Beyond Our Struggles: Addressing Stereotypes in Latinx Families


In 2020, the U.S. Latinx population reached 62.1 million, constituting 19% of the entire American population. This positions it as the second-largest racial or ethnic group in the nation, following White Americans, as reported by the U.S. Census Bureau (2021).

Since 1970, when Latinx people made up 5% of the U.S. population and numbered 9.6 million, the Latinx population has grown more than sixfold (Funk & Lopez, 2022). Despite representing one of the largest racial minority groups in the United States, Latinx people face various forms of systemic oppression leading them to have various socio-political, financial, and educational needs. The extensive mental health challenges within Latino families have also surged due to the trauma, losses, and financial strain caused by the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the American Psychology Association (2020), Latinx people were identified as the group most prone to reporting significantly elevated stress levels in comparison to both their white counterparts and other ethnic groups. Certainly, Latinx individuals, like many other racial minorities in the United States, undeniably confront systemic oppression and have unique needs due to their marginalization. Nevertheless, it is crucial to recognize that the Latinx experience is diverse and not a singular, uniform narrative despite their challenges.

Acknowledging the multifaceted nature of the Latinx experience calls for an exploration beyond mere discussions of their challenges. By delving into these contextual layers, a more nuanced representation of Latinx individuals and families can be unfolded, fostering a deeper understanding that can facilitate a balanced approach that recognizes challenges and celebrates strengths.

We all consume stereotypes

As consumers of mainstream media, we are often socialized to identify Latinx people solely with their struggles and hardships. Popular movies and TV shows commonly depict Latinx people as hard-working nannies, caretakers, farmworkers, or restaurant staff. The characters typically grapple with immigration issues and poverty or find themselves working their way out of adverse situations. Studies indicate that media plays a crucial role in influencing public opinion, perception, and beliefs (Arias, 2019, p. 561). Therapists, too, are not exempt from the influence of such pervasive stereotypes, underscoring the importance of therapists fostering self-awareness and cultural sensitivity in therapeutic practices. Therapists and other types of helping professionals may also characterize Latinx clients as “resilient,” “strong,” or “hardworking”—expressions rooted in good intentions, acknowledging the ability to overcome societal challenges. However, it’s crucial to recognize that such language can be limiting, reducing the multifaceted experiences of Latinx individuals and perpetuating the misconception that all Latinx people face constant struggle. If these biases and stereotypes go unexamined, it could result in a higher probability of attributing treatment failures to the client, applying stereotypes to the client, and utilizing negative descriptors, such as perceiving the client as resistant (Stampley & Slaght, 2004).

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The racialization of Latinx people in the United States is certainly not a coincidence. The racialization of any people is typically done with a purpose to exploit and exclude (Massey, 2009). UCI Professor Leo Chavez coined the term “The Latino Threat Narrative” to describe a collection of unfounded and harmful beliefs surrounding Latinx individuals that have evolved over decades. Some of these misconceptions include the notions that Latinx individuals are resistant to learning English, that they are all universal immigrants, that they don’t prioritize education for their children, or that they are all low-income. Despite encountering the Latino threat narrative in the media, the reality of Latinxs’ lives often differs from the portrayals seen on television and in movies. This disconnect results in the overshadowing of the positive contributions made by Latinx people, with their challenges and struggles taking precedence over their achievements (Chavez, 2020).

Latinx families do many things right 

There is a critical need for increased asset-based research to appropriately frame the experiences of Latinx families. Approaching treatment with a deficit-informed perspective can carry significant consequences for clinical work conducted with Latinx individuals and families. It is important to remember that Latinx families have incredible strengths and hold many positive attributes. We are people who are loyal, value connection, and prioritize family (Cardoso & Thompson, 2010). Latinx people are adaptable. This adaptability, or adaptabilidad, can even act as a “shock absorber” that helps families move forward during challenges (Crowley, Lichter, & Qian, 2006). The cultural traditions present in Latinx families also lead to “cultural capital,” which is often associated with greater life satisfaction, educational attainment, and positive family functioning (Cardoso & Thompson, 2010). Latinx families, contrary to stereotypes, also value education and exhibit strong and positive parenting practices.

The term “Latinx” is utilized to describe individuals of Latin American heritage, encompassing individuals of all gender identities, including those who do not conform to the binary gender categories of male or female (Scharrón-del Río& Aja, 2020).

A report by Cabrera et al. (2022) analyzed 35 studies on Latinx families published from 2000 to 2002. Some of their findings concluded:

  • Latinx parents demonstrate a strong commitment to their children’s future by actively participating in educational activities, especially with their preschoolers. These engagements aim to cultivate the early development of skills essential for school readiness.
  • Latinx fathers exhibit profound dedication and active involvement in their children’s lives, a commitment that initiates early in childhood and persists over the long term.
  • Most Latinx children begin their education with robust social skills, displaying the capacity to form friendships and garner positive regard and acceptance from peers and teachers.
  • Latinx parents’ biculturalism fosters improved parenting behaviors, subsequently correlating with positive outcomes in children.

Moving forward 

As a Mexican-American woman, therapist, and faculty, I have grown tired of the way my community is reflected in the media and even in diversity courses. I feel that as a Latinx woman, I am constantly reminded of the hardships my community encounters and how resilient we must all be to face such constant struggles. It is tiring to always be depicted as people who are “strong” or “hardworking.” In some ways, I feel like there is always suffering associated with my identity. Although oppression is a very real part of my life and the lives of many Latinx people, it does not define us. Instead, I wish we could focus more on why Latinx people have had to develop such resilience and strength in the first place. As much energy as we have put into writing about the adversity Latinx people face, we should also invest in attempting to dismantle the very systems that perpetuate it (i.e: white supremacy, inhumane immigration practices, mass incarceration, xenophobia, etc.). Essentially, my hope is for Latinx people to be advocated for, while also being seen as “normal” human beings, just as we typically view our white counterparts.

The diversity of identities in the Latinx community is rich and people have roots all over Latin America.

In order to deliver culturally congruent care, it is important for clinicians to recognize the diversity of Latinx experiences and challenge the prevailing narratives that perpetuate limited and often inaccurate representations of Latinx people. In doing so, we contribute to fostering a more nuanced understanding of the families we serve while dismantling harmful stereotypes that can influence therapeutic dynamics. Clinicians who work with Latinx families should be familiar with research that highlights the plurality of subgroups within the Latinx umbrella. The diversity of identities in the Latinx community is rich and people have roots all over Latin America. Ultimately, treating Latinx as a homogenous group can have detrimental effects if clinicians continue to view and treat this population through a reductionist lens. As clinicians serving diverse communities, the need for self-examination is also increasingly significant. Therapists should engage in life-long self-supervision around biases and stereotypes that they carry into their clinical work. Acknowledging and understanding their own positions on issues such as race, immigration status, sexual orientation, class, and gender may help create a more sensitive understanding of the clients they serve. The commitment to understanding our own beliefs and perspectives in consideration of our clients can also create more space for their unique experiences to be honored. This article is a call to dismantle the stereotypes historically associated with Latinx families and recognize that they are so much more than the hardships they face.


Sandra Espinoza, PsyD, LMFT, is a AAMFT Professional member holding the Clinical Fellow and Approved Supervisor designations. She is an associate professor and branch director for the Couple & Family Therapy Program at Alliant International University, Los Angeles Campus. She was born in El Monte, CA, to parents who immigrated from Mexico. Her research focuses on the lived experiences of Latinx people, ultimately aiming to facilitate social change and anti-oppressive clinical practice.

Mandee Duran, BA, is an AAMFT Student member and MFT trainee. She is currently in her second year of the master’s program at Alliant International University’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program. She is a first-generation college student and is working in community mental health. Her research interests include how to support Latinx students and future clinicians like herself in the construction of their therapeutic identity, confidence building, and clinical readiness.

American Psychological Association. (2020, May). Stress in America: Stress in the time of COVID19, Volume One. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/stress/2020/report

Arias, E. (2019). How does media influence social norms? Experimental evidence on the role of common knowledge. Cambridge University Press: Political Science Research and Methods, 7(3), 561-578.

Cabrera, N., Alonso, A., Chen, Y., & Ghosh, R. (2022, September). Latinx families’ strengths and resilience contribute to their well-being. National Research Center on Hispanic Children and Families.

Cardoso, J. B., & Thompson, S. J. (2010). Common themes of resilience among Latino immigrant families: A systematic review of the literature. Families in Society: The Journal of Contemporary Social Services, 91(3), 257-265.

Chavez, L. (2020). The Latino threat: Constructing immigrants, citizens, and the nation. Redwood City, CA: Stanford University Press.

Crowley, M., Lichter, D. T., & Qian, Z. (2006). Beyond gateway cities: Economic restructuring and poverty among Mexican immigrant families and children. Family Relations, 55, 345-360.

Funk, C., & Lopez, M. H. (2022, June). A brief statistical portrait of US Hispanics. Pew Research Center.

Massey, D. S. (2009). Racial formation in theory and practice: The case of Mexicans in the United States. Race and Social Problems, 1(1), 12-26.

Scharrón-del Río, M. R., & Aja, A. A. (2020). Latinx: Inclusive language as liberation praxis. Journal of Latinx Psychology, 8(1), 7.

Stampley, C., & Slaght, E. (2004). Cultural countertransference as a clinical obstacle. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 74(2), 333-347.

U.S. Census Bureau. (2021). Quick facts. Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/US/RHI725222

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