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A Letter to My Son: Raising Latinx Without Machismo

Young mother holding her baby in the bedroom


Welcome to the world, baby boy. I’m half-Salvadoran and half-Bolivian. Your daddy is mostly Italian, which means pupusas, saltenas, and a lot of raviolis in your future.

He and I met at a concert and learned quickly that we both value family, enjoy going on adventures and being outdoors. We, also, love movies. I like to watch them and he likes to sleep through them.

One day as we walked, I noticed a Guatemalan bracelet on his wrist. When I was six, I used to visit El Salvador and Guate and bring those bracelets back to the US to sell them to my friends. To see him wearing that distinctive accessory made me curious about what a man from Philadelphia was doing in Guatemala. Your daddy told me he went to visit an orphanage to help little kids learn English and find a path to education. That’s the moment I fell in love.

Soon after, we got married.

During the months your daddy courted me, I paid attention to several things; is he kind to waiters, is it ok if his car gets messy after camping, does he listen when kids speak or does he ignore them?

But the most important question I asked myself was, “Will he be my partner and my true equal?” I knew that one day when I had a baby, I would want to instill the beautiful and rich aspects of my culture, but consciously deny the bias and machismo that plagues the history of our people.

Shutterstock ID: 1093465031

Here are 3 lessons I hope I’m able to teach you about being Latinx:

1) Learn the language, but also challenge it.

Spanish is a beautiful language. There are many times when I think, ‘oh it’s not the same in English.’ In English, we love everything; popcorn, your partner, ice cream, vacation, etc. In Spanish “mi amor” is reserved for your true love or soul mate. Your daddy is my true love. He is “el amor de mi vida.” I tell him in Spanish, so he doesn’t get confused that I love him and ice cream equally.

The language helps us express feelings and love. But, the culture of machismo is deeply rooted within that language. Everything is assigned a gender—“el sol” is male and “la luna” is female. Recently young, smart, and queer groups raised their hands to say, “Wait a minute, what if I’m neither?  Where is my place in our culture and society?”

The truth is there was not much of a place.

The “x” in Latinx represents not just the small community of people who challenged the institution, but the friends and allies who said, ‘yep, this is no longer OK.’ Language influences culture and culture influences language (Sapir-Whorf hypothesis). Challenge both. Always.

2) Strong family values means being a partner, not just a husband.

In our culture we celebrate strong family values. However, those family values can sometimes feel unbalanced or very traditional. “Not fair,” as you like to say.

Your daddy is ambitious, hard-working and supportive. When you were born he switched jobs so I could grow my business and chase my dream job. I hope his behavior becomes the norm and not an exception. We decided long ago that work, chores and life have no gender assignment. The traditional definition of “husband brings home the money while wife raises the kids and cleans the house” means nothing to us. Yes, that’s why daddy does your laundry and mommy cooks. We divide and conquer all of it. If one day you and your partner decide that one of you stays home and one of you works outside the home, that’s OK too. But, remember, that’s a partnership decision not a “husband” decision.  Be co-captains.

3) Be respectful of our collectivist culture, but embrace your individuality.

On one of my many trips to El Salvador, the recurring question from grown-ups to me was always, “What will you be when you grow up?” What I learned was my Salvadoran family was comfortable with three answers: doctor, lawyer or engineer. I liked to read, so I said lawyer. One adult would look to the other adults at the party and proudly declare, “She’s going to be a lawyer!” Everyone would cheer. They felt proud and it made them very comfortable. It also allowed me to go back to play with my cousins and not get a lecture on my future.

But, I didn’t really fit into any of these three molds. Con respeto, I created my own path. I had to pave my own way and this made our big, loving and jovial family a little nervous. I came home one day after my favorite literature class and I announced to my mom and dad that I would study English Literature. Your abuelito had a strange look on his face and said, “But, you already know English.”

Mijo, as I write this, I’m in my dream job. I love coming to work to create and build things. We can do anything we want. Follow your heart and make people, including your family, a little bit uncomfortable. Let them worry about their life and you worry about yours. Trust me. Everyone will eventually forget you backpacked around South America instead of going to law school. Because, por que no? Te quiero mucho.

How do you raise your kids without machismo?

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  1. Lourdes Quinteros June 20, 2019

    Wow what a great article that hits home. As a bi-cultural person, this resonated very much with me. Point 3 is about grappling between the collectivist and individual culture. It says to me that we all have a purpose and it’s multi-dimensional. A lot of the reasons that the US has so much innovation — they leverage all the skills that the people have. Point 2, we all have value. Being in a partnership allows each person to grow in a healthy way to fulfill potential. Point 1, we all belong — because no matter what color, race, or orientation you are, we are all whole and exactly the way we are meant to be. Thanks Jen for opening up about such important topics that move us forward.

  2. Chris Mendoza June 21, 2019

    Hi Jennifer – thank you for sharing this letter to your son. Its an AMAZING work in that you have captured some excellent points about the duality of cultural worlds that we as bicultural Latinos straddle. You have the foundation well established to help navigate and guide your child through the complex maze of contradictions of our world – but you’re doing it with sensivity and care which is beautiful! I see your points of view clearly and I think this may be the start of other letters that you can or will write to him? Letters to Mijo..the series?

  3. John June 26, 2019

    Hey, kiddo .. thoroughly enjoyed the letter!

    When are we returning to Necker Island?



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