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Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty

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One of the truly seminal works in modern cultural anthropology, Five Families is a dramatic and forceful account of the men, women, and children of five Mexican families and the impoverished communities in which they live.


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One of the truly seminal works in modern cultural anthropology, Five Families is a dramatic and forceful account of the men, women, and children of five Mexican families and the impoverished communities in which they live.

30 review for Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture of Poverty

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    I'd already read The Children of Sanchez and The Death of Sanchez by this author, and was thrilled to run across this one completely by accident at the library. This one depicts a day in the life of five Mexican families - one in a rural village and four in Mexico City. Even though it was written in the 1950s, a lot of the details reminded me of the colonia I visited outside of Mexico City, and of the stories of my students and friends. The book is a work of anthropology that reads like a novel. I'd already read The Children of Sanchez and The Death of Sanchez by this author, and was thrilled to run across this one completely by accident at the library. This one depicts a day in the life of five Mexican families - one in a rural village and four in Mexico City. Even though it was written in the 1950s, a lot of the details reminded me of the colonia I visited outside of Mexico City, and of the stories of my students and friends. The book is a work of anthropology that reads like a novel. If you're one of my friends who liked Random Family, I'm sure you would like this and Lewis's other books, too.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Richard Jespers

    Never has an “old” book seemed so relevant. Lewis’s tome, by now, is history, but he takes five Mexican families (some of whom he has known since the 1940s) in the 1950s and makes a study of them. According to his own account, his approach is multi-faceted: 1) a holistic approach with regard to a single family 2) through the lens of one family member 3) to study a problem area in the family, and 4) another holistic method by taking in a typical day of a family. Lewis’s process makes for a fascin Never has an “old” book seemed so relevant. Lewis’s tome, by now, is history, but he takes five Mexican families (some of whom he has known since the 1940s) in the 1950s and makes a study of them. According to his own account, his approach is multi-faceted: 1) a holistic approach with regard to a single family 2) through the lens of one family member 3) to study a problem area in the family, and 4) another holistic method by taking in a typical day of a family. Lewis’s process makes for a fascinating read. You feel as if you are reading a novel, that you are in the midst of each one of these families: The Martínez family living in the highland village of Azteca, the Gómez family of the Casa Grande neighborhood in Mexico City, the Gutiérrez family living on MC’s “Street of the Bakers,” the Sánchez family, “on the edge of Mexico City,” and the Castro family in the wealthiest neighborhood studied, the Lomas de Chapultepec area of Mexico City. Lewis takes you into the various hovels that four of the families live in: earthen floors, primitive or substandard heating and cooking stoves, crowded conditions with multiple family members occupying beds or spaces on the floors. He lets us in on the daily grind of the working poor, always borrowing a few pesos from a friend, neighbor, or family member to make ends meet, and sometimes failing. The drudge of dead-end jobs or self-employment, i.e. selling off items in the street for yet a few more pesos. This all happens sixty years ago, and yet it would not be surprising to find out that many Mexicans still live the same way. No wonder they find conditions, as difficult as they are, in the United States “better” by comparison. The final family, The Castro family, is by contrast, a representative of what Lewis calls the nouveau riche. David Castro, has come from poverty but has worked hard and successfully to bring his family to the “fringe” of one of the wealthier neighborhoods of MC. They have enough bedrooms for each of their four children, three boys and one girl. They have plenty of money, apparently, but David is largely in control of it. He and his wife, Isabel, have a “free union” marriage which is recognized neither by the government or the church, but it suits David Castro’s needs: to control his wife and his four spoiled children. They have three servants, but nothing is ever done to Isabel’s satisfaction. David never gives her enough money, she claims, and yet what she does have she spends quite freely on expensive items for herself and her children. The Castro family stands in stark contrast to the other four, and yet there seem to be some similarities. All five families with the exception of one are ruled by a macho man with an iron fist. All except one man (and Lewis suspects he may have “homosexual tendencies”) has affairs with multiple women. Children bicker and vie for their parents’ attention in various dysfunctional ways. Nutrition is poor (fried “meat” that is the dregs of what a shopper can buy). In all, however, the book still stands as an compelling study, one that should still interest Mexico’s neighbors who live along the border of the United States of America.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Arline

    This book is a time machine and a complete, detailed version of your neighbor's gossips in the baby boomer era. It's a modern cultural anthropology book, but the method which is used gives the feeling of narrated story that focuses on the characters' emotion and reaction to poverty they're living. Almost like fiction, the stories are full of conflicts and twists, except there is no actual and complete resolution in each of the families' story. While it is not surprising since it's based on actual This book is a time machine and a complete, detailed version of your neighbor's gossips in the baby boomer era. It's a modern cultural anthropology book, but the method which is used gives the feeling of narrated story that focuses on the characters' emotion and reaction to poverty they're living. Almost like fiction, the stories are full of conflicts and twists, except there is no actual and complete resolution in each of the families' story. While it is not surprising since it's based on actual reports, this book can be frightening and startling in the same time to newer generation. Is it because the situation is very different now? Or because it's starting to look like that again? Unstoppable forces of development was the creator of poverty, those who weren't able to keep up with the new trends and competitions are labelled as such. The stride bears a new standard way of living, the tableware, the telly, building materials, Mexico's dependent on American dollar, etc. Before all this, people were living the same. Towards the characters themselves, it's easy to sympathize the women (Poor Esperanza!), but it's also not easy to antagonize the men despite the sexism described, given the explanation the author provided about how things were in 1950. This book can be a little tiring as I started to take a break during Rosa's family story. I find reading this can be frustrating as the characters seem to be stuck, but I say 'justified' because the story is non-fiction after all. This books blatantly shows how poverty affects the life of a family, which of course, not in a good way. That's how seminal this book is to record something that has happened, and still happening, and still should catch our attention. No matter how this book shakes its readers' emotions, it is still an eye-opener and entertaining anthropology book to read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie Hughbanks

    These books (sociological study) read like fiction and thus are easy to read. I simply cannot put Lewis' books down. So far, I've only read Five Families and anything I can get my hands on about the Sanchez family. I wish Lewis had continued writing (or a subsequent author) about this family in perpetuity! These books (sociological study) read like fiction and thus are easy to read. I simply cannot put Lewis' books down. So far, I've only read Five Families and anything I can get my hands on about the Sanchez family. I wish Lewis had continued writing (or a subsequent author) about this family in perpetuity!

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jeff Keehr

    Another excellent study by Lewis. I don't recall much about the book except that I wanted to read everything Lewis wrote. Another excellent study by Lewis. I don't recall much about the book except that I wanted to read everything Lewis wrote.

  6. 5 out of 5

    R.K. Cowles

    3 1/2 stars

  7. 4 out of 5

    Rūta Marozaitė

    Balsam for my soul

  8. 4 out of 5

    Lukman Hakim

    Lewis mengintegrasikan dirinya dalam keluarga miskin di Meksiko. Ilustrasi kemiskinan diceritakan sangat mendetail dalam buku ini. "Kemiskinan sudah menjadi budaya yang secara senagaja diciptakan oleh kelas atas" sebuah "kemiskinan menjadikan diri mereka tidak berdaya dan tidak memiliki kekuatan untuk membela diri, hanya kekuatan komunallah yang mampu mengangkat dan menyampaikan suara-suara orang miskin Lewis mengintegrasikan dirinya dalam keluarga miskin di Meksiko. Ilustrasi kemiskinan diceritakan sangat mendetail dalam buku ini. "Kemiskinan sudah menjadi budaya yang secara senagaja diciptakan oleh kelas atas" sebuah "kemiskinan menjadikan diri mereka tidak berdaya dan tidak memiliki kekuatan untuk membela diri, hanya kekuatan komunallah yang mampu mengangkat dan menyampaikan suara-suara orang miskin

  9. 4 out of 5

    Keeley

    This book gives descriptions of one day in the life of each of five families. Four of the families are poor, and the researcher takes great care to depict events as they happened as if he were telling a story. He also gives relevant background information where applicable. I enjoyed reading about how the people of Mexico live and to get some insight into their lives. I realize this lifestyle if from the 1950's but it is still very interesting. This book gives descriptions of one day in the life of each of five families. Four of the families are poor, and the researcher takes great care to depict events as they happened as if he were telling a story. He also gives relevant background information where applicable. I enjoyed reading about how the people of Mexico live and to get some insight into their lives. I realize this lifestyle if from the 1950's but it is still very interesting.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Nisaa

    buku terjemahan yang aku baca.. Menceritakan tentang kisah lima keluarga yang ada di Mexic pada tahun 50 tahun.an. Metode penulisan yang digunakan oleh Oscar lewis adalah Novel etnografi karena Oscar bennar - benar menggambarkan tentang lima kelurga tersebut. Seakan-akan pembaca ikut terjun dan melihat secara langsug kegiatan sehari-hari mereka. Recomennded buat yang menyukai etnografi

  11. 5 out of 5

    Len Gibbs

    As an excursion of the poverty in 1950s mexico it is probably unique. However, the detail can become overwhleming and also questionable (how does the author know what people are thinking?). It does not draw conclusions and perhaps that is deliberate but I think the book would have benefited from some proper ending.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jackie

    It was a great book to read. It was assigned to me for a class in college and dreaded it. However, it was a pleasant surprise, I couldn't put it down. I was actually upset when the book ended and there were no other families to learn about. It was a great book to read. It was assigned to me for a class in college and dreaded it. However, it was a pleasant surprise, I couldn't put it down. I was actually upset when the book ended and there were no other families to learn about.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    I had to read this when I was a senior in high school for my Spanish IV class. As someone who has enjoyed the luxuries and tolerated the challenges of a lower class citizen of Mexico, I thought the book was accurate and educational.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jim

    Read this while at the University of Southern Mississippi but cannot remember for what class. What I remember is the book had a big impact. This is odd because I do not remember a single story or line from the book. I just know it is going to be on my reread list.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jchin

    Different take on ethnographies. I jumped into the study because of the work of Donna Beegle as she explored poverty. A very god read, but dated.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Rabinovich Ed

    Buen ensayo, una imagen del México de antaño.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Barb

    It was a thoroughly interesting Ethnography; though, it was hard to read in the sense that it was somewhat sexist (understandable due to time period) but also depressing to read.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Diana Elizabeth

    i really wanna read this book!!!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Busra

    budaya

  20. 5 out of 5

    Peggy

  21. 4 out of 5

    Paulina Pereda

  22. 4 out of 5

    Hana

  23. 4 out of 5

    Naomi McCormick

  24. 4 out of 5

    Fatima

  25. 4 out of 5

    Augustine

  26. 4 out of 5

    Kam

  27. 4 out of 5

    Elisa

  28. 4 out of 5

    pjr8888

    my copy is paperback Mentor Book, pubished by The New American Library, c 1959, sixth printing

  29. 4 out of 5

    Adela Bazbaz

  30. 5 out of 5

    Mozhar

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