Recently we celebrated El Dia de la Hispanidad, or the Day of Hispanicity at my children’s parochial school. All but a handful of the children and teachers in the school are Latino. It was celebrated, of course, with a Mass and the third-graders made up the choir, dressed in costumes typical of their country of origin, singing in perfect Spanish.

My little third-grade daughter, whom we adopted from China and is now Cuban-American, wore a flamenco dress with a huge white comb tucked in her silky black bun, and a red silk rose behind her delicate ear. I thought I would die of love.

The priest, himself from Nicaragua, gave the homily in both Spanish and English, to make sure everyone understood. He reminded us all that to be Hispanic in this welcoming country means to be ambassadors of a beautiful culture: warm, faithful, generous; a people of festival and song, of open doors and open hearts.  We can’t say no to a cousin, even a third cousin, and we trust that our families will always respond to our needs with a resounding yes.   

The family is central to the Latino culture. To us, familia means a tender respect for our elders, obedience to our parents, enthusiasm for babies (even when unexpected) and a need to live in each other’s pockets. When a Latino teenager leaves for college, the parents go into mourning and live for the day of the beloved’s return.

Early marriage is a cause for celebration, because then the young people are safe. The arrival of a first grandchild is not primarily an unwelcome sign of aging, but instead a joyful opportunity to relive Carlito’s first smile or tooth, this time without the sleepless nights. La familia is also the most certain thing in an uncertain world; a bulwark against want and loneliness.

I am sad to say that, although family is our cultural strength, the Latino family is under the same stresses as others and it is showing signs of damage.  Living together instead of marrying, divorcing when we no longer feel “fulfilled,” failing to welcome children as pledges of hope and faith — all of these trends are worrisome signs.

We are infected by the general “throwaway” culture that can no longer appreciate the dignity and beauty of a life-long commitment and understand its benefits to the couple, their children and greater society. Instead of seeing the bonds of marriage and family as a way of creating a safe and impregnable space where its members can flourish, those bonds are seen as restrictive of personal liberty.

Pope Francis, himself Latino, fully understands the importance of the family.  His recent apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, or the Joy of Love, is lyrical with the Christian truth that the family is joy: a source of lasting comfort, contentment and peace, where we live accompanied and fully in love.

And family is not just a group of people who love each other and live in the same house; the family is the basic cell of society, the source of the next generation, the tender shelter of the vulnerable, the teacher and transmitter of virtues.  Strong intact families — where husbands and wives are permanently faithful to each other, gladly welcome children and do their utmost to educate and form them — are the bedrock of society, a solid foundation for all that is good and beautiful.

Our pastor echoed the sentiments of Pope Francis at our school Mass, telling us to keep our families united and our marriages faithful — and to turn to God for his abundant help in this great project. After all, marriage is a vocation like the priesthood, calling each of us to a heroic self-giving that we can’t possibly achieve without the graces Our Lord gives us so freely.  

Father Juan Carlos also reminded us that it was our privilege and our duty to honor and strengthen this country with our lovely families, and raise children that will make America proud. At the end of the Mass, we sang God Bless America as a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe was carried down the aisle — and we sang it with all our hearts.

Dr. Grazie Pozo Christie writes and speaks in both Spanish and English about Catholicism, family life, and being a faithful Christian in the public square. She practices Radiology in the Miami area, where she lives with her husband and five children.