Many of the Latino migrants in New Jersey came as families, and some formed families here. This core unit was an important source of support, a major aspect of identity, and often a locus of friction. The support came not only in merged economic efforts, but also in psychological and emotional terms. Moreover, the family provided one with the opportunity to live out inherited cultural patterns of life, which most often were fused with aspects of the dominant Anglo culture. Pressure for more equality for women and more freedom for children, both of which are more prevalent in U.S. culture, at times clashed with the fathers’ traditional authoritarian role. Such conflicts have increased the divorce rate in Latino migrant families; in fact, 14 percent of Latino families in New Jersey are headed by a single mother.
Statements by Latinos give voice to a range of family concerns and experiences in New Jersey. A Colombian said, My parents tell me that the family is very important to Colombians and that we should always protect one another. Yet another Colombian reported the following:
My parents always believed that we should live honest lives, work hard, and get along well with everyone. In the beginning, my parents resented it when we children spoke English at home and they couldn’t understand us. My father has always been the boss in my family. Women are more respected here. They can say what they feel. We spent more time as a family in Colombia.
And a first-generation Dominican American said:
We are now like most American families, everyone has their own thing to do. Both of my parents work. They don’t have enough time to show their affection the way they used to in the Dominican Republic. My mother is an exceptional person. She has devoted herself to her children. My mother has been a driving force. I admire her a lot. She always encouraged my brother and me to get a profession. But she is very strong willed and controlling. She can be suffocating. I hate when my parents tell me that I am too American. They’re old-fashioned in their ways and so are my brothers.
Housing is of crucial importance to Latino families. By 2005 some 38 percent of Latinos in New Jersey had been able to purchase homes. The median value of houses was $317,000. For renters the median paid rent per month was $934. Both owners and renters spent an average of 55 percent of their income on housing.
Most Latinos speak and understand Spanish, whereas some use Portuguese, French, or Creole. In 1990 over 600,000 persons in New Jersey spoke Spanish. The majority of these Latinos settled in communities where there were other Spanish speakers. Although there is much commonality of language, Latinos are culturally diverse depending not only on country of origin but also on regions within a given country. Latinos descend from the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Germans, Italians, Native Americans, Africans, and even Asians, and most Latinos in New Jersey have a mix of two or more of the above heritages. The many Latinos in New Jersey with at least some Native American blood are now numerically more here than at the time of the first European settlements.