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Black Velvet
December 16, 2012 – 3:09 pm | 17 Comments

Childhood memories are vivid, almost indescribable in their detail, and impossible to forget. A Christmas memory I have is that of a black velvet dress  a family friend gave to me for my seventh Christmas.
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Home » del alma, featured

The Rules of Growing Up Latina

Submitted by on October 14, 2011 – 6:33 am38 Comments

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.

Life Special Occasion, Hallmark

Disclosure: This del alma is sponsored by Hallmark and the Life is a Special Occasion campaign. To receive notices on Hallmark products and special offers sign up for the newsletter.

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  • I still get a laugh at some of the things my dad wouldn’t let me do or wear. But am truly grateful he did enforce them….at the end of the day I turned out pretty good, I think :)

    I had a couple I will never forget: I grew up in WNY, NJ and there was a very popular shopping avenue called Bergenline Ave. Well, my dad would not let me wear shorts when shopping on Bergenline :) Too many men/piropos going on.

    Another one that stands out was Rock Black T-shirts. I loved Joan Jett and Journey as a “tween” and was thrilled when I bought their t-shirts at a flea market one Summer. Well, one look at them he made me take them off and never wear them again! “Tu no eres uan gippy!” lol Needless to say, he was a big Beatles fan!! :)

    Great post….xoxo…

  • Tracy says:

    You made me tear up at the end. You’re a good mama, Carrie.

    Maybe it would be different if I were a southern belle, but as it was my New Yorker Jewish father and my Protestant Pennsylvanian mother didn’t have any of these rules for “girls” – (and there were 3 of us!)

    My Mom was more of a stickler for manners than anything else and she didn’t want me to grow up before my time, but that’s about it. I played in dirt, climbed trees, played (tackle football) with boys, painted my nails any color I wanted, never owned a slip, could wear whatever I wanted as long as it wasn’t outright slutty. On rare occasion she’d tell me something wasn’t “lady like” (such as sitting with my legs open LOL), and she made me take out my nose ring just because she hated it – but that’s about it.

    Maybe growing up gringa was okay after all. jajaja

  • Eva Smith says:

    I certainly suffer from the old messages that were passed down from generations. I use to refer to them as “motherly wisdom”. Now I realize, there really is no reason for these old ways. Way to go mama! Breaking the “Old School” cycle starts with us. Thank you.

  • I heard it all the time. I almost wanted to put myself in time out for hearing myself repeat these things. The other day my daughters were sticking their tongues out at each other in that teasing way kids do (totally having fun) and I was a total kill joy & combining both of the ones you mentioned: Las ninas no hacen eso (my daughter asks why) por que eso se ve feo.

    There was such a long list of things I wasn’t allowed to do: chewing gum, sitting at counter/bar stools at restaurants, ankle bracelets, whistling, wearing skirts without slips, taking my shoes off at a party (how did I survive a season of quinces with my heels on all the time?), the list is endless!

    I even remember a particular incident where my abuelo & I went head to head. I was going to work wearing flip flops and he LOST it (vein popping out the side of his neck lost it). I was 15 and bold so we just went back and forth until I wore other shoes there and then just switched into my chancletas at the store =)

  • Ay and almost forgot the time I plucked my eyebrows before being 15 and tried to lie about it. Not a good choice considering I finally had normal eyebrows instead of massive unruly bushes above my eyes! I wonder why they pick 15 as the magic age? Love this post!
    Carla @ All of Me Now´s last [fabulousness] ..DIY Blog Design

  • I loved this ► “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.”

    I totally agree with it!

    Growing up I wasn’t allow to shave my legs before my 15th birthday (oh boy! I needed it waaaay before that), no make up, no long nails, no nail polish either before that age. When I was a little girl I wasn’t allow to play with my male cousins ’cause las niñas no juegan con varones. Girls don’t go to boys houses. The first time I went to the movies with friends I was attending college and I never got to be at a pajama party.. I have so many cuentos!!!

  • This one made me smile!

    As I got into my preteen/teenage years -no red nail polish, no red lipstick and no red clothing.

    And for my 8th grade prom, my mother made me wear a white dress with 3/4 sleeves and it as below the knee. It looked very similar to my communion dress. Then when I was a junior, I was asked to the senior prom. I was working by then and made my own money – so I bought a strapless black dress – age appropriate, nothing outrageous. But my mother sewed straps onto it.

    When I think of all the rules that were set for me simply because I was a girl – I just have to laugh. Though as a young girl, I found them to be annoying and harsh. I understand now even though I know they set with no real reasons. And now I wonder – what rules did my mother have to hear growing up? I think I will ask her.

  • Monica says:

    Love this post!! It seems @Cubanita_bean and I had many, many Latina rules growing up:
    -Never bring a boy in your room, door always open.
    -You couldn’t ask to go to the bathroom when doing la visita.
    -I wasn’t allowed to wear my hair down in public until I was in middle school.
    -I also had to wear a slip and wasn’t allowed to shave until I was 15.
    -There were to be no boys over the house after 8:00 pm and no dating until I was 15.
    -I had a chaperone on those dates until I was 17!
    -No bare legs with a dress or skirt.
    -Never allowed to call a boy on the phone.

    Needless to say, mi hija grew up with none of those rules (except for no boys in her room with the door closed). Mi madre was always side-eyeing me for letting Bri run wild. LOL


  • You are a great mami :) and you have a beautiful princess. I love her orange nails , I am so into girls don’t this or that because of course I was born and grew in a latin country and of course it always comes to my mind that good girls don’t do this or that, but I never was a good girl, so it’s ok for me to break out the rules and smile with my daughter :)

  • So very well said! I love this post :)

    By letting go of those “old school” notions you are empowering your daughter. She can be anything she can be! A gorgeous werewolf will red nail sounds amazing!

    When I was growing up my dad had one of those quirky beliefs. “Little girls cannot wear purple because then they will not get married.” I kid you not, I can’t make this stuff up!
    He was so against this color, my mom wouldn’t buy me clothes with any purple on it! So silly! :)

  • rachel says:

    Carrie, I had to wear a slip. Mind you, I wore it underneath a thick POLYESTER plaid uniform! It wasn’t see-through, but I “had” to wear a slip because it was “proper”. So funny because I just realized this as I read this post.
    rachel´s last [fabulousness] ..latina magazine

  • I heard many things growing up….especially “que diran!” It was annoying. I wasn’t allowed to shave until I was 12 despite really needing it way before that. I wanted a 2nd earring hole and wasn’t allowed until almost 18 because my mom swore if I did the 2nd hole, I’d somehow keep going up the ear and get my whole ear pierced!!! I was made to bend over in dressing rooms growing up to be sure skirts/shorts didn’t show anything. etc etc.

    As annoying as it all was, part of me is kinda thankful that she cared enough to make sure I was a “proper girl” and that it did instill some good values in me. I find myself saying to my daughter, “sit like a lady” to be sure she closes/crosses legs, regardless of wearing skirt or pants. It just seems right. She also can’t wear nail polish for long periods of time and not to school. It’s a special occasion thing we do together at home. She’s almost 6 and I already see this rule may change soon.

    I know I’ll be more easy-going than my parents were. I am sure I’ll let her shave, when she really needs to, not based on age. I don’t too much care about “que diran” and do what feels right for her, my husband, and I….not abuela or Tia.

    Yay for us being able to evolve, and choose from 2 sets of rules. ;)

    • Elizabeth says:

      Oh man, I remember the legs thing! I was a year younger than everyone in my class so everyone around me was shaving their legs even though they were all super blonde and you couldn’t see the leg hair anyway.

      I convinced my mom to let me shave my legs before a class trip to Cedar Point because I was NOT going to be the only one with werewolf legs.

      I totally cut myself. Ugh.

  • This post is so true it hurts. It’s amazing how you carry these rules around in your head and don’t realize just how many “eso no se hace” rules you have accumulated through the years. Love this post!
    Julie Diaz-Asper´s last [fabulousness] ..Postre Fácil para Halloween: Chocolates Decorativos

  • Carrie says:

    Ay, you guys, I am so totally in love with your comments!

    Thank you for knowing where I am coming from, thank you for the funny and supportive comments.

    The Tiki Tiki tribe is my tribe.

    We get each other.

    You guys make me realize I am not loca de le cabeza for thinking this stuff.

  • Maruchy says:

    My mother was adamant that girls did not spit. But I think that’s a good rule for boys too.

  • Liesl says:

    I loved this!! So many rules & remember them ALL! Funny thing is as my parents get older they forget ALL their crazy requests y penas que se nos hicieron pasar when our “other” friends didnt quite understand why I couldnt go out for lunch w/them in 7th grade. The shaving 1/2 leg at 15 was my all time favorite!! The slips, no heels, las senoritas no hacen esas cosas & certainly a BIG one….girls dont play any sports -My Italian husband really doesn’t understand that one. In the words of my dad …no te contagies, tu no eres Americana! Mind you they are more American than Cuban as they arrived in 1959. I’m so much more relaxed & although our dghtr is still a toddler I can see myself battling with a more reasonable response to her inquiries to come, keeping all the “rules” in the back of my mind siempre.

  • Elizabeth says:

    Las niñas no…

    …juegan con los niños (and all but one of my best friends in college were boys)

    …juegan futbol (I now work at U.S. Soccer)

    …pegan (my brother and I did tae kwan do for four years)

    The only person that might have suffered more was my father, who had to go up against his mother and sisters when my sisters and I started doing some of this stuff and rough-housing with the brothers.

    Let it be known that my father eventually caved because he started running into female executives and realizing that his daughters had to learn to be tough as nails, and also because when he would complain to my mom, “que le ayudara porque queríamos correr, hacer deporte, andar en patinenta, etc.” my mom always said, “that would make me a hypocrite. My mother never let me do those things and I’m not stopping my own daughters from doing that.”

    Some good did come of though. Whenever my tia Delia and grandmother pulled me in because they caught me playing soccer with the boys, they would make me embroider and crochet. So, now I can do both :-)

  • Marta says:

    When I was about 13, another Cuban friend and I found some very cool $3.00 engraved ankle bracelets at Woolworth. We saved our pennies and bought the beautiful ankle jewelry and put them on immediately.

    Both of our Cuban mothers “pegaron un grito” and made us take them off right away because only “putas” wore those. My friend and I exchanged confused looks and obediently took them off.

    We wore them the next day to Catholic school. Under our bobby socks, of course. ;-)

  • Alexandra says:

    “Haci no se hace.”

    It’s been a looooong time since I”ve heard that. Decades.

    And being the mother of boys, I never have any conversation that triggers that memory.

    It wasn’t until this post, and read the wonderful comments here, that memories flood back.

    “Haci no se hace.”

  • Alexandra says:


    Love these posts, love these comments.

    I remember, no sleep overs, no “gippy” clothing

    So many rules, I never questioned. And the fight with my American girlfriends b/c they thought I was making things up.

    Well, they were all in trouble, all kinds, by senior year in high school, but not me.

    Wasn’t allowed to do anything: so no chance for any trouble at all.

    Had to read this again, so wonderful.

  • Melek says:

    Great post Carrie!

    I think that these nuances stem from cultural differences . . . I also had to grow with many of the “rules” (mostly implied) like many others … and as some comments state … looking back as a mother, I understand where they were coming from … and I can appreciate some of them.

    An example of cultural nuances and relativity that I can remember was one day, when one of our neighbors pointed out that she could not understand why I did not like my young daughter painting her nails, but had not problem having her ears pierced when she was a baby. ;)

    I think that we live in different times and the “Because I say so, etc.” we were told growing up would not hold-up these days without some type of challenge . . . instead of saying a NO “rotundo” (emphatic) as it was usually told to us growing up, I have experienced success with my two children with a more . . . “not for now … but when you are older, later, or we’ll see” approach.

    I also remember an excellent article I read many years ago. It was about little girls being allowed to do and wear older girls things and when they later on became adolescents (voluptous) it was difficult for them to understand why if they could wear certain things when younger, it was no longer appropriate for them to do the same . . . Hmm . . . thought-provoking for all those parents out there with younger girls.

    I’m sure Maria will be a pretty werewolf with red nails come Halloween!

    I wish you well :) Melek

    “Children’s talent to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives.” ~ Maya Angelou

  • I actually heard all of these and more, including, “Don’t sit on boys laps!” and “Keep your private life private.” Well, I’ve broken the former rule. I’m an open book and LoveSujeiry.com is a clear example of how much I speak my mind and share my thoughts on issues (love, relationships, sex, pepas) that are seen as taboo in the Latino community.

  • Maria B. says:

    Oy this sounds exactly like a Greek family and even worse a Greek-Lebanese family! Both cultures known for “don’t do this and don’t do that…” exactly like a Latino family, and all of them girl-centric prohibitions too! Not a single “you can’t do that cause it’s not appropriate” for the boys, oh no…

    I should know I’m Greek-Lebanese and at 23 it’s still fresh on my mind and I can honestly say I’m still a touch bitter about it. I didn’t even go out until I was 18 and my brother was allowed to go out/drink/learn to drive/party freely from age 12, cause he’s male and “that’s what boys do”!!

    However at some point my mother said enough is enough and broke “one of the rules” by taking me to a beautician to get waxed when I was 13, cause I really needed it and an epic fight broke out between my dad and her…

    Needless to say mom and I won and my younger brother helpfully piped in with “Come on dad it’s so gross for her to walk around with hair on her body, she’s a girl we don’t want to see THAT!” haha Now that is what I call funny! He was always a helpful little bugger. :P Can’t wait to see my brother and how he’ll react when he has a daughter in the future… heh

  • Elizabeth says:

    Las Mujeres no deberian andar descarsa,or no te laves la cabeza con la menstuation,las ninas hablan cuando las gallinas mean……
    too many to share

  • Lisa says:

    So funny! It must be a Latina thing. Here are some things my abuela & my mom would say:

    1) Respectable girls don’t do that.
    2) Close your legs.
    3) If you are showing yours knees, it’s too short.
    4) What will ppl think/say.
    5) If you want to go to a friends’ house, you have to take your baby sister so no one can think you are alone. That was funny bc what would my sister do?
    6) And this one was a MUST – I had to take my younger sister with me when I would go on a date with my boyfriend, now husband. What a great contraceptive! LOL let me tell you, it worked!
    Lisa´s last [fabulousness] ..My Number is 35. What’s Yours? A Sleep Number® P5 Bed Review

  • Carrie….
    My mom never put a stop to my impulses as a child…. it was my aunt who would not allow nail polish of any color, or make up. Not till I was 16 or 17 did she start to accept lipgloss.
    As far as the Halloween was concerned I was always encouraged to be something scary. My Mom would say you are pretty everyday of the year, don’t you want to be something different for just one day? I have NEVER been a princess, or a ballerina. I was the bride of Frankenstein and Medusa. :)

  • Abuela says:

    As we get”older” our children tell us,baja la voz, if we talk a little louder (like it is the first time you hear loud talk),por favor mami when you said something your adult child does not agree with,so dear ladies reading your comments our advice did take roots since now all of you remember how it was & you are alive & kicking take the good & use it & what you think it was “bad”make it better. You see, life is a circle a circle of love.

  • Traci says:

    I wasn’t allowed to have close boys that were friends, paint my nails (at all) wear makeup, nor spend the night anywhere. My step-father was from El Salvador from a very old fashioned family where apparently control is the culture for their women.

  • [...] Tiki Tiki blog asks: What are the “rules” of growing up Latina and have you ever suffered from [...]

  • Tia Mirtha says:

    Oye, Mama did not let me shave my legs until I was 15 years old. My legs were so hairy que estaban de madre. Me ponia las medias casi a la rodilla so no one would see them. I let Vickie paint her nails red when she was taking spanish dance. But, she did not like to put lipstick on. I used to put make up on you when you were a little girl.

  • Unknown Mami says:

    Good goin’. I’m a rebel so I’ve always rebelled against the “rules” as they were told to me growing up. If they didn’t makes sense, then I wasn’t going to follow them. I’m totally into rules, but they need to make sense.

  • Lisa Renata says:

    I finally got to reading this and I totally agree with you. There are those unexplained rules floating through my head. And now that I have little ones of my own I often have to re-evaluate them.

    Like letting my chiquita wear polish on her toes!

    Great post.

  • Catalina says:

    Oddly enough I passed on some of these statements to my boys. It made sense for a long time, because I never questioned the rational. Now I try to be conscious when I speak with my kids about certain things.

  • elsie says:

    Yup allllll those rules AND YET… we were allowed to start having novios at 15!!! I’m keeping my daughter a red nail polished, werewolf, marimacha for as long as I can!!

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