Grandmothers of the Southwest.

Grandmothers of the Southwest.

Grandmothers are the backbone of the family in cultures all over the world. Considered the ones who pass along the culture, the religion and the family history, grandmothers are respected for their connections to the past and to the future.

In Native communities, grandmothers are often the ones who care for the children while the parents work. This role makes them a kind of “cultural conservator”, ensuring that traditional knowledge is passed on to the next generation. They also help in the preservation of languages, teaching their grandchildren to speak the language of the tribe. Grandmothers are respected and loved for the wisdom they offer the young and the assistance they offer to their communities.

These traits are found in other cultures as well. Hispanic grandmothers are often
the center of their communities, responsible for creating cohesiveness in the life of the extended family. As one person put it, “the abuela is the high almighty…

there’s a sense of respect she receives and power that she has.” Many  grandmothers choose to live near their grandchildren in order to be a support and to have the opportunity to pass on both the language and traditions of their culture. Studies by the CDC have found that Hispanic grandparents tend to live longer lives than those of other ethnic groups. Strong family ties are considered one of the reasons for that longevity.

In both Native and Hispanic culture, grandmothers also are ones who pass on religious and spiritual beliefs. They are the storytellers, the guardians of ancient knowledge and the educators of the next generation. In this role, they not only help preserve the individual family unit, but the larger community.

In today’s world, some grandmothers serve another purpose that they see as an extension of their preservation of the family. There are several organizations created by grandmothers that seek to assist with problems within our modern society. These groups use the power and respect of a grandmother to speak to issues of concern. Two examples of such organizations are:


Story by Debra Doggett
Photos by Ungelbah Dávila-Shivers.