Throughout her development, Lourdes has shown impressive resilience given the dreadful environment in which she grew up. However, adverse social factors and the impact of the unhealthy behaviors within her community, namely, the presence of family violence and active drug peddling, have skewed her personal growth. While her cognition skill development has not been stunted, she has not received the necessary reinforcement during her early childhood to become successful in her learning experience, which has defined the lack of motivation in her future pursuit of education and career opportunities. Granted that the specified chances have been impaired greatly by the social constraints within her community, Lourdes still could have made a greater effort.
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The absence of motivation was predetermined by the lack of support from her parents and the constant focus on the gender role that she was expected to fulfill when she grew up. According to LeBlanc (2004), the emphasis on Lourdes’ only value as a future mother started at an incredibly young age when she had to take the role of a caregiver for her six siblings. LeBlanc (2004) points out that Lourdes was unwilling to follow the set gender standards, yet her opinion did not matter: “[…] in fact, she wished she’d never had children —but circumstance had eroded her active resistance to the role.
She’d been raising children since she was six” (p. 18). Therefore, applying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, one will realize that, from a very young age, Lourdes’ opportunity to satisfy her need for self-actualization was canceled by her parents and the circumstances in which she was raised. In fact, from Maslow’s theory
perspective, the management of Lourdes’ needs did not go past the threshold for physiological needs (Lonn & Dantzler, 2017). Namely, her safety was already questioned due to the high crime rates within the community, and her need for love and belonging was not met since her mother did not offer her any bonding. Likewise, the esteem needs were also neglected, the outcomes of which can be seen in the multiple unhealthy relationships with abusive men that Lourdes would have later in her life. Finally, the need for self-actualization was severely neglected since her academic options have never even been considered by her family.
Approaching the case from Eriksson’s theory of development will show that Lourdes may be facing a psychological crisis of Generativity vs. Stagnation, which will manifest itself in the need for safety and family support. Indeed, a closer look at the case will show that Lourdes has been seeking communication and support of her children, especially Jessica (LeBlanc, 2004). However, without the required support and care, Lourdes is likely to lose the feeling of personal safety and security, as Erikson’s theory suggests (Newton, Chauhan, & Pates, 2019). Therefore, it is crucial for Lourdes to reevaluate her relationships with her children, including Jessica and Robert, and focus on the relationships that can be salvaged, instead.
Lourdes’ main strength is her ability to build resilience toward adverse external factors and find the strength to support the people that matter to her. Despite the complicated relationships with her children and the rest of her family members, she still finds the ways of accepting them. However, her inability to recognize the situations in which she is being abused and cease these relationships is Lourdes’ her main weakness. As seen in her interactions with Jessica, Lourdes is incapable of reproaching her daughter despite the latter’s emotional coldness and self-centeredness.
As emphasized above, Lourdes has developed rather unhealthy relationships with most of her children, not to mention the complicated interactions with her significant others. Taking retrospect on some of these relationships would he quite helpful in understanding how these concerns span out of Lourdes’ control and how they could have been handled. The interactions with her daughter Jessica is, perhaps, one of the most important relationships in Lourdes’ life.
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Although she had several children, Lourdes seems to have been paying particular attention to Jessica since she was the source of constant concern. As a result, the relationships with Jessica became quite toxic, with the latter getting in trouble on a regular basis, and Lourdes attempting at saving her from another trap into which she would fall. Culminating in Jessica’s imprisonment, the specified behavior has affected Lourdes to a significant extent, making her experience the feeling of guilt and, possibly, the fear that she has failed as a mother.
In addition, the fact that Jessica preferred to distance herself from her home and started a relationship with a man at a rather early age contributed to the sense of fear for her in Lourdes. In fact, one could argue that Lourdes’ love for Jessica was never reciprocated; or, at the very least, that Jessica was incapable of expressing her appreciation for her mother. For instance, when being released on probation, Jessica preferred that her friend met her instead of her mother.
More to the point, Jessica never mentioned it to Lourdes, leaving the latter waiting in vain: “Meanwhile, Lourdes, with the fragile hope of surprising Jessica, waited underground in a nearby subway” (LeBlanc, 2004, p. 316). Therefore, the relationships between Lourdes and Jessica were very unhealthy, with Lourdes being used by Jessica unabashedly, and the mother being unable to curb the daughter’s tendency to ward abusing her influence.
From a rational perspective, Lourdes did not gain anything positive from her relationships with Jessica. Quite the contrary, the fact that Jessica neglected her mother and her needs to the point of abuse indicates that the specified relationships were very unhealthy. One could argue that the inherent connection between the mother and the daughter, as well as the feeling of love that Lourdes had for Jessica, affected the former positively. Indeed, the experience of love can offer one a rush of positive emotions even when these feelings are unreciprocated, as in the case of Jessica and her coldness toward her mother.
It is quite remarkable that Jessica’s attitude toward her mother did not affect the way in which she related to her own children. For instance, when reuniting with them after having been released from prison, she made the following remark: “I was happy cuz I was with my kids. That was the best gift” (LeBlanc, 2004, p. 318). Although the specified statement could be seen as an attempt at being emotionally manipulative, Jessica seemed to be sincere. Therefore, the astounding indifference that she displayed toward her mother becomes all the more outrageous.
Even though Jessica was quite neglectful and abusive, Lourdes still felt strongly about her daughter. However, the specified pattern cannot be called healthy in any shape or form; quite the contrary, everything about the specified relationship screams of abuse toward Lourdes. Therefore, the fact that Jessica played such an important role in Lourdes’ life indicates that she had a profoundly negative impact on her mother.
In developmental sense, these relationships must have set Lourdes’ progress back significantly since they led to her emotional distress and the failure to recognize herself as a good mother. Since the importance of motherhood had been instilled into her very essence since childhood due to rigid gender roles within her community, the failure to create a rapport with her own daughter must have caused Lourdes major emotional and mental health issues.
Another example of meaningful relationships in Lourdes’ life is the rapport that she established with her granddaughter Serena. While Jessica was imprisoned, Lourdes had to take care of her grandchildren, which meant that Serena was in the limelight of Lourdes’ attention regularly. As a result, the two developed a bond that could be described as a rather positive one.
One might make a slim argument that the connection between Lourdes and her granddaughter could have affected Lourdes negatively by shaping her feeling of guilt. Since Lourdes was closer to her granddaughter than Serena’s actual mother, Serena’s preference for communication with Lourdes could be seen by the latter as hurtful to Jessica. As a result, Lourdes might have experienced guilt for becoming a more significant figure in Serena’s life than her own mother. Nonetheless, the story that LeBlanc (2004) strives to tell does not point to the specified nuance directly, which suggests that the described concern was not quite important for Lourdes.
Thus, overall, the relationships between Lourdes and her grandchild can be called one of the rare instances in which the former experienced happiness and positive emotions from nurturing someone who shows appreciation for her love. The fact that Serena called her grandmother very often after she grew up indicates that the bond between them did not disappear; quite the contrary, Serena seemed to have developed appreciation for the love and support that Lourdes gave her when she was little.
Social & Environmental Factors
Applying the structural functionalism theory to the setting in which Lourdes was raised and has been living throughout her entire life, one will realize that she was socially conditioned to developing the attitude and behavior that finally led to her failure in managing her life and building relationships with her children, particularly Jessica. Indeed, the presence of drug peddlers who do not even consider it necessary to conceal their activities in any fashion the rituals within the target setting and has affected its economy to a significant degree (Caniglia, Vallée, Frank, 2017).
As a result, opportunities such as a regular safe job or education have been largely missed in the East Trenton community, affecting local families and increasing their financial, economic, and social instability (see Fig. 1). Although religion has been present in the setting where Lourdes has grown, its values and influence were not enough to prevent the community from deviating into a financial and social mess.
In addition, the impact of social and environmental factors can be scrutinized with the help of a more general framework for assessing the influence of external factors. For this purpose, the ecological theory, which suggests the presence of four main systems, namely, macrosystem, exosystem, microsystem, and the individual level, can be utilized. From the perspective of the ecological theory, there was no mesosystem that could block the negative influence from the macro- and exosystem on the microsystem within which Lourdes’ personality developed (see Figure 2) (Dishion, Mun, Ha, & Tein, 2019).
With very slim opportunities for challenging the gender norms reinforced in the East Trenton setting, Lourdes succumbed to the pattern that most women repeated, namely, the focus on child rearing and housekeeping. As LeBlanc recalls, “Young mothers leaned on strollers they’d parked so they could concentrate on flirting, their irresistible babies providing excellent introductions and much-needed entertainment” (LeBlanc, 2004, p. 15).
Therefore, there was no role model representing a change in the status quo, which Lourdes could follow. Similarly, the presence of drug peddlers as the integral part of the district’s economy did not add to the positivity of the experience, setting the pattern of substance abuse for Lourdes’s children in the future: “Drug customers wound through the crowd, copped, and skulked away again” (LeBlanc, 2004, p. 15).
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Therefore, from the ecological perspective, the lack of the mesosystem to counterbalance the impact of the exo- and macrosystem on the microsystem within which Lourdes grew up have made it impossible for Lourdes to break the vicious cycle and succeed in building trustful relationships with her children. The specified barrier can be considered one of the most complicated challenges for Lourdes to overcome when watching her child being indoctrinated into the culture of drug misuse and family violence.
Culture, Community, Religion
Minor details of cultural environment in which one was raised leave a tangible imprint on one’s further life choices, attitudes, and behaviors. Therefore, to define the reasons for Lourdes to find herself in such a deplorable situation, one will need to consider the cultural specifics of the setting in which she was raised and has been living. East Trenton has been populated mostly by the working class, as LeBlanc points out in his book.
Thus, the absence of opportunities for better education and the promotion of awareness within the target setting has led to the development of the drug issue (Hutchison, 2016). To counteract the specified problem, the government cracked down on drug peddlers by introducing harsh charges for drug-related crimes, including the possession of substances, and similar nonviolent crimes (Des Jarlais, 2017). However, instead of improving general well-being, these regulations have led to hundreds of people being imprisoned without the opportunity for rehabilitation (LeBlanc, 2004). As a result, when being released, they typically succumbed to the same behavior.
Taking about the role of the local culture on Lourdes’ development is impossible without addressing the impact of the local community. In fact, the community shapes the culture and the values of a specific environment, defining the principal morals, philosophy, and attitudes that local residents are expected to accept (Hutchison, 2016). Therefore, the fact that the community in which Lourdes has been living was highly prone to criminal and delinquent behaviors, to which rug peddling contributed immensely.
According to the account provided by LeBlanc, the general flair of the community to which Lourdes belongs can be defined as highly contagious in terms of substance misuse and abusive relationships. Since the East Trenton neighborhood represented the local epicenter of drug peddling, Lourdes’ future drug dependency was mostly predetermined, especially given the lack of opportunities for personal and professional development in the neighborhood (LeBlanc 15). Therefore, the presence of criminal culture has shaped Lourdes’ mindset and set the trap for her future downfall, as well as the deterioration of the relationships with her family.
In turn, religion has played an oblique role in the development of Lourdes. While the woman herself could not be considered as zealous in her religious beliefs and compliance with Christian traditions, her son seems to have built a strong tie with the Christian community (Hutchison, 2016). However, the specified development in her son’s life may have had an adverse impact on Lourdes and her personal development since it may have contributed to the rift between the mother and the son.
According to LeBlanc, Lourdes and Robert started to drift apart as she was imprisoned. Namely, the rift in their relationships manifested itself in the manner of their communication as son sent only religious literature to his mother without contributing anything personal to the dialogue. Specifically, LeBlanc explains that “Robert sent only his religious literature” (134). Therefore, in Lourdes’ case, religion cannot be considered the life-saving buoy for the mother.
Identifying the social location in which Lourdes currently stands is also critical to her assessment since it will provide a brief characteristic of the opportunities and obstacles that she is likely to have been facing throughout her life. Being a middle-aged Puerto-Rican woman living in a ghetto where crime rates have grown out of proportions, Lourdes has been experiencing massive challenges in steering her life in the right direction. While the choices that she has been making have not always been on the sensible side, some of the aspects of her life can be justified by her social and cultural conditioning.
Race combined with the social status can be considered one of the major constraints for Lourdes’ development, including both personal and professional progress. Having lived through the era when racism was rampant in American society, Lourdes has experienced severe trauma that defied her attitude toward the rest of the society, as well as her social location. Moreover, Lourdes is still affected by the same prejudices against her ethnicity ands race.
Indeed, although the 1980s American society is believed to have developed greater tolerance to and even acceptance of people of various ethnicities and races, the dominance of the European American culture and the propensity toward racial profiling remained strong. Specifically, the very fact that Lourdes was prosecuted and sentenced so quickly without the opportunity to be represented in the court properly and pointing out that she was a victim rather than a perpetrator signals about racial stereotyping within the East Trenton district.
In addition to the complexity of race relationships in the 1980s, the fact that the territorial communities of the setting where Lourdes grew up and spent her adult years align quite well with the physical environment deserves to be mentioned. According to LeBlanc (2004), the target setting was inhabited mostly by the lower class represented by “working and unemployed poor, who were white, Puerto Rican, and black” (p. 308).
Therefore, the territorial community matched the physical environment since the setting rather accurately. However, the specified aspect of the environment in which the woman lived did not contribute substantially to the increase in the extent of social justice. Quite the contrary, being locked in a ghetto, the people inhabiting the specified area could not alter the attitudes and perceptions of themselves among local authorities and white, middle-class citizens. Consequently, the extent of segregation increased as the specified aspect of inequality evolved.
While the role of religion was rarely mentioned in relation to Lourdes, gender roles were frequently reinforced in the story. The tendency toward bottling the status quo of women and preventing them from exploring other social roles was enhanced by the rise in the levels of crime, the unavailability of educational opportunities for young women and girls, and the lack of social support from local authorities (Hutchison, 2016).
Therefore, the concept of gender has affected Lourdes and her life to a considerable extent, forcing her to accept the role of a mother and a housewife despite her having no interest toward the specified concepts. The immigration and socioeconomic status also affect Lourdes since she is struggling to keep the household in proper order, yet the lack of financial and economic resources makes it excruciatingly difficult for her to manage this task.
Groups & Organizations
What strikes as particularly surprising when reading about Lourdes and her life in the 1980s New York suburbs is the fact that she remains an outsider throughout her lif journey and is almost never affiliated with any of the communities within it. While her Puerto-Rican descent is mentioned briefly in the story, it rarely plays an important part in her life and does not guide her decisions in any major way. In addition, the ties to the local community remain nearly nonexistent as Lourdes is forced to face multiple issues without receiving any external support from local residents.
The observed phenomenon is particularly strange since the Latin American culture is especially known for the multiple ties that its members create with each other, as well as the strengths of these social connections (Kraus & Castro-Martín, 2018). Lourdes, in turn, seems to deviate from the described pattern of socializing, distancing herself clearly from any groups or organizations that could potentially exert any influence on her.
The observation concerning Lourdes’ lack of affiliation with any of the organizations or groups in her community can be interpreted in several ways since the nature of being affiliated with a particular organization may be twofold depending on the agenda of the said organization. On the one hand, once developing an organizational affiliation, Lourdes would feel much more secure and have a greater range of social resources available to her. The specified type of assistance would be particularly useful in addressing the needs of her children, especially Jessica, who came from a socially and economically disadvantaged background and could not afford a range of resources.
Therefore, affiliation with some of the groups and organizations existing in the area would have helped Lourdes in managing some of the challenges and handling some of the social and economic anxieties that she has been facing. On the other hand, the threat of being used by a cult-like entity that would parasite on Lourdes and use her resources without taking care of her and her children would have been a possibility, which is why seeking for any organizational assistance would have entailed too many risks for Lourdes. Therefore, organizational affiliation would be a rather tricky question to address when considering the opportunities for receiving support for Lourdes.
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