The Matriarchal Role of the ‘Abuela’

Of Dolores' 13 grandchildren, Frankie is the second eldest. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News
Of Dolores’ 13 grandchildren, Frankie is the second eldest. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

The backbone of the family, her authority is the end all be all She is the abuela.

“Abuela” also known as “nana” in Mexican culture, meaning “grandmother” in Spanish,  plays a vital role in the family and the family structure. They serve as the glue that holds the family together, especially among Latino families, according to an expert at the University of Arizona.

Dolores Orozco is an abuela to 13 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

She has played and continues to play a vital role in the lives of all of her grandchildren.

She chuckles as she fondly remembers taking her grandson, Frankie Orozco, 22, to school every morning at Menlo Park Elementary on the West side of Tucson.

“Every morning, we would walk down the street to school and every afternoon I’d be waiting there to pick them up,”  Dolores said.

Frankie, who will graduate from the University of Arizona this May, said his best memories of his nana, his paternal grandmother, are of her taking him to school and playing hide and seek with him.

“She was pretty much my second mom growing up,” Frankie said.  “She’d take me to work with her, I was always with her.”

Dolores was Frankie’s only nana.  His maternal grandmother passed away before he got the chance to know her and he feels their relationship has been so strong throughout his entire life because of that.

Dolores not only plays a huge role in Frankie’s life but in the entire family’s.

“My nana is everyone’s safety net `whereas if something happens, she’ll take us in with open arms,”  he said.

Dolores has cared for all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren at one point or another.

“I always have them here at the house, someone is always here,”  Dolores said.

Melissa Barnett, professor of family studies and human development in the John and Doris Norton College of Family and Consumer Sciences said that while research shows that maternal grandmothers are usually more involved in grandchildren’s lives than paternal grandmothers, it is not true in all cases.

Abuelas, especially those in Latino families act as a lynchpin pulling the family together, coordinating meals and gatherings, holidays and are essentially the heads of the social calendar, according to Barnett.

“In Latino culture, the abuela is the high almighty,” Barnett said.  “There’s a sense of respect she receives and power that she has.”

Abuelas play a central, anecdotal role in the family and support the idea of “familism”, the notion of centrality of the family and always being able to count on one another, according to Barnett.

Now that the grandchildren are older it is rare to find a time when the entire family is able to get together. Frankie said that his nana and tata, grandfather in Spanish, are the ones who unite them.

“The number one rule within our family is to make sure we never disappoint nana,” Frankie said.

Dolores Orozco and her grandson Frankie Orozco water the plants at their shared garden at her home in Menlo Park. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News
Dolores Orozco and her grandson Frankie Orozco water the plants at their shared garden at her home in Menlo Park. Photo by Adriana Espinosa/ Arizona Sonora News

 

Dolores said her main responsibilities are as simple as caring for and loving her grandkids.

“I like giving them advice on what I think is best for them,”  Dolores said.  “But, I’m not too tough on them.”

According to Barnett, grandparents caring for their grandchildren is more common in Latino and African American families, and one of their main responsibilities.

For Dolores, there was never a question of whether or not she would care for them, it was obvious.

“I don’t have to do all of this, but it’s my inclination,”  Dolores said.  “They stole my heart.”

Adriana Espinosa is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at adrianaespinosa@email.arizona.edu.

 

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