Oregon Outreach: Increasing the participation of Latino(a)  youth and families in the Oregon 4-H program.


Building Relationships
Developing Programs
Staffing Factors
Cultural Values



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Cultural Values

The Oregon Outreach program is targeted to Latino youth and families who are relative newcomers to the U.S. By far, the largest proportion of this population is of Mexican origin.

To work effectively with any ethnic group, educators need to be aware of values in their own culture, as well as sensitive to differences in other cultures. One way to explore cultural values is to think in terms of cultural assumptions. Such assumptions are based on core values commonly held by members of the same culture and which condition certain ways of thinking and acting.

Traditional cultural values of Latinos (Mexicans, in particular) are summarized below in terms of "core value clusters" addressing self and family, relating to others, attitude toward change, and forms of activity. This is not an exhaustive list, but intended to convey an awareness of some Latino values that contrast central themes reflected in mainstream U.S. culture. (These are generalized characteristics, of course–individuals in both cultures exhibit varied behaviors.) The values information is distilled from several sources (see the footnote at the bottom of the table for more information about the content of the table and the context in which it should be perceived).

Included in the table are implications for planning, implementing, and evaluating Extension programs for Latino audiences. These are presented as suggestions or recommendations, based on learning that has occurred through the Oregon Outreach experience.

Intercultural learning is a complex process and requires an ongoing commitment. All members of the Oregon Outreach staff, including those who are bicultural, have attended one or more intercultural staff development sessions. In addition to training, members of the program staff have found it helpful to have access to "cultural translators"—people who can provide advice and support as staff become involved in intercultural experiences.

Latino Cultural Values
With Implications for Extension Programming*

Self and Family

Traditional Cultural Values
Implications for Programming

Family is all-important. Family structures are hierarchal and patriarchal. Extended families are the norm. Older siblings take care of younger siblings. Family loyalty is very strong. Children often participate in the family work, and preferred activities involve all family members. When a family obligation conflicts with a work obligation, the family usually takes precedence. Independence is not encouraged; the welfare of the group is of primary importance. Parents soon learn about the importance of education in the U.S. and are interested in their children doing well in school.

Assess the needs and assets of the specific community you want to reach. Plan efforts that build on group experience rather than individual effort. Use cooperative rather than competitive activities. Offer and promote youth programs emphasizing family values, cultural heritage, teamwork, group learning, and success in school. Expect that parents may bring children to parent activities and that older children may bring younger children to youth activities. Consider programs that involve the whole family. Promote programs in ways that inform males involved in family decision-making.

Relating to Others

Traditional Cultural Values
Implications for Programming
Communication patterns are likely to be indirect. Sometimes intermediaries are used to convey messages, particularly in the case of bad news. When asked their opinion, people might be likely to tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what they actually believe. Formal titles are often used; status and authority are shown deference. Looking down while being addressed by someone in authority is a sign of respect. Teachers are considered to be authorities and knowledgeable experts. It is considered unusual for teachers to ask parents how much they think their children have learned-if the teacher doesn't know, then who does? People tend to avoid behavior that sets them apart from others. Some residents are undocumented and are therefore uncomfortable when questioned by authority figures. Be sensitive to role and status issues. Use formal names and proper titles when addressing or referring to adults (not just first names). Expect to be seen as an authority figure in learning situations. Don't call on a specific person to answer a question in a group-ask everyone the same question instead. Don't expect children (or even some adults) to "look you in the eye." Avoid introducing yourself or your program as being affiliated with the federal or state government. Take time to get to know the people. Hire bilingual, bicultural program staff and support them well. Use indirect methods of collecting data, such as end-of-activity de-briefing sessions, listening posts, dialogue and reflection. Ensure anonymity if paper-and-pencil instruments are used. Focus groups often work well in some situations.

Attitude Toward Change

Traditional Cultural Values
Implications for Programming
Value is placed on stability, continuity, and harmony. Change is often thought to be brought about through fate or nature and assessed in a historical context, not managed by people. The supernatural may be part of everyday life. Behavioral motivators may be spiritual. Group decisions involve consulting with important family members, agreeing with authorities, or conforming to the group. Leadership is vested in authority and status. Respect, honor, and trust are important considerations. Survival depends more on knowing how to deal with particular people than in fitting comfortably into a smooth-running organization. Focus early programming efforts on shared values to help build cooperation and mutual trust. Collaborate with other agencies and organizations. Involve respected leaders at key points in the process. Recognize that it will take time to build trust levels and that change is likely to occur in small increments. Don't be overly concerned if initial efforts don't reach a "critical mass" or attendance is erratic-revise your definition of participation. Incorporate opportunities for assessment from the very beginning of the program. Make mindful decisions, and be attentive to each aspect of the programming process.

Forms of Activity

Traditional Cultural Values
Implications for Programming
One works primarily to satisfy immediate needs. Any accumulated wealth is shared rather than saved. Time is indefinite and incidental-things are done as they need to be done and take as much time as they need. Volunteer efforts tend to be informal and spontaneous. Emphasis is on living in the present, taking each day as it comes, rather than planning for the future or thinking in the long-term. People are used to doing many things at the same time (polychronic)-clerks may wait on more than one customer at a time; serious discussion may occur amid loud music and lots of varied activity.

Be flexible and responsive. Work "in tune" with group momentum. Try activities that occur simultaneously; play Latino music before or during activities to create a lively, welcoming atmosphere. Offer refreshments of ethnic foods. Build opportunities to observe or record behavior into the learning activities. Avoid firm timelines and due dates. Realize that other activities may take precedence over learning. Dispense with detailed plans of work or lesson plans. Extend personal invitations to potential volunteers. Initially recruit for short-term assignments only. Keep asking.

Included in this table are some traditional and generalized Latino cultural values that contrast central themes reflected in mainstream U.S. culture. (Individuals in both cultures exhibit varied behaviors.) These values are summarized from several sources. The author, however, takes responsibility for how they appear in this table. The list of implications is not exhaustive, but intended to stimulate thinking, and was generated from programming experience. While the author has taken care to present this information from a respectful, non-biased perspective, it should be noted that her predominately Euro-American cultural background still influences her approach.

Prepared by Barbara Sawer, Ed.D., Oregon Outreach project evaluator and excerpted from her paper, Evaluating Latino Outreach Programs with Attention to Cultural Factors, presented at the Annual Conference of the American Evaluation Association, November 2000.