The Latino population of this country is growing at a breakneck speed. And we’re not keeping all this love to ourselves. There are plenty of Ashley Rodriguezes, Carlos Whitmans and Emily Riveras walking around our country to prove that our community isn’t afraid to follow their hearts and go cross cultural.
The advantages to dating Latino are obvious in the broad strokes. Although the countries that comprise Latin America and the Caribbean are all distinctly different from one another, we do have some fantastic traits in common. Family is important, we are a romantic community and we tend to be very generous with whatever we have. Whether dating a Mexican or Dominican, it will at the very least be a warm and devoted relationship. But there will be pitfalls. But no worries, we're here to help.
1. VEGETARIAN? No. If you say you’re a vegetarian they will try and give you pork instead of red meat. If you say you’re vegan—well you might as well tell them you’re a communist—especially if you’re dating a Cuban. Best to say you’re allergic, ‘Soy alérgico/a.’ It’ll surprise them long enough for you to fill your plate with beans, rice and plantains. The beans will have some pork in it probably. But just enjoy it - pork is vegetarian in many a Latino home.
2. THE MOTHER! You know how every novela has an overbearing mother that fusses over every detail of her son’s life? Yeah, well truth is stranger than fiction. Even in the more matriarchal Latino countries, the sun rises and sets in the son’s eyes. I say, go with it. Let him get pampered by his mom. Mami wants to cook, great! Her doing his laundry takes it off of your hands. She doesn’t like the way you clean? Let her go crazy with the "Fabuloso" bottle, a bucket and the mop and get yourself a massage. Worried she'll complain about your child-rearing skills? You’ve got a free babysitter for life! If you use the force of love coming at your son instead of fighting it, you'll basically be getting a personal assistant for free.
3. THE FATHER! You walk into your girlfriend’s parents house to meet her father. He looks like the most interesting man in the world but more intimidating. He offers you a glass of rum or tequila —sip it. If you drink it like a shot he’ll know you don’t know right from wrong. And when he asks what you and your daughter will be doing later, don't say "having a good time." Going to a movie and a nice dinner with friends - that's much better. Because if not, he’ll squash you like a bug with a glance. You’re girlfriend knows this; it's the last trial by fire before she decides to truly give in to you. Get through it and you will truly win her heart.
4. THE ACCENT Accents are funny. You’ll be tempted to speak to your love’s family in their accent, thinking you're being endearing. But don’t. It is the price they pay for speaking two languages, but you haven’t bought that ticket—you don’t get to take that ride. In fact, if you want to play the accent game, then learn Spanish. You will have a god-awful accent in no time plus the added bonus of knowing when they’re making fun of you in Spanish.
5. NO, WE’RE NOT YELLING! We’re loud talkers and we’re enthusiastic. We can do a back flip at a farmers market over a ripe mango. No need to jump back in fear or worry that we are upset. We’re just making a point enthusiastically. When you really need to worry about us is when we’re quiet. That’s when you know there will be hell to pay later.
6. THE LONG GOODBYE You need to start saying goodbye 45 minutes to an hour before you attempt to leave a Latino family party. That’s just industry standard. There’s a lot of cheek kissing, half-started conversations that will require a proper ending and 'tías' and 'tíos' that will be offended if you don’t say 'hasta luego'. We like each other and always make sure 'we’ve squeezed all the juice out of the fruit before throwing it away'. (in other words, "sacarle el jugo"). Waste not want not, as your people say. If you get cocky and attempt to a ‘ghost exit’ everybody will remember and you don’t want to be known as ‘ese gringo pesado’ (Look it up—The Spanish-English dictionary is your new best friend). It’s a hard title to shake.
Of course any relationship involves compromise. Your Hispanic sweetheart will have to remember that expressing extreme emotions can be terrifying to your family, that not everybody wants a hug and a kiss goodbye, and that the chicken dance is fun - really! - when you don’t know how to salsa.
The tricky thing is that there is no cultural "default" button when you’re in a cross-cultural relationship. But the exciting part is that there is no cultural default button when you’re in a cross cultural relationship! Keeping things fresh is easy and learning from one another is thrilling and fun.
Sure, those things don’t come without its challenges. But if you’re open, the rewards are wonderful - or shall we say, maravillosos.
Carmen Pelaez is a Miami-born and Brooklyn-based filmmaker, playwright, writer and performer.