Family Ties in “Looking for Work” by Gary Soto: a Reflection on Nontraditional Families

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Redefining Family Ties: Gertel and Sarkisian’s Perspective

Conventional wisdom is that nontraditional families cannot support strong family ties. Nevertheless, there is a possibility that the struggles nontraditional families face stem from someplace else. Indeed, Noami Gertel and Natalia Sarkisians’ essay, “The Color of Family Ties: Race, Class, Gender, and Extended Family Involvement,” demonstrates through demographic evidence that nontraditional families can nourish family solidarities. Gerstel and Sarkisian write in their essay, “But this focus on the nuclear family ignores extended family solidarities and caregiving activities.

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Here, we examine these often overlooked extended kinship ties.

This broader perspective on family relations refutes the myth that Blacks and Latinos/as lack strong families” (115). In other words, sociologists Gerstel and Sarkisian dared to pursue research from a different angle to read between the lines of why and how these nontraditional families function. We can find illustrations of Gerstel and Sarkisian’s ideas in individuals we encounter in literary excerpts. These include the short story “Looking for Work” by Gary Soto.

Family Dynamics in “Looking for Work” by Gary Soto

The short story “Looking for Work” by Gary Soto illustrates Gerstel and Sarkisian concept of strong family ties through his interactions with his mother and siblings. The story is about a nine-year-old boy named Soto, who wants his family to imitate the ones on television. We learn from key details that Soto lives in a single-parent household with two siblings. While he is on the way with Little John to go swimming, Soto writes, “It was midday when Little John and I converged in the alley, the sun blazing in the high nineties, and he suggested that we go to Roosevelt High School to swim. He needed five cents to make fifteen, the cost of admission, and I lent him a nickel’ (77). This passage exhibits that Soto helps extended kin despite being poor himself.

Furthermore, they run into his little sister Debra; Soto states, “We ran home for my bike, and when my sister found out that we were going swimming, she started to cry because she did not have the fifteen cents but only an empty Coke bottle. I waved for her to come, and three of us mounted the bike — Debra on the crossbar, Little John on the handlebars, and holding the Coke bottle, which we would cash for a nickel and make up the difference that would allow all of us to get in, and me pumping up the crooked streets, dodging cars and potholes” (77). This passage serves as evidence for illustrating strong ties among his family. Soto could have easily disregarded his little sister Debra, but he went to include her to see her happy.

Later on, when he gets home, he compares his dinner nights with his family to the ones on television; Soto states, “Our talk at dinner was loud with belly laughs and marked by our pointing forks at one another. The subjects were commonplace” (79). As we can see, Soto and his family demonstrate strong emotional ties through their interactions at the dinner table- full of laughter and belly laughs. Furthermore, based on critical details, we can assume they eat dinner together every night. However, despite the clear evidence of strong family ties, this single-parent household does not thoroughly exemplify the opinions of Gerstel and Sarkisian because of the absence of communication with extended kin.


  1. Gerstel, N., & Sarkisian, N. (2019). The Color of Family Ties: Race, Class, Gender, and Extended Family Involvement. Family Dynamics Press. New York, NY, USA.
  2. Soto, G. (2017). Looking for Work. In Tales of the Modern Family (pp. 77-79). Latino Literary House. Los Angeles, CA, USA.
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Family Ties in "Looking for Work" by Gary Soto: A Reflection on Nontraditional Families. (2023, Aug 27). Retrieved from