Cuban American Culture and Individual Communication

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Cuban American Culture and Individual Communication

The twenty-first century has witnessed the rise in the number and complexity of multicultural identities. The growing diversity of cultural meanings reestablishes the importance of sensitivity and competence in multicultural affairs. As multicultural identities become an essential element of everyday routine, everyone expects his/her values and beliefs to be respected and understood. Nursing is one of the most challenging areas of multicultural performance since nurses are expected to be aware of and competent in managing cultural diversity while being able to address the existing disparities in nursing care (Andrews & Boyle, 2008; Purnell, 2005). Cultural values have enormous effects on the patterns of patient-nurse interactions (Williams, Tappen, Buscemi, Rivera & Lezcano, 2001). Cuban Americans represent a distinct layer of clients, and nurses must be ready to perform a detailed cultural assessment of these clients’ given culture and use the results of such assessments to develop culturally-competent interventions (Scala, 2012).

Cuban American Culture and Implications for Nursing

I am a Cuban American, and my ancestry has far-reaching implications both for the quality of the nursing care I provide and the effectiveness of my interactions with other nurses. In 1979, Szapocznik, Kurtines, and Hanna published the results of their study in which they compared the cultural values of Cubans and Anglo-Americans and which uncovered considerable differences in their temporal, relational, and person-nature orientations. Present-day nurses should be sensitive to the cultural values and principles of their clients and provide quality care in ways that satisfy the cultural and spiritual needs of every single patient. In this sense, Purnell’s (2005) the model of cultural competence provides a good basis for the analysis of patients’ culture, communication being one of its central ingredients.

Openness is one of the distinct features of Cuban Americans although the extent to which they are open with others depends on a variety of environmental factors. In the presence of other Cuban Americans, such individals are more likely to be open and share their thoughts than when they find themselves in a mixed ethnic setting. Arguing is one of the most common features of open communication among Cuban Americans, but making complaints should be treated more as a cultural convention rather than a reflection of true dissatisfaction. It is difficult to imagine that any topics could be a taboo for Cuban Americans. Possibly, because same-sex marriages are not welcome and do not fit into the Cuban “machismo” culture, the topic of homosexuality is not one of the best to be discussed with a Cuban American. Nevertheless, one can expect a Cuban American person to be open in his/her judgments but only within the limit set by the existing social and family hierarchy.

Lineal relationships exemplify one of the most distinct features of the Cuban American culture and communication. They emphasize the importance of vertical and family hierarchies (Szapocznik, Scopetta & King, 1978). Families exemplify a special space for developing interpersonal relationships, which is characterized by deep respect for the elderly and enormous interdependence used to satisfy their emotional needs and provide solutions to the most pertinent family issues (Szapocznik et al., 1978). The importance of lineal relationships does not change the meaning of touch. It is wrong to believe that Cuban Americans use touch to show their sexual preferences. On the contrary, as Condon (1997) writes, in most Latin cultures touch does not have any sexual connotations. It is more an element of increased emotionality and expressiveness that are characteristic of most Cubans than an expression of sexuality as many Europeans and Americans tend to perceive it.

Likewise, the perceptions of space and distance among Cuban Americans differ considerably from those of Anglo-Americans, or European Americans as Condon (1997) describes them. Ferraro and Andreatta (2011) share an interesting example of “cross-cultural misunderstanding involving a subtle aspect of culture” (p. 43). They describe a conflict between a Cuban American and a New York City policeman that occurred because the two people held two different ideas about spatial disstancing predetermined by their respective cultures (Ferraro & Andreatta, 2011). Unlike European Americans, Cuban Americans feel more comfortable when they are physically closer to the interlocutor. As a result, the 22-inch distance usually maintained by Americans is perceived by most Cubans as a sign of disrespect and coldness in interpersonal relationships (Albert & Nelson, 1993). It is not uncommon for the American friends of Cubans to be backed across the room while the former try to keep at a distance and the latter seek to reduce it (Albert & Nelson, 1993).

Distance and space are not the only aspects of nonverbal communication. Purnell (2005) writes that eye contact and facial expressions represent an essential source of understanding (or misunderstanding) across cultures. Most Cuban Americans perceive direct eye contact as a sign of disrespect. As they speak to each other or to the representatives of other cultures, they are likely to look down or away in an attempt to show their deep respect to the speaker (LaFrance & Mayo, 1976). The extent to which Cuban Americans are likely to avoid eye contact depends mostly on the age of the speaker and his/her authority. As long as family members are treated as the figures of the highest authority through their entire lifespan (Szapocznik et al., 1978), Cuban Americans are much more likely to avoid direct eye contact when talking to older family members than to the people outside of their immediate cultural setting.

Gestures and facial expressions exemplify important components of cultural self-expression among Cuban Americans. Since Cuban Americans are much more emotional and expressive than the majority of European Americans, they use gestures and facial expressions more actively to deliver their message. High-level gestures are quite common (Albert & Nelson, 1993). High emotionality is one of the cultural norms for Cuban Americans, and emotions can be displayed in a variety of ways, from high-level gestures to high-pitch voice, arguments, or touch. These openness and emotionality also justify the fact that Cuban Americans find it appropriate to greet every man with a handshake and kiss a woman when greeting her.

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