Hawaiian, Filipino, and Samoan Cultures

by Brenda Kalata, PA certified CASSP trainer in Cultural Competence

ALL babies are beautiful. Love "cures" all. All children have the same developmental needs. All babies have needs and wants, are the mantras of those of us who work with children in the foster care system. Only the second statement lets us down, over and over... but not always.

When we work with children who come from homes different than ours, who celebrate different holidays, have different hair and skin needs, who seem to have a different set of priorities, who relate warmer or more cooly to adults and/or other children, we wonder and often worry "what's wrong?" or "what should/can I do?"

Culture is the "major organizer" of a child's development. In some cultures children remain dependent longer than they do in the dominant white culture of the United States. In some cultures children are severly disciplined for disagreeing with an adult or questioning a teacher. In some cultures, children are expected to take care of smaller children in the family ( even in the extended family), and this is not seem as parental neglect.

In the Filipino culture, there are three major values and common themes which dominate a family and the society. It affects how the adults interact with other adults and children, and how children are brought up and how they are expected to behave.

  1. EMOTIONAL CLOSENESS AND SECURITY is to be found in the FAMILY... first and foremost. Strangers should not watch one's children; even if the adult is a single parent and needs to work, a member of the family or extended family is looked for to provide childcare. This can include an older sibling or a live-in maid, called a "yaya."

    From birth to about the age of 5 years, children are loved and cuddled and physically given affection. Over 66% of Filipino mothers still breastfeed their baby, often to 12-18 months of age.

    Baptism is an important ritual during the first year of the child's life, even with those who believe in "aswangs"... witches and other supernatural beings who can cause illness, deformity, accidents, and death. The sponsors ( ninong and ninang ) become, as they do in the Latino and Hispanic cultures, COMPADRES, literally coparents, and play an important part in the child's life. Even if the compadres are not related by blood, should there be trouble in a family, a child starts getting into serious behavior in school or in the neighborhood, etc., the compadres may take the child to stay with them for awhile. Rather than being seen as parental neglect, parents are seen as being caring and prudent, and concerned about the child and his/her future. It is a quasi-kinship relationship but not recognized by most child welfare agencies; a form of fostering, it is called having "hijos de crianza", children in care, by Latinos and Filipinos.

    Children are taught to trust the family but to be wary of strangers.

    Between the ages of 2 and 5, most Filipino children are disciplined if they act inappropriately, and more structure is imposed in their lives to ensure conformity and obedience to elders, adults and older children who may be assigned to watch out for them. Until then, children are fed when they're hungry, go to sleep when they're tired, and play when they want.

    Corporal punishment is used sparingly. Scolding, shouting, and shaming the child are accepted practices. Praise is seldom given since good behavior is expected. It is AGAINST traditional practices to praise or give rewards in public or in front of others who are not family members. This is simliar to other Asian countries' child rearing practices. However, children, if the occassion warrants, are punished in public so that others will see that poor behavior is not tolerated by the family. Older siblings may yell and punish a younger sibling; this is part of their function within the family structure.

    Children who may be in a dangerous situation are often removed quickly and with no explanation, and may be sent to a member of the extended family or to their godparents' home. The belief is that there are certain things which a child does not need to know.

    Children are taught not to look an adult in the eyes if being scolded and reprimanded, and definately not to argue or talk back. Again, this practice is done in traditional Latino/Hispanic homes and some African American homes as well. Doing so, making eye contact or talking back, will result in serious consequences for the child as they are major signs of disrespect.

    Babies and toddlers up to the age of 3 or so, are permitted to sleep in the same bed as their parent(s). Toilet training is not pushed at an early age, and many Filipino children are not trained until after the age of four. It is at this time that they will join a sibling to sleep, or if the family can afford it, have a bed of their own.

  2. APPROVAL BY AUTHORITY FIGURES AND BY SOCIETY is developed by parents as a desirable goal for their child(ren). This aids in schooling and in getting a job when the child becomes an adolescent.

    Social acceptance is very important, and being treated with respect is crucial. Getting along with others to gain this acceptance means learning to avoid conflict and confrontation. Confrontation is seen as a very undesireable personality trait, and can cause a child or adult to become a pariah in the Filipino community.

    Children are taught to be sensitive to the feelings and opinions of others, even if they personally do not agree. The parents and older siblings model the behavior of how to change conversations or behaviors so as not to cause others any inconvienence or hurt feelings. This type of behavior, much different from what the dominant society teaches ( be an individual, stand up for yourself, be competitive), ensures smooth interpersonal relationships...at least on the surface. There is a Tagalog (a Filipino dialect) proverb which translated says, " It doesn't matter if you don't love me, just don't shame me."

    The Filipino culture has three ways of maintaining smooth interpersonal relationships:

    1. PAKIKISAMA - getting along with others in order to insure and maintain group cohesiveness and consensus
    2. EUPHEMISMS - using an agreeable or inoffensive word rather than a harsh, indelicate, taboo, or unpleasant word
    3. GO-BETWEENS or MIDDLEMEN to help solve problems or resolve conflicts ( neighbor between neighbor, boss and employeer, etc.) this is to avoid confrontation, permanent hurt feelings, and shaming the other with a face-to-face encounter.
  3. ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL BETTERMENT is highly sought after; the child is to be better, succeed, and have more than the parents. This brings pride and status to the entire family, immediate and extended; again another Asian cultural value. This explains why education is highly valued, or failing the opportunity to get a good education, a good job position. By doing so, the child is repaying a debt of gratitude to his/her parents and relatives who have brought him into the world and may have sacrificed greatly so that the child would have opportunities denied to the parents.

    Learning English then, in a country where business is conducted in English, becomes a necessity for the child and forced onto the child as soon as he is of school age; it is unimportant for the parent(s) to do so if they are able to support the family without its (English) use.

    It is crucial not to show problems to outsiders... therapy is regarded with much suspicion and little cooperation.

    All the emphasis upon not showing others there may be problems in the family, "putting on a good face" so to speak, creates great stress upon children, especially the adolescents. Avoiding conflict, "turning the other cheek" is often seen as being weak and a hypocrite, and very different from what they see their non-Filipino peers doing. Filipino American unwed teenage females have the highest percentage of births for teens from Asian cultures living in the U.S. The percentage is 1.1% for Chinese Am. teen females and 2.7% for Japanese Am. female teenagers.

    Adolescents experience role confusion, they want to be assimmilated or at least acculturate, and their physical apparance can create problems because of ethnic identification. Filipinos are often perceived by "Americans" as being poor, lazy, able only to do yard work or housework,and without the mental capacities or means to achieve in a competitive society. These negative, derogatory sterotypes cause many Filipino youths to try to pass themselves off as members of other Asian ethnic groups who do not have such a cultural stance against competition or negative misconceptions in the western society.

    Filipino youths, particularly in the state of Hawaii, are overrepresented in gangs. Their BARKADA - peer group- is social in nature and takes the place of their family members who all may be busy working or living elsewhere.

    Traditionally, Filipino girls were taught not to bathe or wash their hair during menustration ( also something quite common in the lower socioeconomic immigrants from Hispanic/Latino countries). Boys were circumcised by someone in the community who was skilled at this. This occurred without the parents knowing when it would happen or by whom. The arrangements were made by the boy's peer group and older male siblings, and indicated that his peer group now accepted him as an adult.

    The Hawaiian culture's approach to child rearing is simliar in many ways to the Filipino with one notable exception. They also believe in social cooperation... not individual competition and glorification. The basic unit of society is also the extended family, called 'o hana. Sibling childcare and peer socialization is seem as more important than developing "school" skills at two or three years. Babies are babied, and with food having a symbolic value, often are overfed. Good behavior is not praised, it is expected, as is total respect and obedience to parents and other adults. And like the Filipino culture, co-sleeping with parents, "aunties", grandparents, or other siblings is done because of the value placed upon physical closeness and affection...emotional intimacy is acted upon in acceptable ways rather than with words of affection.

    The huge difference between the Hawaiian traditional childrearing and the other two cultures mentioned in this article, is that in the Hawaiian culture when a child becomes a toddler (age 2 or shortly thereafter ), the child is basically ignored during its waking hours by the adult family members. They are expected to become self-sufficient and function independently of adults...older siblings take on the caregiving of the toddlers. This leads to "strong interpersonal negociating" and social skills. There is a high development of laanguage skills. This interdependence among the children of different ages within a family lends itself to a cooperative learning environment and "peer mentoring" when they reach school age. If a toddler gets in an adult's way, there is usually swift, physical consequences, not the verbal scolding one sees among the Filipinos. The Samoans as well use physical consequences as a discipline technique.Whining, clinging, demanding toddlers are not acceptable in traditional Hawaiian family systems.

    Western and American Samoa are part of what is called Polynesia. Traditionally, these were matiarchial societies, with wealth being based upon land and social status. Children were loved and valued during infancy, with each child being allowed to develop at his/her own pace in areas such as walking, talking and toilet training. Children are held and cuddled and comforted. The extended family was involved with the care of the child and playing with him. Children who come from these environments where there were many others, including adults, to care for them or give them solace, often find themselves adrift when they are put into a "typically American family" with 2 adults and one or two other children. Respect is expected... respect for other children as well as adults. Adults are not only figures of authority but protectors as well.

    The values of humility, kindness and generosity are highly prised and encouraged in the development of the child. Interpersonal relationships are more highly valued than individual achievements. Unfortunately, this culture more than the others, has been sharply thrust (rather than a gradual easing) into the 20th century and Western culture. Land is bought for pennies and dollars for tourist attractions, the "natives" are largely undereducated compared to their Western counterparts, and have few skills which command high wages. The rural way of life of coexisting with nature and living off the land has not sufficed in today's world. There are many social problems; suicide, substance abuse and alcoholism is high, simliar to that which some Native American tribes experience. Extended families are disappearing, families are getting smaller with young children left to fend for themselves without older siblings to care for them. Strict discipline and adherence to the values of respect and personal dignity are giving way to permissive parenting and high numbers of teenage pregnancies, a high divorce rate, and child abuse and neglect. Still, hurting a child without "reasonable cause" is not acceptable. There are cultural rules and guides to determine a child's punishment for different types of misbehavior. The age of the child is also taken into account. Parents who do not correct their child for stealing or lying or disrespect with corporal punishment are still viewed as being poor parents, neglecting their parental role. When a Samoan family moves to the states and utilizes what was acceptable (and expected), in Samoa when dealing with their child(ren), child welfare often is called. The stressors of being in a new country, trying to compete economically, often living in crowed urban areas without other family members to help relieve the stress of child caregiving, leads to more and more cases of reported child neglect, abandonment, and abuse.

    While there have been many social and economic changes among all three of these cultures, one of the last traditional areas to change is that of child care and child rearing. Often these are in conflict with what is deemed acceptable here.

    In all three cultures, food is important as a sign of hospitality and the ability to take care of your family. There is a dependence upon fish, root vegetables (starches such as taro, tapioca, yams, manicoa) and fruit. Rice is important in the Filipino culture. Asian culinary influences are evident in Filipino cooking, with much of it simliar to Vietnamese, with fish stews and greens being used. In all three, children were often directly involved with the buying or gathering of the food, if not the actual preparation. Having foster children help out in the kitchen or help select items when going grocery shopping helps give them a sense of importance. But, as with other groups who have come into contact with American culture, many of the children of thesthree groups have been exposed to and developed a taste for french fries, salt, sugar, McDonald's and candy...sugar in all form. Remember Deborah Hage and Nancy Thomas and the theory of bonding with sugar? . To many of the children from secondary, non-western cultures, sugar means love, money, acceptance.

    Fostering transculturally can be a real challenge, but a wonderful learning experience... for everyone involved!



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