For as long as my family has lived in the States, my Abuela has made it a priority to visit once every other year all the way from Chile. We'll sit around the kitchen table having cafecito, eating pan tostado (toasted bread) and marmalade and catching up, cherishing the small windows of time we get to spend together. To me, she is like a second mother, confidant, friend and mentor.
As always, we end up on the topic of men. When doing so, without fail, we go on a trip down memory lane back to Abuela's glory years - winning her local pageant, perfoming in her ballet recitals and piano concerts and going over the boys who drooled after her. And rightly so! She was a catch!
Though I love spending time chismeando (gossiping) and catching up with Abuela, the dreaded question inevitably comes, every time.
“So who are you dating?”
I could see her worry as I explained, “It’s complicated.” And so I went on about how I did not plan on seriously dating anyone for a long time and I was solely focusing on my career.
Indignant did not even begin to explain her expression. Abuela looked like she was on the verge of a heart attack (with a little bit of her Spanish drama in the mix).
Then her expression softened. In an ever so gentle manner she explained it was “a good idea to find someone to share memories with.” Ay Abuela. Like clockwork my eyes started to roll.
Let me explain why I got to this point.
When I was seven and relatively new to the U.S I made a childhood friend, Trevor. I would go over to his house and insist that he sit down and relax while I cleaned his room. Other than being a strange child, what explanation did I have for insisting on doing house work while he sat down without a care in the world? Did I see this around me growing up? Did I feel the need to fit the “homemaker” role? Most importantly, why?
Fast forward 10 years. I "acclimated" to the States and got rid of this “traditional” stereotypical notion, unsure where it originated. I became financially independent by 16, paid my own way through college, was involved in countless extracurriculars to gain coveted internships, and subsequently found my first job out of college.
I became very career oriented with a stark determination to succeed. When I dated in my teens and throughout college, 'traditional' or 'serious' were two words I avoided. I was fully independent, self reliant, and happy on my own.
When my casual dates went for grand romantic gestures, I cringed. No way was I going to cave in and grow up to be “that woman on the sidelines.” I could see my Mom and my Abuela pulling their hair out every time I let the 'nice boy' get away. The very fact they pushed traditional ideas made me more rebellious about future prospects. After all, I was determined on focusing on my career. My immigrant parents worked so hard to get me here and I needed to prove myself! First academically and then professionally - that was my main concern.
In my early twenties my perspective changed. Something softened; I found balance. I began meeting women older than me who were doing it all. They were excelling professionally and retaining values which stand out to me - a loyalty to a “do it all nature” with the right amount of passion for all aspects of their lives. I saw women who could be nurturing and could balance both relationships and work.
I'm sure my South American heritage and fluency in Spanish reassures my Abuela about my cultural origins, but I'm not so sure my progressive ideas on dating fit the mold of what her granddaughter's current relationship status should be.
It's just not as simple for me. Yes, I do feel a family-centric mindset is ingrained in me. But no, I don’t want that to start until my early 30’s. I feel like I - and other Latinas like me - are too complex to be put into a box and stereotyped. I feel we can be an example of a new progressive/traditional model.
Abuelita, the family and the kids will come. But not before I take plenty of time to fully discover who I am in my twenties.