The Rules of Growing Up Latina
A few weeks ago, my daughter, who is almost 8, asked for red nail polish like mine.
The first thing that popped into my head and out my mouth was: “It isn’t appropriate.”
But why, she asked, looking totally confused.
I didn’t say this, but I thought this: “Porque las ninas no se pintan las uñas rojas.”
Some “rules” can’t really be explained to a small innocent.
So, I told her pink and brights like orange and green and blue work best for young girls. But honestly, I had no real good or justified reason other than Latin girls of old were not allowed to wear red polish porque no era correcto ni propio.
I know I left her unsatisfied. What the heck could be wrong about red nails?
And then she asked to be a Werewolf for Halloween and again I went into old-school auto-response. In my head: “Que feo. Eso no es propio.” Is she too young for violent ghoulishness?
She has been a Spanish queen, a good witch, a princess, a gypsy…all in the beautiful costumes her genius seamstress aunt has lovingly made. I asked her if she wouldn’t rather something fun, festive, gorgeous?
No. Werewolf. Seriously, please, Mama, she said.
And I realized I needed to examine the old messages and old rules that still live in my head. Maybe some of them live in your Spanglish Latin daughter head, too.
“Eso no se hace porque se ve feo.”
“Las niñas no hacen eso.”
“Eso es de las p…s.” Rhymes with Reputacion.
“Que va decir la gente?”
You get it? You remember those and a few more?
To translate, the lines are basically: You can’t do that, it looks bad; Only “those kind of girls” do that; Girls don’t do that; and What will people say?
I was frustrated as a child and teen when I got no good answer, though in fairness to my parents, I didn’t hear this kind of stuff as much as other Cuban friends seemed to.
A memory: In high school a Cuban-American friend was a superior runner, but she wasn’t allowed to run track because “eso es de marimachas.” Her dad claimed track only was for Tomboys. He was very wrong and my friend was very hurt and angry. Thirty years later, I’m still mad at that dad.
Some other Latin family rules, as told to me by Latina friends:
- Don’t ever, ever take your shoes off at a party.
- Girls don’t play with boys.
- Girls must always wear a slip.
- Girls cannot wear black.
- Girls do not whistle.
- Girls do not chew gum in public.
I know a scary Werewolf is an innocent fantasy, and really, my daughter’s desire to wear hair on her gorgeous face and growl for the evening, isn’t what troubled me. It was that instant stop that I wanted to put to it and without buena razón.
Old messages. Do you suffer from them?
I realize being bicultural Mami will always mean an examination of things from two sets of rule books. I just have to take the good and right from both and throw out what doesn’t work.
So come Halloween, my girl will be a fiercely growling Werewolf … and wearing bright, red polish.
Maybe even wearing the red polish whenever she wants.
I got no good reason to rule against it.
And life is too short — too special, too big, too spectacular – to worry about silly, limiting things.