Local News

Latino Culture Ill-Suited to Fluid Family Situations Accepted in U.S.

Posted May 2, 2007 8:49 p.m. EDT
Updated May 2, 2007 9:01 p.m. EDT

— The Amber Alert issued Wednesday morning for 8-year-old Jose Fitzpatrick and canceled after his father appeared with him at a Social Services office in Chatham County is the latest in a number of Amber Alerts with similar circumstances.

Jose Fitzpatrick, Junni Rios, Edwin Gonzalez — all were abducted by their fathers in situations laced with violence, and all are of Latino heritage.

There is a cultural question that's supported by the numbers. Latinos make up 7 percent of North Carolina's population, but they're involved in 30 percent of the 27 Amber Alerts issued in the state since the program began in 1992.

Latino advocates says it's a cultural difference.

“We have the cultural thing that family unity stays in tact,” Tony Asion of El Pueblo said Wednesday. Change often comes when families get to the U.S.

In general, Asion said, women become "Americanized" much faster than men do.

“For a lot of women, they see the divorce rate is higher. Leaving is an option here, where back home it's not an option, and a lot of men have a hard time dealing with that.”

That disconnect in perceptions may have come into play when 2-year-old Edwin Gonzalez was snatched from his Siler City home last fall. The boy's parents had recently separated. His mother had taken out a domestic protective order against her husband.

“I think one of the main issues we're dealing with with Latino families is (that) it's not necessarily understood how things work here — what the recourses and resources are — and not having anyone to turn to until the case gets to a kidnapping,” said Ilana Dubester, interim executive director of The Hispanic Liaison.

Each year, 5,000 people visit Chatham County's Hispanic Liaison center. They learn about the law, their rights, even custody issues.

“There is a learning curve there that hasn't caught up yet,” Asion said of the Hispanic community.

While there are about 60 resource centers around the state, advocates say it's clear more are needed.

They also say another reason we may be seeing more Hispanic-related Amber Alerts is simply because the population is growing. The most recent census report estimates there are 600,000 Hispanics in North Carolina, more than double the number five years earlier.