Being Mexican-American, I grew up learning about my Mexican heritage, while also embracing the American culture. Because I lived both cultures, I noticed differences when it came to certain aspects of these cultures. Although the culture and traditions of Latin American countries are different from one another, I have noticed similarities with regard to their views on alcohol. Alcohol plays a big role in our traditions and customs. As a young teen, I participated in celebrations such as – Quinceñeras (sweet sixteens), Christmas gatherings, Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) and Dia de los Muertos (Day of the dead) – but it wasn’t until I was much older that I realized just how much these celebrations involved alcohol and how easily accessible it was for minors.
Reflecting on this now, I wonder why this issue never came up in discussions with family or friends. In most Latin American countries, the legal drinking age is 18, but many teens start drinking before the legal age without knowing or understanding any of the consequences. The law is not always enforced, and, in more rural areas, enforcing the law is even less of a priority. Because there is lack of awareness in certain parts of Latin America, many Latinos believe the consumption of alcohol at younger ages won’t have negative effects. Due to the lack of education on the long-term effects of alcohol, many parents don’t know to talk to their children about the consequences. You see this particularly with males, as it is considered a rite of passage for males to drink. Many fathers enjoy giving their sons their first drinks – as do many of the male relatives – to make them “men.”
Knowing the role of alcohol in my culture, the need for awareness has inspired me in my work to educate Latino families. At Family Service, we have a program called SELF, which helps to educate not only students but also parents on making healthy choices. Interestingly, alcohol and drugs are topics that many of these parents want to discuss. To further make a difference, I decided to join CTAD because its mission of education and prevention of underage drinking really spoke to me. In both my professional role and in my work with CTAD, I hope to bridge the gap of awareness and prevention between the two cultures.
CTAD Board Member
Senior Latino and Youth Program Associate, Family Service of Lake County