By JULIO MORALES
Staff Writer, Copy Editor
10:45 PM AKDT, June 23, 2012
The first time he had an alcoholic drink was about the eighth grade. Yet it wasn’t until he was about 18 years old that Richard Wilson said he began to drink regularly, initially at family gatherings.
“They never told me it was OK to drink,” Wilson said, referring to family members, “but they did tell me it wasn’t OK to drink and drive.”
Like many of his Mexican-American peers, alcohol had played a part in family gatherings since he could remember. Yet the 29-year-old El Centro resident doesn’t have any recollection of ever seeing his parents, whom he described as “casual drinkers,” heavily intoxicated.
“I think it’s more up to the person if they want to drink or not,” he said, as he enjoyed a few beers at Tommy’s Casino & Saloon in El Centro. “But you have to admit, we Mexicans drink more.”
Wilson said he will drink, typically beer, about two to three times per week, with an average of six per occasion.
“As long as you can handle it and have a good time there’s nothing wrong with it,” Wilson said.
Considered something of a staple of the culture, alcohol consumption among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans has long interested researchers and has yielded insights about drinking patterns.
For example, there is more binge drinking evident among more acculturated Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, said Dr. Raul Caetano, dean and professor at the University of Texas, Southwestern School of Health Professions.
Such drinking is characterized by consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on occasion for males, and four drinks for women, Caetano said.
Also, alcohol consumption is “fairly infrequent” in Mexico, but when they do, Mexicans tend to “drink a lot,” Caetano said.
Catholic festivities, such as a person’s saint day, also seem to act as a primer for drinking, he said.
“That pattern of drinking has become a part of Mexican culture,” Caetano said.
In California, drinking and driving impact the Latino community more so than others, he said.
In 2005, 45.5 percent of those arrested in California for DUI were Hispanic, considerably higher than the state’s Hispanic population of 32.5 percent, according to a 2007 study by Caetano that cited Department of Motor Vehicles data.
“Payday drinking” is a significant problem that contributes to higher DUI rates for more Americanized Latinos, said Bill Vega, a University of Southern California professor with the School of Social Work.
“They go to the same watering holes then drive home afterward,” he said.
DUI rates in terms of arrests and prosecutions are high for immigrants. But crime attributed to immigrants in the U.S. is lower than other segments of the population, he said, adding that one-third of immigrant arrests are for DUI-related crimes.
Yet, researchers don’t have a lot of information about how attitudes are formed regarding acceptable drinking patterns among Mexicans and Mexican-Americans.
During her “party days,” Jennifer Solarzano said she didn’t really know “when to say when.”
Growing up with parents who were fairly regular drinkers, the 25-year-old also said she remembers alcohol-fueled scraps breaking out at family gatherings.
As the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Solarzano said her drinking habits have changed considerably since giving birth.
Nowadays, on the occasions she does join friends for a drink, she will either call a taxi or use a designated driver if necessary, which wasn’t always the case before, she said.
“The thought of losing my license or daughter is very scary,” she said.
Researchers are also keeping a close eye on how risk factors influence drinking patterns for the children of immigrants, USC professor Vega said.
Immigrants seem to have fewer risk factors that are negated once they become more assimilated and pick up “English-speaking reinforcements,” Vega said.
Cultural traditions also seem to be keeping female Latina abstention rates fairly high in both the U.S. and in Mexico, dean Caetano said.
Rates of alcohol abstention for Mexican women are about 60-70 percent, while in the U.S. it drops to about 60 percent, he said.
Mexican and Mexican-American drinking patterns are also highly reflective of working class culture, said Gustavo Arellano, the writer of the popular syndicated “Ask A Mexican” column.
Although Jose Luis Ramirez said his parents were pretty “strict” growing up, his late father, whom he described as a “hard worker” and regular drinker, once bought him a keg of beer for his 18th birthday.
For Ramirez, some of his fondest memories involve drinking beer with his brother and late father. A summer tradition for them was to split a 12-pack of beer after a hard day’s work at the family’s former welding business in Westmorland.
The father of three sons, Ramirez said he misses being able to share time and concerns with someone close over some beers.
“When you drink together you open your heart to each other more,” the 46-year-old El Centro resident said.
Ramirez said he likes to have a beer after work and hardly ever drinks on weekends.
“I had half a beer and a tequila shot for Father’s Day,” he said.
Staff Writer, Copy Editor Julio Morales can be reached at 760-335-4665 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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