compared to whites for age, gender, nativity, marital status, socioeconomic status and
Reasons for lower-than-expected mortality rates
Health promoting lifestyle differences
Some older immigrants return to Mexico before they die
Therefore not listed in statistics
Infant mortality statistics
Birth rate among Hispanic woman is twice that of a white woman
Birth rate among women 15 to 18 years of age is three times as high
25% of Mexican-American women get no prenatal care during the first trimester of pregnancy
Low-birth weight infants & infant mortality are lower for Mexican Americans than the rest of the

Nutritional Status
Cultural ideal weight
extra weight may indicate health and well being
Type 2 Diabetes
Mexican Americans more 2 times more prevalent than whites
Present in Mexican American adolescents 3 times more than white
Death from Diabetes 64% higher for hispanics than for whites
Higher for Mexican Americans than any other Hispanic group
Cardiovascular Disease #1 cause of death in Hispanic adults
Other Prevalent Diseases:
Metabolic syndrome, heart disease, arthritis, angina, hypertension,
gingivitis, vision impairment, and reduced mobility

Biomedical health care access is limited

Americans of mexican descent

Braceros and unauthorized migrants
income or unavailable transportation
35% of Mexican Americans have no health insurance
43% state they are not proficient in English
Spanish-speaking clients might be uncomfortable with interviews
conducted in English
Those that believe God or fate determines health may be unwilling to take
preventive care

High-context communication style and non-confrontational
Warm dignified relationship most effective
Careful choice of words, silence used to defuse disagreement
Kindness and graciousness are appreciated
Handshake (important)
men should wait for the woman to extend hand first
Eye contact varies
Prolonged eye contact is impolite to some Mexican Americans
Best to maintained eye contact initiated by the client
looking away may be thought as rude


Mexican Americans often sit closer than Anglos

Flexible appointments and walk-ins are prefered
More interested in direct, action oriented approach
People who work despite bad health are respected
Modesty and privacy highly valued
Women may be wanted to be treated by a female caregiver and vice
Folk Remedies are very popular
herbal remedies correspond to fewer visits to biomedical practitioners
Associated with lack of medical insurance
Hispanic elders reported to drink herbal teas to maintain health, relieve
stress, and cure minor ailments
most common peppermint (yerba buena) lavender (alhuecema and
osha ( similar to parsley)

Important- do not assume adherence of folk beliefs

Traditional practices limited in the United States

Younger urban clients may be offended
Curanderos consulted by 4 to 21% of the Mexican American
Disclaimer:Use of curanderos or sobadores does not prevent client from also
seeking biomedical care
unlikely to disclose home remedies to Doctors
Consult friends for effective treatments for illnesses such as:
Empancho (digestive complaints)
Caida de mollera (soft spot on babies)

Central Americans
7 Nations

El Salvador
Costa Rica

History of Central Americans in the

United States
First: Well educated professional men looking for
employment opportunities. Women coming in search of
temporary domestic jobs
Second: Refugees from brutal wars throughout central
America (foot people)
Mostly residing in: New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco,
Miami and Chicago
Blending in with Latino communities

About 5% of Latinos in the U.S are from Central
America, arrived since 1980
Exact numbers unknown of the population
Socioeconomic data combined with South America
Salvadorans- 20% under poverty level
Guatemalan and Nicaraguan immigrants very similar
Honduran immigrants have slightly higher levels of
education (poverty levels also lower)

Ethnic identity preserved by many new residents
Salvadorans- highly insular neighborhoods in large Latino communities
exclusive to Salvadorans
Guatemalans- diverse population of immigrants, Mayan communities
usually keep traditional beliefs and practices
Nicaraguans- dispersed among other latinos
Garifuna- black Caribs from areas of Belize and Honduras
Men usually migrate to the U.S. alone sending most earning to their

Religion and Family

Roman Catholic
Guatemalans observe catholic practices while adhering to Mayan religious
Central Americans are attracted to the Pentecostal Church in the U.S.
Family is highly valued and so is extended kinship
Often neighborhoods are rented to the same people from their home
Father is the head of the household
Costa Rican definition of family: Having both mother and father in a home
In the U.S women are easily employed & men must take domestic

Traditional Health Beliefs and Practices

Good diet, consumption of fruits and vegetables, fresh air, regular hours
considered necessary to preserve health for many Central Americans
Guatemalans and Panamanians consider exercise important
Salvadorans believe being thin causes illness
Some believe health is a balance between spiritual and social worlds.
Health- Gift from God, prayer used to restore harmony during illness
Some Nicaraguans believe in witchcraft practiced by brujos/brujas
Balance of hot and cold is necessary for health and exposure to certain
temperatures or strong emotions
Herbal remedies also popular in Central America

Traditional Food Habits

Cuisine offers many foods common throughout Latin America
Northern Cuisine influenced by Mexico while southern by European and
African cuisines
Mayan records show their diet was of beans, corn with squash, tomatoes,
chiles, tropical fruit, cocoa, and some game
Rice introduced by the Spanish
Guatemala- Black Beans are popular
El Salvador- beans served with spices (frijoles sancochadas) pureed or
fried with rice
Nicaragua- Red beans and rice with onions called gallo pinto(Painted

Traditional Food Habits

Corn- usually eaten as a tortilla
Soups and stews are popular in Central America with
many varieties
Fruits and Vegetables are numerous
Coffee popular drink grown through the region usually
heavily sweetened
Refrescas- cold beverages made from tropical fruit
flavors are also popular
Local ingredients create unique taste for each country

Meal Composition and Cycle

Beans and Corn= cornerstones of the daily diet, eaten at
every meal by the poor
Queso Blanco (white cheese) or meat added to meals
when resources permit
Dinner for the wealthy include: soup meat or poultry,
tortillas or bread,garnishes,fried plantains and pickled
Appetizers: broiled beef bites, cheese filled pastry, softboiled turtle eggs
Dessert: custards, ice creams, cakes or fritters

Special Occasions
Focused on Catholic religious days
El Salvador:
Sundays, quesadilla- cheese-flavored battered bread
Fridays of Lent: Sopa de Rosquillas- soup made with ring-shaped corn
Christmas: Gallina rellena Navidena- chicken stuffed with papaya, chayote
squash, capers, raisins, olives, onions and tomatoes
Semana Santa (Holy Week): Plantains served in chocolate hot sauce

Similar to Mexicos
Start meals after host says Buen Provecho
Fork remains on the left hand side and knife on the right
Nicaraguans may eat the American way with fork on the right hand side
and switching to cut
Hands must remain above the table when not eating
Bread and tortillas placed on the side of the plate
It is ok to use tortillas to scoop up the food
Dishes passed to the left
Diners expected to clean their plates, small portions are appropriate,
asking for seconds is a compliment

Therapeutic uses of foods

Hot- cold theory if followed and sometimes dry-wet as well

Guatemalan Americans: believe hot weather causes diarrhea, remedies
include cold beverages
Panamanians avoid cold foods when sick (hot-cold principles usually not
Spicy dishes avoided by both when sick
Herbal remedies such as teas are popular to maintain health and cure
minor illnesses
Chamomile (manzanilla)- used for menstrual cramps, improve circulation
and flus/colds
Mint (hierbabuena)- good digestion and regularity
Hibiscus (rosa de jamaica)- for respiratory illnesses, diarrhea, and UTIs
Papaya leaf- for gastritis, and as a laxative

Adaptations of Food Habits

Few information is available on Central American diet in the

low rates of assimilation

Ingredients needed are available at Latino communities
Diets are very similar to the ones they had in their homeland
Vegetable oil now used instead of lard or coconut oil
Meal defined as having courses including meat
Sandwiches are not considered a meal
Salvadorans state they had better diets in their homeland due to the fresh
unprocessed foods.
Fruit and vegetable intake among all subgroups of Hispanics in California
were higher than non-Hispanic ethnic groups

Nutritional Intake

Malnutrition shown in those who arrive from refugee camps

suffering diseases such as beriberi, pellagra, scurvy, and vitamin A
infectious diseases: parasites and tuberculosis are common
Infant mortality rates are below average
Low-birth weight infants were not a problem among Central Americans
Guatemalans consider breastfeeding healthy but impractical
breastfeeding used as a supplement to formula and solid foods for the
first 2 to 3 years of a childs life
Salvadoran-Americans age 16 to 18 were found to be overweight, double
than average
Occupational hazard- Pesticide or herbicide poisoning for farm workers

Difficult for Central Americans to access biomedical care
Many are economically and linguistically isolated
Some are unauthorized residents avoiding detection from authorities
Have the highest rates of uninsured among non U.S citizens
Most are present-oriented and polychronic
Health viewed day to day, believing they have no control over their future
Concept of schedule appointments may be unfamiliar
Touching is used to communicate feelings
Men embrace close friends and women hug all acquaintances
Salvadoran, Guatemalan and Nicaraguan prefer light handshake
Eye contact direct when speaking but downcast when listening politely
Avoid pointing with fingers or feet
Prefer to sit or stand closer than what Anglos are comfortable with but
backing away is seen as an insult


High context communicators

Use calm measured voice and emotions except with family and friends
Respectful but warm and caring speaking style is prefered
Weak heart- referring to palpitations or dizziness
Weak stomach- meant indigestion
Weak nervous system- headaches or insomnia
Guatemalan belief in strong ample blood supply is necessary causing
anxiety when blood needs to be drawn
Susto and nercios are also considered illnesses ( more often in women)
thought to cause diabetes if they go untreated
Emotional support from friends and family
Post-Traumatic stress disorder common in refugees
Assimilation into other Latino Communities is possible and common

Kittler, P., Sucher, K. (2008). Mexicans and
Central Americans. Food and Culture 5th
Edition, 235-267.