Latino Toxic Gratitude: How Much Gratitude is Too Much?

A woman looks sad, holding a paper with a fake smile drawn on it.

Few words are as prominent as “gratitude,” especially in the Latino community. We’re constantly reminded to be grateful for everything we have. While the practice is encouraged as a habit for improved mental health and it’s indeed important to be grateful, there are healthy limits to how grateful one should be. Enter toxic gratitude, which isn’t defined by a genuine sense of thankfulness, but by a sense of forced obligation.

There isn’t much research about toxic gratitude amongst Latinos, but culturally speaking, it’s not uncommon for both non-U.S. born and U.S. born Latinos to be discouraged from asking for what they actually deserve in the workplace, or be told not to make any waves and avoid any potential problems.

Where does the Latino gratitude problem come from and how does it negatively impact Latino social, economic, and personal progress?

The toxic gratitude problem

The difference between gratitude and toxic gratitude lies in intention. Where gratitude comes naturally, stemming from a genuine sense of thankfulness, toxic gratitude is something we force on ourselves to either suppress negative emotions or ignore real problems. For example, you’re a Latino in the corporate world and you’ve been climbing that ladder. Lately, you’ve been working yourself even further to the bone because you’re aiming for a coveted promotion.

When the time comes, the promotion goes to your white co-worker, who happens to be well-connected and hasn’t put in even half the work you have. That would make you feel all kinds of frustrated, angry, exhausted, and sad. In turn, these emotions would make you want to do something, like talking to your manager about it or even considering looking for a job in a company that will value your efforts.

Instead of feeling those emotions and potentially taking action, the voice in your head goes: “Everything happens for a reason, I should just be grateful for what I have. Thank God I even have a job.” While that’s a seemingly harmless thought, it’s a form of self-repression. Not only are you telling yourself that it’s not okay to feel how you feel, but you’re also talking yourself out of advocating for what you know you deserve.

That voice in your head has probably been nurtured by your Latino parents and grandparents, who have taught you that you have to work for what you want, but you also have to keep your head down. If you prove yourself through your work, the people in power will notice and eventually lift you up. Your work will speak for you and your time will come, so you shouldn’t complain. These are usually the values instilled in us, but are they helpful in every context? If we’re always taking things on the chin instead of standing up for ourselves when it counts, how can change ever be made?

Where does the Latino gratitude problem stem from?

We consider there are two main reasons for the Latino gratitude problem. One reason is catholicism, which is the main religion in Latin America and in Latino communities around the world. While the number of Latinos without religious affiliations is growing, Catholics are still the largest religious group among Latinos in the U.S., according to an AP poll.

One of the core tenets of catholicism is that suffering is redemptive and it leads to salvation. With catholicism being so ingrained in Latino culture, we’re taught to believe that suffering is not a bad thing, it’s something to be offered to God and good things may come of it. That’s one of the reasons we’re told to be grateful for everything, even the injustices we may experience.

Another reason is that most Latinos, especially Latino immigrants who have moved to the U.S. or other countries in search of a better life, generally know how much worse things can be. Yes, you didn’t get the promotion you deserved, but are you starving? “Other people have it much worse than me” or “At least my situation is not as bad as someone else’s” are common thoughts, but they diminish our own experiences. We’re essentially telling ourselves that our problems aren’t significant enough to matter when compared to worse struggles.

It’s also the case that, most of the time, every single one of our victories and accomplishments is hard-won. Latinos in the U.S. have to work harder for the same opportunities, and that’s particularly true for Latinas. It’s understandable that, given all that hard work, we don’t want to fall into victimhood by whining about the things we don’t get or achieve. This is also something we learn from our parents and grandparents. However, it’s not victimhood if Latinos are consistently underpaid and unrecognized for their contributions.

Latino toxic gratitude is a personal and community disservice

With our “keep your head down attitude,” which is fueled by toxic gratitude beliefs, we’re actually being complicit with the systems that are keeping Latinos on the sidelines. There’s always room for genuine gratitude in our lives and practicing gratitude is, indeed, an empowering habit. However, it’s essential to recognize toxic gratitude and the ways in which it disables us from advocating for ourselves when we have to, making necessary demands, and asking for more than scraps. By looking out for ourselves and challenging the status quo in the workplace and beyond, we can uplift the entire community and be a catalyst for change. Our Latino parents and grandparents have taught us many powerful values, but the Latino gratitude problem is one that requires correction. It doesn’t serve us as well as we’re taught to believe it does. The sooner we open our eyes to that fact, the sooner we’ll be able to make much-needed mindset changes that will drive us forward rather than keep us in place.
an image of a girl in a first communion ceremony

I was inducted into the Catholic faith pretty much straight out of the womb, starting off at this Catholic primary school in Mexico when I was just six years old. I was pure Play-Doh back then, ready to be shaped and molded. There I was, learning the Holy Bible like it was basic arithmetic or the ABCs.

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