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Voices: Our Latina Moms' Obsession With Family Secrets

Why are our moms so worried about "el que diran?" Claudia Deschamps asks her own mother.  

HOUSTON, TX -- It was ivory white, shiny, yet classy. It was traditional yet modern. It was exactly what I had imagined. It was perfectly mine and perfectly affordable. I’m talking about the “holy grail” for every bride (after she finds her groom). It was my wedding dress! The best part for me was the search itself: a two-day journey through “La Lagunilla,” a neighborhood in downtown Mexico City, famous for its numerous wedding gown stores.

As a Mexican bride living in Houston, Texas, my mother could not comprehend why I had traveled to Mexico for my gown, since many Mexican brides traveled to Houston to buy theirs. Was it Mexican pride? Or perhaps the joy of walking the busy streets of downtown Mexico with one of my best friends from middle school? Go figure. What I still remember is my mother’s agonizing tone when she pleaded with me, “Di que te lo hizo un diseñador," - “Say that you had it made by a designer.”

And thus, he arrived, creeping and making his way into my wedding - the ghost of prejudice known as “El Qué Dirán!” ("What Will They Say!") Many of us know it all too well - the deeply rooted fear, instilled by our mothers, aunts and grandmothers, that we have to constantly be on guard so we don't give people anything to talk about behind our backs regarding our family.

Growing up, I was no stranger to “el qué dirán.” In fact, throughout my childhood I grew up with countless “Shhhh, no le digas a nadie,” (“Don’t tell anyone”) situations that were, at least in my eyes, completely unimportant. Once the mandate of secrecy was introduced, it brought an element of mystery and almost fear that someone may find out.

Yet it isn’t until now that I have children, that I wonder, is the ghost of “el qué dirán” more cultural or generational? Granted, previous generations tended to be more discreet. With no email or social media people felt they could keep their secrets, well, secret. Yet I have not encountered a family of any other race or nationality that feels such a need to conceal unimportant facts and treats them like national security secrets. Such petty information, and yet, so secretive! Why, I wonder, give so much importance to things that frankly, no one outside of those involved care about. “No one cares where I bought my dress, mom! They just want to dance and drink, like any other Mexican wedding, really," was what I felt like telling my mother that day.

I now understand my mother’s secrecy towards the origin of my wedding dress. Houston sounded more elegant to her than “La Lagunilla,” and details like that were important when it came to her daughter's wedding.

Yet, situations permeated by “el qué dirán” can reach almost comical levels.

For proof, look no further than my good college friend. She got divorced a decade ago and to this day, when she goes to visit her family, they plead, “Don’t tell anyone you got divorced. We have not told our relatives or friends so, don’t tell anyone.” Thankfully for her family, she has not remarried, but she still worries about bringing home and introducing a husband that is not her previous one.

Here's another crazy and sad example. A girl I knew about in elementary school was not allowed to go on sleepovers or overnight excursions; her mother was terrified of anyone finding out that her hair was curly instead of straight. So, mom and child would wake up extra early to have it straightened every day - something she could not do at a sleepover.

There are many more examples of family “secrets” I remember, both from my family as well as others. Now that I have children, I am making a conscious effort to kill the ghost of prejudice. I don’t want them being afraid of “el qué dirán.

And when it’s time for my daughter to get married, if she wants to buy her dress at Winnie Couture or at “La Lagunilla,” I will support her decision and tell anyone who cares. You won’t see a place setting for “El Qué Dirán” at her wedding! He’s not invited.