Conference Tells Latinas How to Cope

Times Staff Writer

Aguantate-- put up with it--is the traditional advice Latinas have received for dealing with alcoholism and other forms of abuse within the family, according to experts.

But on Saturday, at the state’s first conference on Latinas and alcoholism, the advice was ya no se aguanta-- stop putting up with it--because there are places to turn for ethnically attuned help with their problems.

“As a culture, all of us are undergoing a transition,” said Nelba Chavez, executive director of La Frontera Center mental health clinic in Tucson, Ariz., addressing the conference at Rio Hondo College in Whittier. As a result of the conflicting demands of the Latino and Anglo cultures, “We may retreat into ourselves,” Chavez said. “We may retreat into a bottle.”

The retreat will continue, Chavez said, as long as Latinas view alcohol abuse as a fact of life rather than a problem with solutions. In fact, the problem has been hidden so much that little research has thus far been conducted.


According to the National Clearinghouse for Alcohol Information, alcohol-related deaths account for 52% of all deaths among Mexican American males. And a number of researchers have found that the drinking problems of Latinas are seriously underreported because of strong cultural sanctions against females overindulging.

Strategies Offered

The conference offered strategies for fighting alcoholism in two distinct groups of Latinas: the first-generation immigrant who drinks very little but lives with men who abuse alcohol, and the succeeding generations who turn to alcohol for relief from the combined demands of the Latino and Anglo cultures.

For the recent immigrant who may not be fluent in English, the conference offered a fotonovela, or photographic novel, which concludes with a homemaker seeking help from Alcoholics Anonymous to deal with her alcoholic husband. It will be distributed through clinics.


The fotonovela, printed in Spanish and English, was designed by the Whittier-based Proyecto AASUL, the first program funded by the state to educate Latinas about the dangers of alcohol abuse. AASUL, which stands for Assistance with Alcohol and Sobriety Uniting Latinas, used $60,000 in state money to pay for the fotonovela, public service announcements, the conference and a list of 19 Southern California social service agencies that provide bilingual counseling.

A different set of problems is faced by Latinas born of immigrants and raised in the United States. These women are increasingly turning to alcohol to ease stress created by trying to reconcile subservience often expected in male-dominated households with assertiveness required to succeed in the workplace, said Juana Mora, a research analyst for the Los Angeles County office of alcohol programs.

‘Tremendous Guilt’

“Latinas suffer tremendous guilt . . . because of the conflicting expectations,” Mora said. “The guilt makes us want to take care of everybody else. . . . We need to learn how to take better care of ourselves.”

Mora said many successful Latinas also have to live with occasional resentment from less-educated family members who want to see women remain in their traditional home-bound roles.

“My brothers, they called me a snob,” said Carol Berni, a manager at Sears. “I remember always being asked: ‘Why can’t you just get a steady job? Why can’t you just get married?”