Advertisement

Sex Roles

, Volume 81, Issue 1–2, pp 59–73 | Cite as

Pursuing Medicina [Medicine]: Latina Physicians and Parental Messages on Gendered Career Choices

  • Glenda M. FloresEmail author
Original Article

Abstract

Prior research underscores that college-educated Latinas are hyper-segregated into highly feminized occupations and that Latino parents socialize their daughters to seek out these careers. Despite this trend, a small and growing number of Latinas are steadily entering prestigious non-traditional careers in medicine. Drawing on in-depth interviews with 20 Latina physicians of various generational backgrounds in California, I examine how Latina doctors explain the role parental messages played in their occupational trajectories. I document the fluid and often contradicting gendered expectations Latina physicians received from parents and identify three primary patterns in these messages, including: (a) fathers’ contradictory gendered expectations for their wives versus their U.S. born/raised daughters, (b) fathers and mothers’ differing messages about procuring financial and social independence from men, and (c) parental messages about sexuality. The messages that young Latinas receive vary and reflect tensions between gendered expectations for women in the immigrant parents’ home country and those available in the United States. The messages of support and resistance that Latina physicians receive from their parents regarding the pursuit of a career in medicine show how changing structural contexts—such as access and entry into prestigious non-traditional fields—rearranges gendered dynamics within Latino families.

Keywords

Latina doctors Parenting Ethnicity Gender Fathers Careers Medicine 

College-educated Latinas in the United States have traditionally been hyper-segregated into occupations associated with professional versions of “care work” in sex-segregated fields like teaching and social service jobs (Catanzarite and Trimble 2008), with some scholars arguing that Latino families socialize their daughters to seek out feminized occupations because they mesh with feminine gender ideals (Castillo-Speed 1995; Galindo 1996; Segura 1992) or because school personnel channel college-bound Latinas into pink-collar jobs (López 2002; Smith 2005; Bettie 2003). These explanations must be reconsidered because college-educated Latinas are not solely confined to feminized professions. In fact, many are steadily entering prestigious and non-traditional careers in medicine (Cantú 2008; Grijalva and Coombs 1997). In the present paper, I address two research questions: What messages do Latina physicians receive from parents about their career choice? And, how do these messages vary by parents’ gender?

A small but growing number of Latinas/os are entering the medical field. Latinxs are the largest racial/ethnic minority group in the United States representing over 17% of the population yet, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), Latinxs account for only 4.5% of all physicians in the nation and less than 2% are Latinas (2014; Dill and Salsberg 2008). Prior research underscores that immigrant Latinx parents socialize their daughters to seek out feminized occupations such as teaching because it conforms to feminine gender ideals and is perceived as a helping profession—one associated with motherhood, nurturance, social reproduction, and caring for children, with both fathers and mothers encouraging their Latina daughters to pursue these types of careers (Flores 2017; Galindo 1996; Segura 1992). Moreover, Taningco (2008) explains that gendered practices within Latinx families influence women’s lack of representation in non-traditional fields. According to Taningco (2008, p. 8),

Latino patriarchal culture reinforces traditional gender roles. Although such beliefs are gradually diminishing, they still exist and play an important role in the choices of young adults. Latinas often receive more pressure to conform to ideals that deter them from STEM fields (also see Villegas and Vincent 2005).

For instance, Chicana clerical workers conformed to their community’s gendered expectations in order to reaffirm their womanhood and culture (Segura 1992).

But, scholars have also argued that distinct gendered expectations in the home exhibited by immigrant parents cause their U.S. born daughters to perceive education as a route to independence and a pathway to upward social mobility (López 2005; Smith 2005). According to López (2002), the daughters of Dominican immigrants develop what she terms homegrown feminism—the notion that young girls create their gender identities through the lived gender-biased rearing practices their mothers imposed upon them and also by observing the struggles their immigrant Mothers of Color faced in low wage sectors as members of a racially stigmatized group (García 2012; López 2002; Vasquez 2011). Much less is known about the gendered cultural dynamics that occur within Latinx families and how college-educated Latina professionals come to understand them. This is peculiar, considering that Latinas now outperform Latinos in the higher echelons of the educational hierarchy, and sociological research has found that messages regarding Latinx cultural gendered dynamics contribute to this trend (López 2002; Smith 2005). Therefore, I examine the messages Latina physicians received about their career ambitions through a gender, ethnicity, and Latino family dynamics lens.

In the present article, I draw from 20 qualitative interviews with Latina physicians to explore how they explain the role parental messages played in their occupational trajectories. In particular, I examine how Latina physicians made sense of the varied and often contradictory messages they received from their mostly Latinx immigrant parents about their career choices. These messages often reflect the differences between gendered expectations for women in the home country and those available in the United States. Three main themes emerge in Latina physicians’ narratives: (a) they identify contradictory (and atypical) gendered ideologies espoused by their fathers in households, (b) they are told to pursue financial and social independence for different reasons by mothers and fathers, and (c) they are subjected to policing and monitoring of their sexual/romantic activities. I contrast immigrant parent households with a few third and fourth generation households (see Vasquez 2011) to show how gendered ideologies within Latinx families are diverse and evolve over time. I show that it is not entirely accurate to assume that Latinx families only want their daughters to pursue a feminized profession or no profession at all. Rather, my research empirically demonstrates how the ethnic gendered ideologies of the immigrant parents’ home country are confronted, reconfigured, and selectively reproduced into the lessons imparted to their scholastically high-achieving daughters in the host country by parents. In what follows, I provide an overview of current research that explains how gendered expectations in the home inform occupational decisions for Latina daughters, and how changing structural contexts—such as access and entry into non-traditional fields—rearranges gendered dynamics within Latinx families.

Gender and Ethnicity in Immigrant Homes

Sociological research has demonstrated that gendered dynamics in the home influence the educational and occupational trajectories of the children of immigrants of various nationalities in distinct ways (Espiritu 2003; Kibria 1993; López 2002; Waters 1996; Zhou and Bankston 1998). For instance, young women often face familial pressures to stay at home to supervise younger siblings, and they are more frequently called upon to serve as surrogate parents or cultural brokers for their families over young men (Estrada and Hondagneu-Sotelo 2013; Flores 2017; Grijalva and Coombs 1997; Taningco 2008; Villegas and Vincent 2005). López (2002, 2005) argues that independence from men was the lesson second-generation Dominican women gleaned from their immigrant mother’s experience. This led to the emergence of a feminist critique among second-generation Dominican women where they created their gender identities against the backdrop of their racially stigmatized immigrant mothers’ struggles. Due to their subordinate racial and gender position, mothers warned their daughters about depending upon a man for economic support. Because girls experience a biased gendered division of labor and sexual policing in a context of racial stigma, they perceived education as a means to a profession and route to independence.

Smith’s (2005) study of transnational Mexican families in the United States and abroad exemplifies double standards in immigrant families because parents’ allowed sons to have more freedom on trips back home to Mexico than their daughters. Moreover, Alfaro et al. (2006) suggest that Latinx parental academic support on academic motivation is influenced by both the gender of the child and the gender of the parent, with fathers’ academic support positively related only to boys’ academic motivation. Mothers and teachers, on the other hand, significantly and positively influenced girls’ academic motivation, with Latina girls doing better than boys at every level of education (Flores 2017). However, school personnel also tend to encourage Latinas to enter pink-collar and feminized fields (Flores and Hondagneu-Sotelo 2014). As Bettie (2003) argued, Latina girls who were racialized as cholas—a term used to refer to a young woman of Mexican-American origins who may or may not be associated with a street gang—by teachers were tracked into vocational curriculum that prepared them for low-paying, sex-segregated jobs. This literature showed that women’s commitment to independence and egalitarian gender roles was almost always defined with reference to their mother’s hardships due to various constraints.

Scholarship also finds that girls are more likely than boys to experience conflicts with their mothers over gendered expectations and sexual policing (García 2012; Raffaelli and Green 2003; Raffaelli and Ontai 2004; Reyes 2016). Raffaelli and Green (2003) argue that mother-daughter communication over sexual issues was more frequent, with Mexican origin mothers using protective discourses to educate their daughters about their sexuality (Reyes 2016). Second generation Mexican-American daughters recounted their mothers telling them to “take care” of themselves and not get pregnant (García 2012) whereas others recounted receiving messages from immigrant mothers that marrying Mexican men would result in more constricting gendered arrangements (Vasquez 2011). Fewer directives are communicated to sons because they do not face the same pressures to conform to the image of an “ideal” ethnic subject (Espin 1999; Espiritu 2001; Smith 2005; Waters 1996). In some cases, Latina mothers were so invested in their daughters’ educational success that they relieved daughters of domestic responsibilities or caring for siblings so they could study (Zambrana and Hurtado 2015). This strict social control and sexual policing, however, had a positive influence on their educational and occupational prospects as women explained that growing up cloistered in their homes also meant that they were less prone to risks that their male siblings experienced in the street (López 2005; Smith 2005). These women self-policed their sexual activity to ensure their future goals, but gendered expectations in the home also influenced college attendance.

These gendered dynamics cut across race, ethnicity, and country of origin. Dasgupta and DasGupta (1996) recount that in the Indian American community, young men were expected to attend faraway competitive colleges whereas many of their female peers were encouraged by their parents to go to local colleges so that they could live at or remain close to home, limiting their options (Taningco 2008). Similarly, Wolf (1997, p. 467) found that Filipino parents employed contradictory tactics with their daughters. They generally encouraged academic excellence, but when their daughters contemplated going away to college they reacted by “pulling the brake” and expecting them to stay at home. This often occurs because it is daughters, especially those who are upwardly mobile, who have the primary burden of providing for the family, both socially by serving as cultural liaisons (Flores 2017) and financially.

Latina Non-traditional Job Pursuits

Latinas’ entry into the workforce has rearranged gendered ideologies in different ways. For instance, Abrego (2014) uncovers how gendered ideologies from the home country affect the ways in which immigrant Salvadoran mothers and fathers remit when working in low wage sectors in the United States. In El Salvador, motherhood is the idealized version of womanhood, and Salvadoran migrant mothers feel extra pressure to conform to gender norms despite extremely grueling work shifts because the self-sacrificing mother is revered. Fatherhood, on the other hand, is closely tied to authority, protection, and guidance of the family, but Salvadoran migrant fathers were less likely to remit money back to their children over time.

But, research has also found that gendered ideologies from the parental home country—such as patriarchal forms of machismo/marianismo—are both reconstructed and selectively reproduced in the host country as poor immigrant families confront changing structural work contexts that reorganize previous gendered arrangements (Espiritu 2001; Fernández-Kelly and García 1997; Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994). Scholars have demonstrated how gender relations between immigrant men and women can be restructured after migration and resettlement in the United States, where long-held ideals and lifestyles change when women gain access to the workforce and new forms of spatial mobility (Espiritu 2001; Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994; Zinn 1979). Although many Latino immigrant families enter the United States with pre-migration gendered ideologies and practices, such as traditional patterns of domestic patriarchy, often these patterns are reassessed and new egalitarian relationships may emerge. For example, in many immigrant families, women’s entry into the paid labor force has eroded men’s position as sole economic providers, especially when men have trouble securing jobs. Yet, women’s labor does not necessarily mean their position in the family improves. Fernández-Kelly (1983) notes that entry of wives and daughters into the workforce neither erodes domestic patriarchy nor boosts women’s position in families because husbands and fathers—when they are present—maintain family authority and working-women still do a major share of domestic household responsibilities. Estrada (2013), on the other hand, shows that gendered power relations within Latinx immigrant families are challenged when girls work alongside their parents and are co-economic contributors in the family business, often sharing power and decision-making in the household with fathers. This literature demonstrates how changing work opportunities can restructure power relations between men and women with families responding in a plurality of ways.

Although scholars have often assumed that immigrant families with similar conservative/traditional expectations respond the same way when they are confronted with new structural contexts, family forms are shaped by the adaptations of family members to the social situations in which they are embedded (González-López 2004; García 2012; Zinn and Eitzen 2004). For example, whereas Mexican fathers are frequently portrayed as rigid and authoritative macho men controlling their families, family and adolescence studies have challenged monolithic and static ideals of fathers of Mexican-origin men living in both Mexico and the United States (Coltrane et al. 2004; Mirande 1997; Pinto and Coltrane 2009). González-López (2004) coins the term regional patriarchies (urban vs. rural) to contest the notion that patriarchy among Mexican families is uniform or monolithic. She finds that Mexican immigrant men who grew up in Mexico City were more likely than men from pueblos [small provincial locations] to develop liberal attitudes toward premarital sex for their daughters and attempted to de-emphasize expressions of gender inequalities. Men raised in pueblos held tight to deeply ingrained ideologies of gender inequalities and were less likely to embrace progressive values with regard to the virginity of their daughters. Fathers raising daughters in new and urban environments who had different work prospects feared the negative consequences of early sexual activity—such as their daughters not completing their education. Moreover, García (2012) demonstrates how Mexican immigrant and Puerto Rican mothers relied upon safe-sex messages after finding out that their daughters were sexually active, with both subgroups urging their daughters not to behave like young White women. This literature emphasizes the fluidity of understandings of patriarchy given changing structural conditions, with Latinx fathers and mothers displaying a broad range of gendered ideologies and messages. Therefore, I explore answers to the following research questions: What messages do Latina physicians receive from parents about their career choice? And, how do these messages vary by parents’ gender?

Method

The present study was part of a larger qualitative research project that examined the work narratives of Latinx physicians in California. The primary focus here is on 20 semi-structured interviews with practicing Latina medical doctors and their narratives of gendered dynamics in their homes. California was an ideal setting to study Latina physicians because it has historically been a primary destination for Latinx immigrants and because there is a high distribution of Latinx physicians—with more than 4000 (about 4.7%) in the state (AAMC 2014). Thus, there were more opportunities to recruit Latina physicians in this region versus new immigrant gateways where the Latinx population is barely coming of age. The experiences of Latina physicians are critical to examine because the AAMC notes that among Asians, African Americans, and Latinas, women make up a greater percentage of younger physicians (age 29 and younger) compared to their male counterparts (AAMC 2014).

Although prior studies on physicians recruited respondents through ethnic medical associations (e.g. Murti 2012), recruiting Latina physicians required searching for them online on medical center departments’ websites by looking for those with a Spanish surname and contacting them via email with an IRB-approved script that detailed the study and provided contact information (Bhatt 2013). To be eligible, participants had to self-identify as any Latinx ethnic background and had to be a currently practicing medical doctor. All of the physicians interviewed for my study were in their first year of a medical residency program, on a research fellowship, or were employed at a medical facility or research institution.

I, along with two undergraduate research assistants whom I trained, recruited and conducted all in-depth interviews between 2014 and 2015. An undergraduate research assistant, the U.S.-born daughter of Peruvian immigrants who was completing pre-medical school applications for post-baccalaureate programs, leveraged her internal networks at an ethnic medical association conference. This resulted in the recruitment of one participant, a key informant, who recommended the Spanish surname research strategy that helped us gain entrée into this occupational niche. Whereas it is common for Latinas in other occupations to rely on social networks or extended kin to secure employment, Latina physicians lacked these elite connections (e.g. Flores 2017). Only four interviewees were recruited via snowball sampling for my study. This means that consenting Latina physicians recruited over email referred their colleagues or members of their medical school cohorts. Individual face-to-face interviews took place at a time and location most convenient to them: hospitals, clinics, and at local coffee shops or restaurants during their lunch break. The author and principal investigator, a U.S.-born daughter of Mexican immigrants, and the undergraduate research assistants were bilingual, allowing Latina physicians to code switch between Spanish and English during the interviews. One interview conducted with a Latina physician born and raised in Perú was conducted entirely in Spanish. Thus, gender and ethnicity facilitated access (Zinn 2001) because all physicians were enthusiastic about participating in a study that examined their experiences in a white-collar field.

Participants

Prior to beginning the interview, every Latina physician was asked to fill out a participant questionnaire. (See the online supplement for the full participant questionnaire.) Of the 20 Latina physicians, the overwhelming majority of them (15 of 20) were of Mexican origin, the largest Latinx subgroup in the United States, two were Central American, and three were South American (Colombian or Peruvian). Latina physicians of South American origin had parents who worked in white-collar occupations such as psychiatrists, engineers, accountants, and lawyers in the home country. However, ten of the Mexican-origin physicians had parents who worked in service or factory work, and two Central American physicians reported that one or both of their parents experienced downward mobility upon arrival in the United States (Catanzarite and Trimble 2008). Only three later-generation Latina physicians had mothers who worked as teachers and grew up middle class in the United States. A majority (65%) were either 1.5 or second generation, meaning that they migrated to the United States before the age of 12 or were the U.S.-born children of immigrants.

Participants’ ages ranged from 29 to 61, and their median age was 37. Five of the physicians were finalizing their medical residency programs; the rest were working for community clinics or larger medical organizations. Fully 75% worked in feminized specialties such as family medicine and pediatrics, mirroring that of women in medicine in general (Bhatt 2013; Murti 2012). Only one Mexican-American physician worked in a surgical capacity as an ophthalmologist. With the exception of one physician who self-identified as 4th generation and was not proficient in Spanish, all other doctors were bilingual. The average years practicing was 11. In comparison to most of their parents, who amassed no more than $30,000 jointly per year in the United States, their income was substantially higher. Of those 17 who provided their income, their average salary was $172,029. The U.S. Census Bureau (2015) notes that a family size of six subsisting on $32, 542 is below the poverty threshold. Latina physicians who reported that their parents were professionals in the country of origin remarked that their parents earned substantially less compared to those who practiced a comparable profession in the United States. Three doctors declined to state income information.

Interview Instrument

The interview instrument consisted of 30 open-ended questions that covered three overarching themes: pathways into medicine, family dynamics and schooling experiences, and workplace interactions with patients and coworkers. Consistent with the theoretical flexibility allowed by thematic analysis coding strategies, the principal investigator remained open and responsive to understanding the construction of meaning and probed to capture a holistic view of Latina physicians’ lives. Because data collection and analysis was a recursive process, the principal investigator held research meetings where analytical memos were discussed in order to remain responsive to emerging categories and concepts throughout the data gathering process and to ascertain inter-rater reliability (Chatfield 2018). In regard to family dynamics, physicians were asked open-ended questions about their upbringing, with specific questions about the role their parents played in their trajectories. (See the online supplement for the full interview protocol.) For instance, they were asked: How did you decide to become a physician? How did your family and friends respond when you said you were going to pursue medicine? Did you consider any other careers other than medicine? Did your parents have the same expectations for all of your siblings? Data regarding gender roles—in particular messages from parents—emerged from initial interviews with women participants where they asked us to clarify about which parent we were asking. This required including additional clarification questions and probes. Prompts were used to encourage additional dialogue and expansion (e.g., Were your mom and dad equally supportive? Can you give me an example about what your father said? Your mother?).

Coding

I used Braun and Clarke’s (2006) thematic analysis method for analyzing qualitative data by first typing up verbatim transcripts of audio-recorded interviews, and then conducting selective or focused coding by categorizing their responses into key themes. Early memo writing by the lead researcher included free-writing and analytical exploration of the first few interviews. Data were initially analyzed using line-by-line coding, thematic coding, and continual comparison methods (Braun and Clark 2006). Subsequent focused coding allowed for further exploration of some initial codes that appeared particularly meaningful to understanding the heterogeneity of the Latina experience. In some instances, certain areas of exploration were emphasized in order to attain familiarization with the data. For example, interviews suggested variation in terms of country of origin and generational status and this offered a more nuanced role in terms of understanding the salience of gendered dynamics within Latino families in the home country and the United States over time. As such, in ensuing interviews, the researcher further explored these themes.

Results

Table 1 provides a list of participants by their pseudonym along with additional information about each participant. Reflecting internal heterogeneity within the Latinx population, Latinx families’ non-uniform responses were an important finding of my study. The following sections focus on three major themes that arose in the data: (a) Fathers’ contradictory gendered ideologies about expectations for their wives versus their U.S.-born/raised daughters, (b) Fathers and mothers messages about procuring financial and social independence from men, and (c) Parental messages about sexuality. Table 2 summarizes these themes as well as the coding definition for each, sample quotes, and the frequency of each theme’s occurrence across the 20 participants. A secondary aim of my study is to extend the discussion of the diversity in the gender ideologies within the same cultural context and how non-traditional occupational pursuits in the U.S. rearranges them.
Table 1

Participants’ characteristics

Doctor’s pseudonym

Gener-ation

Age

Race/Ethnicity

Parents (POB)a

Father occupation

Mother occupation

Specialty

Years practicing

Annual income

Ana

2nd

47

Mexican American

Mexico

Landscaper

Factory

Family Medicine

13

N/A

Claudia

2nd

31

Central American

El Salvador

Lab Tech

Homemaker

Family Medicine

1

$51,000

Cynthia

1st

61

Hispanic

Peru

Accountant

Housewife

Internal/Family Medicine

35

$150,000

Elivet

2nd

36

Mexican

Mexico

Business Owner

Homemaker

Family Medicine

10

$240,000

Elsa

1.5

50

Colombian

Colombia

Engineer

Lawyer

Gastroenterology

18

$140,000

Esther

4th

37

American-Mexican

California

Retired Police Office

Teacher

OBGYN

10

$170,000

Janet

2nd

29

Mexican-American

Mexico

Accountant

Bookkeeper

Pediatric Oncology

2

$44,000

Jazmin

1st

51

Latina

Colombia

Accountant

Physician

Dermatology

17

260,000

Karen

1.5

32

Mexican

Mexico

Factory Worker

Homemaker

Family Medicine

1

$164,500

Laura

2nd

32

Mexican-American

Mexico

Gardener

Lunch Program

Family Medicine

3

$175,000

Lisa

1.5

34

Salvadoran

El Salvador

Garment Industry

Garment Industry

Family Medicine

3

$100,000

Luisa

2nd

36

Mexican-American

Mexico

Paint Factory

Housekeeper

Ophthalmology

2

$360,000

Martha

3rd

44

Mexican

Texas

Principal

Teacher

Pediatric Critical Care

14

N/A

Nancy

3rd

45

Chicana/Latina

South Texas

Veterinarian

Retired Teacher

Family Medicine

18

$240,000

Olivia

3rd

48

Mexican

California

Plumber

Homemaker

Pediatric Oncology

19

$160,00

Rocío

3rd

37

Hispanic

Texas

AT&T Manager

Teacher

Rheumatology

10

$150,000

Rosa

2nd

36

Mexican American

Mexico

Business

Homemaker

Family Medicine

8

$210,000

Thalia

2nd

53

Mexican

Mexico

Landscaper

Laundry Presser

Internal Medicine

25

N/A

Vicki

1.5

35

Latina

Mexico

Machinist

Housewife

Family Medicine

7

160,000

Yvette

2nd

41

Mexican

Mexico

Line Cook (retired)

Factory Worker (now retired)

Pediatric Medicine

11

$150,000

aPlace of Birth

Table 2

Themes, definitions, sample quotes and frequencies (n = 20)

Theme

Definition

Example quotes

Frequency of theme n(%)

Fathers’ Contradictory Gendered Ideologies

Descriptions of how gendered expectations were different in parental country of origin. This includes mention of patriarchy and the changes daughters observed in the host country, such as messages of encouragement from fathers to daughters to pursue a non-feminized career.

“My mom never encouraged us, that’s true. When I was going to apply for vet school or medical school [my father] would always say, ‘medical school is better, please like that.’” (Jazmín, Dermatology)

“He was very forward thinking.” (Laura, Family Medicine)

“He was very conservative [in El Salvador]. He didn’t let my mom work. At some point his idea was, ‘No you’re going to get married, and you’re gonna have kids. You’re not gonna have a career, you’re a girl.’ I don’t know if this idea is true anymore because was when I was applying to college, I was like, ‘Oh I think I’m going to do Biology and be like Pre-med and he was supportive.’” (Claudia, Family Medicine)

17 (85%)

Procuring Financial and Social Independence From Men

Both fathers and mothers professed this and pulled from their work experiences. Fathers were less likely to rely on traditional gendered rules. Mothers expressed concern their daughters wouldn’t fulfill traditional gendered scripts.

“[My dad] is a veterinarian and a really hard worker. I think he thought medicine was a good career for me to choose. Financially stable. He always encouraged me to study. My mom not so much.” (Nancy, Family Medicine) “He definitely wanted to make sure that we always had money to buy food and have a house where we could live even if we didn’t have a partner.” (Vicki, Family Medicine)

“My dad definitely wanted me to be a doctor, surgeon specifically. My mom she didn’t. She wanted anything that would get me in and out of school the fastest.” (Janet, Pediatric Oncology)

19 (95%)

Parental Sexual Policing and Monitoring

Descriptions of the way Latina physicians explained that their sexual activity was a source of conflict when pursuing higher education. This includes parental fears over unplanned pregnancy and takes respondent generational level in the U.S. into account.

“[Moving] was hard for my mom. Cause they’re worried ‘¿qué vas andar de libertad alli?...La vida libre? You’re gonna be sleeping around and you’re going to get knocked up. And you’re not gonna be a good wife, or a good kid.” (Elivet, Family Medicine)

“There were cultural reasons like, ‘Oh could we let her? She’s a young girl how are we going to let her go by herself.’” (Ana, Family Medicine) “I lived with two of my best friends away from campus. My parents were okay with it because my other siblings had done that.” (Martha, Pediatric Critical Care)

16 (80%)

Fathers’ Contradictory Gendered Ideologies

As the eldest girl in her family, Laura, a family medicine doctor, expressed that there were contradictory gendered ideologies within her working class Mexican immigrant family. Laura was a first-generation college student and the “only” doctor in her family. She described her father from the state of Jalisco as “patriarchal” and the “man of the house,” but also explained that he was progressive and “astute” regarding the economic benefits a college education could reap for his U.S.-born daughter. Laura’s mother worked as a “lunch-lady” at an elementary school and was also primarily responsible for the household duties such as cooking, cleaning, and rearing her and her younger sister. Her father, on the other hand, worked as a gardener and was the main breadwinner. Laura explained, “My dad has two daughters and he is very much like, patriarchal. He is the head of the household, but I don’t think it was ever an issue like ‘you are a girl, you shouldn’t think about that [becoming a doctor].’ If anything he encouraged me,” she said, while shrugging her shoulders and smiling. Laura’s words elucidate an interesting contrast: whereas fathers exhibited traditional gendered ideologies for their wives and extended women kin, they also encouraged their daughters to seek out occupations and opportunities outside the home that were not available to the immigrant, poorer, and less educated women in their home countries.

Table 1 shows that like Laura, over half the women included in my study were first generation college students. Similarly, 14 of 20 respondents described their parents’ home societies as patriarchal, but noted how parental settlement in the United States altered gendered expectations that immigrant fathers had for their U.S.-born or 1.5-generation college-educated daughters. Claudia, a family medicine physician and the daughter of Salvadoran immigrants remarked, “My dad told [my mom] that she wasn’t gonna work—that she was going to stay home and have babies.” But she noted he had different expectations for her: “When I came back from college in December one time, his gift to me was a stethoscope and a blood pressure cuff.” Similarly, Ana explained that her father, a Mexican immigrant who was raised in a small ranch in a central Mexican state, also expressed patriarchal ideals. Yet, he openly shared how the inequities he saw impacted his own sisters and found it necessary to share this awareness with his own daughters to prepare and push them forward. Ana stated:

They pushed the girls more. All of us have higher degrees than the boys…I asked him a few months ago, “Why did you want us all to be professionals? You come from a place where there is a lot of machismo and the women are expected to have babies and stay home.” He was like, “I didn’t think it was fair.” He is close to his older sister and she had that total horrible life where she had a bad husband. She got married really young and had a lot of babies and she was just a housewife... he didn’t want that for his daughters. (Ana)

These contradictions in gendered expectations are normal in Latinx families as scholars note that migration from Mexico to the United States can alter gender relations between Mexican men and their wives due to changing structural conditions (Hondagneu-Sotelo 1994; Fernández-Kelly and Garcia 1997). Although Ana relies on the machista stereotype to explain Mexican men’s behavior toward women in Mexico, Ana’s quote helps us understand how the unfair gendered inequalities her father witnessed influenced his expectations toward his own daughters. Ana queried her father about this unexpected belief and noted that he was well aware of his sister’s subordinate gender position, thus pushing his daughters to excel in school and obtain a profession to escape those limitations. Although Ana noted that both of her parents were supportive in her journey toward becoming a medical doctor, she explained that her mother, unlike her father, was worried a medical career would take “too long” and that it would affect the timing of her having a family. “[My mother] was concerned. ‘When are you going to get married and have kids?’ That’s what she was worried about. She was like, ‘Why don’t you choose something else?...A shorter career?’” Janet echoed these sentiments: “My mom wasn’t very supportive due to her [Catholic] religious background. She was more like, ‘just go to church. Do a quick little college thing.’” In these instances, both mothers advised their daughters to select careers that required less schooling. As Vasquez (2011) notes, often is it the wives of men who maintain traditional roles. She maintains that it is women who often police, test, and often submit to gendered rules.
Latina doctors also suggested that being the eldest child made a difference in their relationships with their fathers. Luisa was the eldest and only girl in her family. She recounted that her parents were pushed out of school at an early age to work in their hometown in Mexico to financially support their parents, aunts, and uncles. Despite growing up with patriarchal influences between her parents in the home, Luisa described her father as “atypical” because in her eyes he did not exhibit patriarchal gendered ideologies toward her in the United States. She explained:

[My father] always encouraged me. I don’t think it mattered to him that I was a female…That I was not a son but a daughter. He didn’t care about that. He just knew he wanted something better [for me]…There came a time when he wasn’t able to help me with homework and school related academics, but the moral support was there 150 percent. (Luisa, Ophthalmology)

Zambrana and Hurtado (2015) have noted that immigrant fathers had high expectations for their daughters but were not always emotionally expressive in their support. Luisa’s father provided verbal encouragement. She attributed much of her success to the fact that he pushed her as much as her brothers; it did not matter that she was a woman.

Central and South American Latina physicians also described the fluidity of gendered processes in interactions with their fathers, some of whom possessed college degrees in their countries of origin. Lisa, a family medicine physician, was born El Salvador and moved to the United States with her family when she was one-year-old, settling in the Pico Union District in downtown Los Angeles. Her parents were highly educated in their home country but they experienced downward mobility upon their arrival in the United States, ultimately finding work in the garment industry as undocumented workers. While her father was a teacher in El Salvador and her mother worked for a university, the government blacklisted her father and the family was forced to move because they feared for their lives. Lisa explained that when she grew up in the United States, “it was a traditional role” where she would “be the one cleaning the kitchen everyday. My brother did not do other things. He used to vacuum on a weekend or something.” Yet, she also asked her parents to “switch roles” with her brother and used to “fix cars” and “put up the Christmas light with [her] dad” to subvert tasks that she deemed as gendered. Lisa also said, “My dad was okay with whatever [profession] I did.”

Elsa, a gastroenterologist, completed all of her schooling in South America and moved to the United States in 2001 alone to conduct research. She grew up in a middle class home with parents who were highly educated in Colombia. She said, “My father is actually amazingly pro-female, because of men from his generation…there were more female-oriented professions but my parents were not, whatever you wanted to study, do it well.” Elsa and Lisa explained that their fathers, both of whom were professionals in their countries of origin, took an active role in their lives and did not confine them to feminized jobs. Moreover, Elsa noted that her father was an active proponent of her sisters as well, one of whom was an engineer and the other an architect, two other non-traditional fields for women.

Fathers, in many cases, exhibited different forms of encouragement than mothers do. Vicki said:

It was different. Both of them encouraged us to do well in school…My mom [a homemaker] was always more of the type “do whatever makes you happy”…My dad, he did encourage us more like, “I want you to be a professional.” I think it was always encouragement from both of them, but I think my dad won…[he] grew up in Mexico City…My dad was very poor growing up. He says…he remembers getting on the metros and selling gum on the street at the age of nine…He didn’t want that to happen to us. (Vicki)

Although Vicki noted that both of her parents expressed their support toward her schooling, her father was more explicit about the type of profession that he wanted his daughter to obtain. Her mother, on the other hand, focused more on feelings of contentment or the home because that was the limited option she was given. Moreover, the excerpt demonstrates that although her mother gave a similar encouraging message as her father, Vicki explained it as her dad “won.” Jazmín echoed these sentiments and said, “My dad was more a big influence in the sense that he really wanted me to be a doctor” whereas her mother rarely provided her with a direction. Unlike the women in López (2005), who assessed their opportunities against the backdrop of their mothers’ hardships, Latina physicians assessed their educational and employment aspirations through the messages they received from their fathers about the less educated women in their lives. This leads into my next theme in which parents, both mothers and fathers, professed financial and social independence for their daughters in order to escape the limitations of patriarchy.

Procuring Financial and Social Independence from Men

Latina physicians expressed that their mothers and fathers stressed financial and social independence. Elivet explained that her father moved to the United States at the age of 12 and worked extremely hard to move his way up in his job, ultimately becoming the owner of a nightclub. This vertical mobility in the public world of work made him oriented toward capitalism, making him have a better sense of what it took to get ahead. Elivet explained, however, that her father was not a good husband and was not as present in her life as she would have liked. In fact, she had to rely on an extended male relative to drive her to Pomona College to turn in her medical school application to meet an approaching deadline. Given her father’s lack of presence and unfaithfulness to her mother, she envisioned and worked toward a career in which she could be financially and socially independent from any man. Recalling this aspect of her life, Elivet was overcome with emotion and said:

I always wanted to have a career that I could be independent because my father cheated on my mother…I once asked why she didn’t leave him? She said, “What was I gonna do with my three girls?” She only went to third grade and she was a homemaker when she got married. So, she’s like, “I didn’t have many options.” I didn’t want that. (Elivet)

Elivet notes that her mother relayed her limited options to her daughter for staying in her marriage, and Elivet also points to a more nuanced perception of her father. Although he provided the impetus to be financially independent, he was also one of the individuals who continuously made it “clear” that he wanted all of his daughters to get an education. González-López (2004) argues that Mexican immigrant men embrace distinct social norms based on the gender inequalities they experienced before migrating, and I find this influences what they want for their daughters. For instance, when Elivet was in medical school, her father pushed her to think about the entrepreneurial side of the job, encouraging her to consider opening up her own private practice in a wealthy area in the Los Angeles Westside. “My dad asked me, ‘no quieres estar en una clinica en Beverly Hills? [Don’t you want to be in a clinic in Beverly Hills?] Don’t you wanna become like a business owner? Open your own clinic?’” Elivet’s response was a “no” to his suggestion because she wanted to work for marginalized communities. He would not desist and prodded her with “¿Por qué, no?” [Why not?]. Perhaps because of his own accumulated human capital in business ownership, he attempted to socialize his daughter to open up her own private practice. Elivet’s father’s messages demonstrate how the expectations for his daughters are different from those for his wife, and how he did not want his daughter to lose out on advancement opportunities. His economic position within the family also gave him a gender advantage over her mother who had limited options, illustrating the patriarchal privileges he wanted to keep.
In contrast, Yvette, the U.S.-born daughter of two Mexican immigrants, explained that both of her parents supported her in medical school but her aunts (her mother’s sisters) often questioned her career choice. She explained:

They would say, “Why is she still studying?...Why isn’t she married?” There was a lot of looking down upon my parents and on me because I wasn’t married…My parents are traditional, but my extended family is very traditional. I was a single female, living on my own—when I was in medical school I had a one-bedroom apartment. My mom never told any of my tías [aunts] that I lived by myself because that is like scandalous because they would’ve said “why is she living by herself? She should be at home…” (Yvette)

To women family members this choice meant that women had to move away for school and forego starting a family for several years, failing to fulfill Latino gendered cultural scripts.

Like Vasquez (2011), I found that girls were often negatively evaluated by extended family members and were constrained by their gendered rules. Vicki explained that she saw similar patterns among the Latina medical residents she was currently monitoring, specifically citing resistance and concern from their mothers. “Their mom says, ‘You’re gonna regret it.’ Or they’re in financial need and they say like, ‘You need to go to work and start making money.’” Vicki noted that both of her parents were supportive, but Latina physicians often faced critiques and pressures from women extended family members for pursuing a profession that takes a long time to degree. Pursuing a longer career and taking on massive student debt also meant Latina physicians would not be able to supplement their families’ income until much later in their lives. These messages often stem from their class position and economic uncertainty and the need for Latinx children to contribute to the household at much younger ages (Bettie 2003; Zambrana and Hurtado 2015).

In contrast, Latina physicians did not perceive that their fathers constrained their career choices by relying on traditional gendered rules in the same ways that mothers did. For instance, Vicki and Yvette also expressed that their parents were extremely supportive and their fathers, in particular, reminded them that they did not want their daughters to depend on a man. Vicki remarked, “My dad always made sure that we never depended on anybody else.” Vicki attributed these desires to the fact that her father’s sisters did not fare too well with their husbands, and he did not want the same fate to befall on his own educated daughter. Fathers’ push or advocacy for their daughters is a form of patriarchal protection. Whereas López (2002) argues that U.S.-born Caribbean women develop homegrown feminism from observing the struggles their immigrant mothers endured at home and in low wage work sectors, here we see that Latina physicians draw from fathers in different ways. Yvette’s father encouraged her to enter a profession that would provide her not only with independence, but also with direction by stating it was only through education that she “could be on [her] own” and not beholden to an unfit partner. Because fathers understood that immigrants and low-educated women in their lives did not have complete independence or “better” opportunities, they rallied their U.S.-educated daughters for more.

Olivia explained that her father did not finish high school in Mexico and worked in manual labor. He always encouraged higher education because of the grueling job he held and also because her mother was sick and he took on more of the caretaking responsibilities. Whereas colleagues and faculty in medical school told her that “People like you don’t go become doctors,” her father pushed her to finish. Olivia said:

I was the first in my family to go to college. I was the youngest of four. When I would complain about how hard school was, my dad would say, “You don’t know hard work…go home and dig a hole” [laughs]. He was very supportive and said, “You have to get an education. For some reason that comes easy to you.” (Olivia)

My findings contrast with Alfaro et al.’s (2006) because Latina physicians did not describe similar support from teachers or faculty in medical schools; rather they credited their parents. Yvette narrated that her father worked as a line cook for a casino in Commerce and her mother for a Fortune 100 factory assembling home appliances. Her mother told her “you and your brother are going to be working in some air conditioned office somewhere and get to have nice cars…not sweating so much.” Similarly, her father told her:

When you grow up you’re going to go to college and you’re going to be somebody in life. You’re not going to be working in the kitchens. Kitchens are so hot mija!...It’s like hell…They were both kind of pushing my brother and myself. There is no option; you’re going to end up going to college. There’s no, I can’t or I don’t want to. (Yvette, Pediatric Medicine)

In making comments like this, Yvette’s father, like her mother, demonstrates high aspirations for her, as he does for his son. Although encouragement and gendered expectations may also stem from parents’ personal and economic struggles in the United States, fathers’ gender aspirations for their daughters have changed as their ambitions were guided by a form of patriarchal protection because they do not want their daughters to suffer at the hands of bad husbands or arduous jobs.

Part of the reason they want their daughters to succeed is due to what Smith (2005) calls the immigrant bargain. These fathers have sacrificed and toiled in socially demeaning jobs so that their children could study and get ahead and work in offices with air conditioning. About her degree Yvette also remarked, “it’s my mom’s degree, it’s my brothers degree, and it’s my dad’s degree because all three of them made their own personal sacrifices to get me to where I am at today.” The white coat bestows a form of prestige, with parents showing their pride by boasting “mija la doctora” [My daughter the doctor] as Janet, a pediatric oncologist, said. Thus, fathers and mothers professed financial and social independence for their daughters in order to escape the limitations of patriarchy. However, fathers encouraged daughters because access and entry into a non-traditional occupation would give their daughters leverage to combat an unfair gender order.

Parental Sexual Policing and Monitoring

When Vicki applied to a four-year university her mother did not “want her to go far from home” because she was worried about her safety and sexual activity. Her father, on the other hand, “was okay with it. He wasn’t sad. He just said, ‘If this helps you concentrate on your school…Let us know what you need. We’ll go take it to you during the weekend.’” The literature assumes that immigrant families with similar conservative/traditional expectations respond in the same way when confronted with new structural contexts, such as when women have access to higher education. I find that immigrant fathers helped their daughters prepare for the move away from home for school, whereas some of their immigrant mothers were initially aggrieved about the process but came around afterwards. Latina physicians who decided to pursue their residencies away from home shared that their fathers’ involvement in their education was often conveyed through messages about trust. For example, Luisa explained that her father “let her” move away for school because he trusted that she was going to prioritize her studies. It did not matter to him that she was a woman and he went “out of his way” to drive her to various conferences and anything school-related. Luisa also said, “At the age of 15, he gave me permission to go to D.C. for a leadership program that lasted five weeks. I think that is almost unheard of. He also had full trust in me [when I went to UC Davis for college].” Her father, although limited in his knowledge of higher education, not only trusted her but also accompanied her on the Greyhound bus to universities outside their hometown such as in the Sacramento area because he was excited about the selection process and to ensure her safety and to protect her.

González-López (2004) explained that the Mexican men she interviewed perceived the cities they migrate to and the immigrant barrios where they settle as sexually dangerous for their daughters, but I find that Latina physicians explained that fathers’ worries about their daughters’ sexuality were allayed because their daughters emphasized that they were focused on the economic gains a professional degree would confer the family. For example, Karen was the eldest and only girl in her immigrant family. She explained that her parents did not understand why she had to attend undergraduate school for 4 years and then graduate school for four more. According to her, however, her father had an interesting reaction to her academic plans:

My dad was like, “okay you can never get married, because if you’re in school you can’t get married and be in school.” So that was a dilemma for him, but I told him it’s been hard for me to get to where I am so it is unlikely for me to throw it away for a husband or boyfriend…To them it’s mutually exclusive, specifically because we are older by the time we get into medical school…(Karen)

Karen explained that in her father’s mind she had the choice of either getting married or pursuing a higher education. He did not limit her to one or the other, and instead, let her decide but he did not want her to squelch her academic opportunities for a romantic relationship, especially because being a doctor was within reach. Her parents warned her about some of the distractions that they felt girls fall prey to in the United States: “A lot of them became pregnant at 15. A lot of them got boyfriends and didn’t make it out of high school.” Karen, taking a more active role and lobbying for herself, reassured her parents that this was not going to happen to her in college, making her father more supportive of the move.
Thalia, the U.S.-born daughter of Mexican immigrants who settled in a predominantly Mexican and Central American immigrant city in Orange County, explained the messages she received about moving away from her father:

We have to tell our family, if you don’t let us go we won’t succeed because you are keeping me, holding on to me…My dad would say, “Lo voy a creer cuando lo vea” [I’ll believe it when I see it]. Not that he was being mean or anything but me being a girl, a woman. That’s not what we did. So, no salgas con tu domingo siete! [Don’t come back with an unplanned pregnancy.] (Thalia)

Notable about this interaction was that Thalia was aware of traditional gendered dynamics by indicating “that’s not what we did,” meaning that young women in her family did not move out of the house for a prospective career unless they were married. She reasoned with her father and he allowed her to leave but also reprimanded her over returning with an unplanned pregnancy. In contrast to Raffaelli and Green (2003), García (2012), and Reyes (2016), who found that mother-daughter communication was more frequent over sexual issues, I find that Latina physicians found themselves negotiating moving away for school with their fathers by emphasizing the long-term financial security their career would provide the family.

Latina physicians raised by immigrant mothers explained that their mothers were initially conflicted about the prospect of their daughters moving away from their homes to pursue their studies, similar to the Asian Indian women who were encouraged to attend local colleges by their families (Dasgupta and DasGupta 1996). In most cases (17 of 20), mothers wanted their daughters to remain close to home. Rosa, a family medicine physician, commuted an hour daily “[because] my mom didn’t want me to leave the house” to attend medical school while her father was sick. Laura lived with her parents until she was 32 because both of them did not want her to move out by herself. Therefore, Laura completed her undergraduate studies at an elite four-years institution in Southern California and often commuted over an hour and a half to attend medical school. She remarked, “That was mainly I think because you are a woman. If you are away at college who knows what will happen there? You might get pregnant and then that’s it. It’s over. So there was still that sense of stay home…I mean go get an education, but your place is here with us.” Zhou and Bankston (1998) found that the strict social control to which young Vietnamese women were subjected had a positive influence on their education; it propelled them into academic achievements. Upon reflection, Laura shared that she felt she was protected from the perils that her parents envisioned in college. Nonetheless, Laura moved out of her parents’ home once she finished medical school. Even then she was encouraged by her parents to move into her own condominium with her sister, which she did.

Elivet’s mother also expressed concern about her daughter moving away for medical school. The farthest school to which Elivet applied was in the Bay Area, but she remained close to Los Angeles to be near her ailing mother who got breast cancer in her first semester. Elivet explained that her mother said, “Nobody’s gonna want you, if you slept around kinda thing. I got all that. I got all the “portate bien” [behave] and we would talk almost everyday!…I knew she was worried that I wasn’t behaving.” Immigrant parents strongly police the sexual morality of their daughters, who are often expected to maintain a level of respectability in both the family and ethnic community (Espin 1999; Espiritu 2001). In many instances, Mexican women, more so than men, protect patriarchy and their daughters’ sexuality because it had material consequences for them in the home country (González-López 2005), reflecting a form of internalized sexism. Moreover, the Chicana feminist scholar Gloria Anzaldúa (1997, p. 260) indicates, “Males make the rules and laws; women transmit them,” to demonstrate how traditional patriarchal ideologies are often internalized and reproduced by women because they had material consequences for them. Mexican immigrant men, on the other hand, were more concerned with protecting their daughters from a sexually dangerous society in urban city centers and improving their socioeconomic advancement. This was of greater concern to these men than preserving their daughters’ virginity per se (González-López 2004). Latina physicians recognized these messages from their parents.

For example, Thalia explained the gender-biased double standard she witnessed:

The challenges we have to endure…we’re not going to get pregnant, were not going to use up the scholarship money, [they] have to believe in our word that we’re committed. My goodness, they tire us! We are anchored to our families. They would never do that to a boy, “Ay mi hijito vete, no te preocupes, yo te cocino, yo te visto, yo te arreglo” [My son, go, don’t worry, I’ll cook for you, I’ll dress you, I’ll fix you]…so that traditional male role, accustomed to different roles in the household than if you were a female. (Thalia)

Unlike her three brothers who were given free reign from both parents to attend school, Thalia noted that she had to reassure her family that she was not going to waste the scholarship money by getting pregnant. Unlike with their daughters, mothers rarely pressed their sons about their sexual activity or pressured them about their time to degree. López (2002, p. 124) notes: “Among women, the intention to delay marriage and child rearing was always discursively linked to the stigmatization of their sexuality and importance of acquiring educational credentials for dismantling those stereotypes.” I find that Latina physicians were encouraged by their fathers to obtain a prestigious career to escape patriarchal gendered experiences. Unlike mothers who were worried about their sexual activity in school, which would violate cultural norms, fathers were more concerned that daughters would return with an unplanned pregnancy and not finish their medical schooling after so many years of dedication.

These gendered ideologies are not static; instead they evolve over time and completion of a non-traditional career facilitates the process. Telles and Ortiz (2008, pp. 205–206) have noted that “traditional gender attitudes lessen with generation since immigration and from parents to the children.” Similarly, Vasquez (2011) has noted that traditional (or transitional) gender ideologies persist in the second generation, but they may change in subsequent generations. My findings build on this scholarship by suggesting that it is not just generational level, but career selection that challenges gendered ideologies in Latinx families. For example, of the physicians in my sample, only four moved to another state. These women were third and fourth generation.

Esther, a self-identified Mexican-American physician who was 4th generation, gave “credit” to her U.S.-born and single Mexican-origin mother for encouraging her to move away from home to pursue her collegiate studies in medicine. Esther explained: “[My mother] was like, ‘Go! Leave now!’ [laughs]…To her credit, she let me go.” Colleagues of hers who were the U.S.-born children of immigrants, on the other hand, had a different experience.

A lot of my friends—like their parents wanted to hold them back. They wanted their children to stay local and not to go out of state…[My mom] had to raise us pretty much on her own…So it wasn’t traditional for us like mom stays home and dad works…I think that helped her to let me go off. The majority of my friends stayed home. One, they couldn’t afford it. And two, they preferred to stay closer. (Esther, OBGYN)

In contrast to most first generation immigrant parents, Esther’s mother was a teacher, and most later generation Latina physicians had mothers who were college-educated. Rocío explained that her U.S.-born and college-educated mother was the one who “had to go out of her world to go to college,” indicating that her mother bore the brunt of gendered strains in her immigrant family when attending college. I find that Latina daughters with middle-class mothers who had a career, even a feminized career, were more able to escape traditional gendered attitudes. These gendered norms and attitudes toward sexuality changed over time for Latina physicians who were raised by less educated immigrant mothers who were more concerned with the material value attributed to sexual activity in their home culture, whereas fathers were more concerned about their daughters jeopardizing the completion of their professional career trajectories in medicine.

Discussion

College-educated Latinas are making gains and inroads into many white-collar jobs, in both feminized and non-traditional fields (Flores 2017; Garcia-López 2008; Grijalva and Coombs 1997). Although scholars often assume that Latinx parents all subscribe to conservative or traditional gender ideologies and socialize daughters in similar ways, changing structural contexts challenge monolithic and static ideals of Latinx family dynamics. The narratives from Latina physicians reveal that fathers espoused selective gendered ideologies for their upwardly mobile daughters, but not to women in general. Latina physicians explained that although their fathers were mostly raised in Latin American societies, which they perceived as patriarchal, they did not espouse similar ideologies for their daughters who were mostly U.S.-born and/or raised in the country at a young age and had access to education. Latina physicians explained that their fathers used the experiences of the poorer women in their lives to push their daughters forward in their medical studies and also to spare them the gender subordination they witnessed, and sometimes perpetuated.

Through Latina physicians’ recollections, I find that immigrant fathers want both to maintain their patriarchal privileges for themselves, and yet seek patriarchal protection and the best possible life course trajectory for their daughters. Part of the reason they do this is because of the love they have for their daughters, but it is also because gendered expectations for women in the home country and those available in the United States are markedly different. González-López (2004) broadens our understandings of Latino fatherhood as exclusively, machista, dominant, and authoritative. González-López (2004, p. 1127) reminds us that “fatherhood may become a family emotional process, through which men may begin to resolve and disrupt family patterns that promote gender inequality as they educate a new generation of Mexican American women with regard to sexuality.” I find this was also the case for Latinas whose parents hailed from other countries in Latin America, such as Colombia and El Salvador. Contradictions in gendered ideologies can be better explained through the desires that fathers of various national origins and class backgrounds had for their daughters—wanting financial and social independence from men for their daughters, yet also strategically professing sexual moderation as they moved through the educational hierarchy because they wanted them to ensure their professional goals as doctors.

In achieving a medical career, Latina physicians demonstrate that these gendered ideologies are rearranged not because of a modernizing Anglo influence or the acculturation process, but because the cultural and structural landscapes that these families encountered have shifted over time and have given these women access to jobs that were formerly only accessible to a White mainstream. Later generation Latina physicians with college-educated mothers were more able to escape some of these gendered rules because their career ambitions afforded them some freedom relative to their mothers and aunts. Although Latina physicians are entering a non-traditional career, they are in many ways still culturally rooted to gendered scripts in their families of origin, despite gaining structural access to higher education and the professional workplace. Remade gendered ideologies advance a new theoretical lens by which Latinx professionals should be analyzed as they help explain obstacles and successful entry into non-traditional occupations.

Limitations and Future Directions

Despite unpacking the messages Latinas received from their parents about pursuing medicine, one of the limitations of my study is that it only draws from the experiences of physicians in California. It is possible that Latina physicians in other parts of the United States such as Florida or New York may reflect a different demographic composition and may have distinct experiences from those included in my study. For this reason, it is important for scholars to take note of gender regimes in other countries in order to fully capture the experiences of women who enter fields where they are underrepresented. It would also be worthwhile to compare Latinas’ experiences with other minority Women of Color, who are racialized in different ways than Latinas in U.S. racial hierarchies. Future researchers should also compare and contrast the experiences of men and women of Latinx origins who are also professionals but entered fields that do not require so many years of schooling such as entrepreneurs. Gendered messages from parents may be different in this regard because the requirements to enter other fields vary. Nevertheless, the findings of the current study can inform future researchers who seek to understand the competing messages that Latinas face when pursuing fields in which they comprise numerical minorities.

Practice Implications

Because the Latina physicians include in my study rarely felt supported by school personnel, medical school faculty and college counselors are well positioned to provide support to Latinas who are pursing a career in medicine by understanding the cultural competency not only of patients they serve, but also of the women students they train and educate. For instance, in training Latina doctors, medical school faculty could attend to the narratives that they give about their families of origin. In doing so, medical school faculty could identify the gendered cultural barriers that Women of Color face in order to increase the number of Latinas in the medical school pipeline. Medical school personnel can take into consideration the heterogeneity of the Latinx population and the myriad ways in which Latina physicians refashion gender ideologies and gender strategies alike when recruiting and retaining them in the profession. Drawing on the gendered processes identified in the present study as an example, this would mean that medical school faculty and the medical profession as a whole would have to think beyond doctor-patient rapport and also take into consideration the gendered relations physicians experience within their families. In addition, inclusion of such strategies could inform other aspects of health training, such as when providing healthcare to women in general.

Conclusion

The present research illustrated the messages of support and resistance that Latinas received from their families of origin regarding pursuit of a career in medicine. As the data revealed, it is not accurate to assume that Latinx parents only socialize their daughters to pursue feminine careers. Although college-educated Latinas have been hyper-segregated into sex-segregated fields and those that fall in line with traditional gender ideals, these patterns are changing. Fathers’ messages are important to this process because of their experiences in the public work sector, and the gendered ideologies that they develop toward their U.S-born or raised college-educated daughters. I find it is not just generational level or how far a family is removed from the immigrant experience that shifts parental gendered messages for Latinas, but pursuit of a non-traditional career that does not conform to feminine gender ideals also informs this process.

Notes

Acknowledgments

The Hellman Fellows Program and the UC/ACCORD organization supported the present research. I wish to thank the physicians who participated in the study and the study’s undergraduate research assistants: Thalia Fabian and Yoselinda Mendoza. I am also grateful to Raul Fernández, Belinda Campos, and the anonymous reviewers for their thoughtful comments on prior drafts.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This study was approved by the author’s Institutional Review Board. Informed consent was given by all participants.

Supplementary material

11199_2018_979_MOESM1_ESM.docx (17 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 16 kb)

References

  1. Abrego, L. (2014). Sacrificing families. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alfaro, E. C., Umaña-Taylor, A., & Bámanca, M. Y. (2006). The influence of academic support on Latino adolescents’ academic motivation. Family Relations, 55, 279–291.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3729.2006.00402.x.
  3. Anzaldúa, G. (1997). Movimientos de rebeldia y las culturas que traicionan [rebellious movements and the cultures they betray]. In A. Darder, R. Torres, & H. Gutierrez (Eds.), In Latinos and education (pp. 259–268). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  4. Association of American Medical Colleges. (2014). Diversity in the physician workforce. Retrieved from http://aamcdiversityfactsandfigures.org/section-iii-geographic-distribution-of-physician-workforce/.
  5. Bettie, J. (2003). Women without class. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  6. Bhatt, W. (2013). Little brown woman. Gender and Society, 27, 659–680.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243213491140.
  7. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77–101.  https://doi.org/10.1191/1478088706qp0630a.
  8. Cantú, N. (2008). Paths to discovery. Los Angeles: UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center Press.Google Scholar
  9. Castillo-Speed, L. (1995). Latina: Women’s voices from the borderlands. New York: Simon and Schuster.Google Scholar
  10. Catanzarite, L., & Trimble, L. (2008). Latinos in the United States labor market. In H. Rodriguez, R. Saenz, & C. Menjivar (Eds.), In Latinas/os in the United States (pp. 149–167). Boston: Springer.Google Scholar
  11. Chatfield, S. L. (2018). Considerations in qualitative research reporting: a guide for authors preparing articles for sex roles. Sex Roles, 79, 125–135.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-018-0930-8.
  12. Coltrane, S., Park, R., & Adams, M. (2004). Complexity of father involvement in low-income Mexican-American families. Family Relations, 53, 179–189.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00008.x.
  13. Dasgupta, S. D., & DasGupta, S. (1996). Public face, private space. In N. B. Maglin & D. Perry (Eds.), Bad girls/good girls (pp. 226–243). New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Dill, M. J., & Salsberg, E. S. (2008). The complexities of physician supply and demand: Projections through 2025. Washington: Association of American Medical Colleges.Google Scholar
  15. Espin, O. (1999). Women crossing boundaries. New York: Routledge Press.Google Scholar
  16. Espiritu, Y. L. (2001). “We don’t sleep around like White girls do.” Signs, 26, 415–440.  https://doi.org/10.1086/495599.
  17. Espiritu, Y. L. (2003). Home bound. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  18. Estrada, E. (2013). Changing household dynamics. Childhoods, 20, 51–65.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0907568212458441.
  19. Estrada, E., & Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (2013). Living the third shift: Latina adolescent street vendors in Los Angeles. In N. Flores-Gonzalez, A. R. Guevarra, M. Toro-Morn, & G. Chang (Eds.), Immigrant women workers in the neoliberal age (pp.144–163). Urbana: University of Illinois Press.Google Scholar
  20. Fernández-Kelly, M.P. (1983). For we are sold. Albany: State University of New York Press.Google Scholar
  21. Fernández-Kelly, M.P., & García, A. M. (1997). Power surrendered, power restored. In M. Romero, P. Hondagneu-Sotelo, & V. Ortiz (Eds.), Challenging fronteras (pp. 215–228). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  22. Flores, G. M. (2017). Latina teachers: Creating careers and guarding culture. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  23. Flores, G. M., & Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (2014). The social dynamics Latina college graduates into the teaching profession. Gender, Work and Organization, 21, 491–515.  https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12051.
  24. Galindo, R. (1996). Reframing the past in the present: Chicana teacher role identity as bridging identity. Education and Urban Society, 29, 85–102.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0013124596029001007.
  25. García, L. (2012). Respect yourself, protect yourself. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  26. García-López, G. (2008). Nunca de toman en cuenta [they never take you into acccount]. Gender & Society, 22, 590–612.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0891243208321120.
  27. González-López, G. (2004). Fathering Latina sexualities: Mexican men and the virginity of their daughters. Journal of Marriage and Family, 66, 1118–1130.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.0022-2445.2004.00082.x.
  28. González-López, G. (2005). Erotic journeys. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  29. Grijalva, C. A., & Coombs, R. H. (1997). Latinas in medicine: Stressors, survival skills, and strengths. Aztlán, 22(2), 67–88.Google Scholar
  30. Hondagneu-Sotelo, P. (1994). Gendered transitions. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  31. Kibria, N. (1993). Family tightrope. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  32. López, N. (2002). Hopeful girls, troubled boys. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. López, N. (2005). Homegrown: How the family does gender. In M. B. Zinn, P. Hondagneu-Sotelo, & M. Messner (Eds.), Gender through the prism of difference (pp. 447–464). New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Mirande, A. (1997). Hombres y machos. Boulder: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  35. Murti, L. (2012). Who benefits from the white coat? Ethnic and Racial Studies, 35, 1–19.  https://doi.org/10.1080/014189870.2011.631555.
  36. Pinto, K., & Coltrane, S. (2009). Divisions of labor in Mexican origin and Anglo families. Sex Roles, 60, 485–495.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-008-9549-5.
  37. Raffaelli, M., & Green, S. (2003). Parent-adolescent communication about sex. Journal of Marriage and Family, 65, 474–481.  https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2003.00474.x.
  38. Raffaelli, M., & Ontai, L. L. (2004). Gender socialization in Latino/a families: Results from two retrospective studies. Sex Roles, 50, 287–299.  https://doi.org/10.1023/B:SERS.0000018886.58945.
  39. Reyes, D. V. (2016). Conundrums of desire: Sexual discourses of Mexican-origin mothers. Sexuality and Culture, 20, 1020–1041.  https://doi.org/10.1007/s12119-016-9372-z.
  40. Segura, D. (1992). Chicanas in white collar jobs: “You have to prove yourself more.” Sociological Perspectives, 35, 163–182.  https://doi.org/10.2307/1389373.
  41. Smith, R.C. (2005). Mexican New York. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  42. Taningco, T. M. (2008). Latinos in STEM professions (pp. 1–20, Rep.). Los Angeles: Tomas Rivera Policy Institute.Google Scholar
  43. Telles, E., & Ortiz, V. (2008). Generations of exclusion. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  44. U.S. Census Bureau. (2015). Poverty thresholds for 2015 by size of family and number of related children under 18 years. Retrieved from http://www.irp.wisc.edu/faqs/faq1.htm.
  45. Vasquez, J. M. (2011). Mexican Americans across generations. New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  46. Villegas, M., & Vincent, K. M. (2005). Factors that influence the underrepresentation of Latino/a students majoring in mathematics in the state of Washington. WSU McNair Journal, 3, 114–129.Google Scholar
  47. Waters, M. C. (1996). The intersection of gender, race, and ethnicity in identity development of Caribbean American teens. In B. J. R. Leadbeater, & N. Way (Eds.), Urban adolescent girls (pp. 65–84). New York: New York University Press.Google Scholar
  48. Wolf, D. L. (1997). Family secrets: Transnational struggles among children of Filipino immigrants. Sociological Perspectives, 40, 457–82.  https://doi.org/10.2307/1389452.
  49. Zambrana, R. E., & Hurtado, A. (2015). The magic key. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  50. Zhou, M., & Bankston, C. (1998). Growing up American. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.Google Scholar
  51. Zinn, M. B. (1979). Political familism: Toward sex role equality in Chicano families. Aztlán, 8, 13–26.Google Scholar
  52. Zinn, M. B. (2001). Insider field research in minority Communities. In R. M. Emerson (Ed.), Contemporary field research (pp. 159–166). Long Grove: Waveland Press.Google Scholar
  53. Zinn, M. B., & Eitzen, S. (2004). Diversity in families (7th ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Chicano/Latino Studies and Department of SociologyUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

Personalised recommendations