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Death and Dying Latino/a Cultural View of Death

Emily Hernandez, Aracely Rosales, & Martin Brodwin

California State University, Los Angeles 

The Latino/a culture is the fastest growing minority group in the United States with a population consisting of over 58.6 million and making up 17% of the nation’s total population (Krogstand, 2017). Latino/a Americans reside in the United States but share a variety of national backgrounds ranging from Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and most Central and South American countries, with different sociopolitical histories and cultural practices.

As higher education counselors, instructors, and administrators, we have witnessed students make inquiries and request help when a member of their family has recently died or is dying. Students need assistance in understanding their family situation. The purpose of this article is to familiarize readers with some of the concepts related to death and dying in Latino/a culture.

Family Practices and Beliefs

The immediate and extended family plays a major role in the area of death and dying within the Latino/a culture (Doran & Downing, 2006; Soriano, 1991; Vega, 1990). Family serves as a developmental resource. The concept of familismo provides a way of coping. Large family networks provide comfort and practical aid while grieving. This is reflected in the before and after death rituals of the culture. An example of this is when Latinos/as spend days rotating prayer vigils by the bedside of a family member (Soriano, 1991).

Expression of grief is a common and accepted practice. Rituals and practices facilitate the grief process as death and dying are prevalent parts within the Latino/a culture. Crying and wailing are often expressed and seen as a sign of respect and love. It is frowned upon for men to show demonstrative acts of grief such as crying or wailing. Instead, men are expected to grieve in a more reserved manner. This is associated with the cultural values of machismo which uphold certain expectations for men.

Latino/as experience grief deeply and intensely when compared to other cultures. The duration, frequency, and intensity of the grief process is impacted by the manner of death and the family’s cultural beliefs. This is exacerbated if the death is unexpected or involves the death of a child. Latino/a Americans experience more intense grief after an unexpected death. Regardless of the expectation or suddenness of the death, non-Latinos display outward grief to a lesser degree. Researchers (Soriano, 1991; Vega, 1990) found the level of pain for Latino/as was not lessened or impacted despite the practice of rituals and ceremonies. The level of acculturation of a Hispanic family with an unexpected death of a child or family member did not change the intensity of the emotional pain.


As a relationship-oriented culture, there is a focus on attachment, as opposed to detaching from the deceased in order to process grief. This contrasts Eurocentric models of a universal grieving process. Latino/as hold a general belief that there is a continued relationship between the living and the dead resulting in rituals that honor this relationship. Common themes in grieving patterns reflect the concept of spiritual continuity and continuing relationships with the deceased. Doran and Downing (2006) emphasized the importance of maintaining a bond with the deceased in the Latino/a culture. In their study, they found common themes in the grieving patterns of Mexican American families after the death of a child. Remaining connected serves as a protective factor, helping the family cope with the loss, and providing comfort and support.


Death rituals in the Latino/a culture are highly influenced by religion and spirituality beliefs. Before-death rituals in the Latino/a culture may include the practice of calling a priest for last rites, baptizing a loved one, or prayer rituals at the bedside of the dying. Prayers and visits to graves foster relationships after death. It is common for family members to place flowers at the grave regularly, and especially on major holidays.


Death is portrayed regularly in Latino/a art, statues, literature, history, and cultural practices. Latino/a children are socialized and exposed early to death. They may participate and be present at el velorio, burials, religious rituals such as novenas, and misas. “Dia de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), is a celebration made famous in Mexico to remember and honor those who have passed. Although portrayals of death do not necessarily prepare Latino/as for death, they allow an opportunity to familiarize themselves with death.


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Krogstand, J. M. (2017). U.S. Hispanic population growth has leveled off. Factank news                 in the numbers. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. Retrieved from  leveled-off/

Soriano, F. I. (1991). U.S. Hispanics and their families: A sociocultural portrait. Presented at the 18th International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences, Seoul,  Korea, 64-71.

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Marriage and the Family, 52(4), 1015-1024.