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20 Conversations That I Wish My Parents Would Have Had With Me

It’s tough being the child of Latinx parents. Because of cultural stigmas, gendered belief systems, machismo, and other reasons, our parents and other family members weren’t super open about discussing some things openly with us. And then we were forced to find out shady second-hand information from friends or others. Some of us had to turn to teachers, folks at Planned Parenthood and other organizations, people we trust, or the Internet to learn about stuff. Let’s hope with the changing of the times we can open up more because doing so has huge effects on our health, safety, and happiness.

Here are 20 conversations that I wish my parents would have had with me…and probably would have saved me some embarrassing moments.

1. A legit, non-judgmental sex talk.


When I would try to ask my mom about sex, well, I could barely have any talk with her at all. She just wouldn’t have it. My dad? I was too scared to even try asking. So my questions about sex went unanswered.

2. A talk about the health of my sexual organs.


Like, I wasn’t even having sex at all. I was just wondering about pap smears. When I asked my mom thinking it’d be okay since it wasn’t really about sex, she answered with “Por que quieres saber? Andas de cabrona?” I couldn’t even ask about anything in the general region of my vagina without it becoming a super judgmental and potentially scary conversation. My male friends had similar experiences though their’s were way less sexist. As in, they weren’t immediately bad kids for asking whereas my women friends definitely were seen that way.

3. A talk about racism that doesn’t go off the rails.


Speaking to my parents about the deeply ingrained racism in our culture has never been easy. They don’t quite get how some of the things they say or believe are steeped in racist beliefs. It’s hard to get them to open their eyes to that. But little by little I have worked on it, and they’re getting there. The road has been hard and long, but we’re getting there.

4. Teaching me to do “boy” things


Because I’m a woman, my parents wouldn’t teach me what they considered “boy” things, like how to change the oil on my car on my own, how to build or fix things, how to throw a baseball or cross someone on the soccer field. No, I was expected to like “girl” things, like dolls, makeup, and princess dresses. And I did! I liked makeup, and also liked sports. They were okay with it but I was still called a tomboy or a lesbian as if that was a bad thing.

5. What’s happening with their personal lives.


I understand that parents don’t want to burden their children with the realities of running a home, but I would have been more appreciative if I understood honestly what their struggles were. I would have tried harder to help them out or give them someone to talk to. But they were too proud or didn’t want to worry us.

6. Machismo.


Machismo is very real in the culture, and our fathers, brothers, male cousins, and uncles benefitted from it. So that means talking to them about machismo can often infuriate them or make them very defensive. It doesn’t make for a very open or safe conversation where women, gay men, trans men and women, and others can confront the real issues with machismo and toxic masculinity with their parents and make some real changes in a family’s relationship.

7. Chores


Chores are the worst, but we all have to help to keep the house clean and stuff. Oh but wait, some people in the house don’t have to help with the chores as much. Sure the boys will take the trash out, but too often the bulk of the household chores are left to the women. Because that’s their jobs. There are lots of families that don’t subscribe to this. All hands are on deck for cooking and cleaning. But the work is still considered women’s work, and that’s a problem.

8. Being sad.


I don’t know about you but when I was upset about a boy, school, or work, my mom seemed to have a hard time knowing how to console me. She has when I’m sick or in pain down pat. But when it came to certain areas, she would just look at me and say, “Este vale madre. Tu mereces mas, asi que deja de chillar.” That didn’t always make me feel great but I understood later that she was trying to make me tougher.

9. Periods.


I never got the talk about my period from my mom. My dad didn’t broach the subject at all. It’s a totally normal part of growing up but periods signaled something that freaked my parents out. However, any time I wanted money from my dad all I had to say was it was for “feminine protection products.”

10. Harassment.


Because harassment often comes coupled with shame and embarrassment, we don’t necessarily run to our parents for help. Especially if you feel you’ll somehow be blamed for it for wearing shorts or a tank top.

11. Weight and body positivity.

Jenny Lorenzo

Moms and dads love calling you gorda or criticize everything you eat, all while putting more food on your plate. Finally telling my mom that constantly pushing fajas and diets onme, and making me feel bad about my body, had really negative effects on my physical and mental health, was a big step. But the work is still ongoing.

12. Family history.


Some families talk a lot about their history, stories, and family members. But others don’t for a variety of reasons. Perhaps shame or embarrassment, perhaps from not knowing, perhaps because of crimes committed. Who knows. While it’s understandable, it still sucks. I want to know about my family history and all the stories that it includes. And when it comes to medical history, it can be life-saving to know what family has dealt with in the past. Knowing there’s family history with certain illnesses or diseases can help you take better care of yourself.

13. Depression or mental illness.


It sounds terrible to say, but I’m fortunate to be able to talk to my mom about depression and mental health because she struggles with the same issues. She always encourages therapy. However, not all families are the same. The stigmas surrounding mental health are still rampant. And for many, it’s a privilege to be even able to acknowledge your mental health when you have so many other responsibilities on your shoulders. Still, it’s important to have those conversations.

14. Religion. Or choosing not to have a religion.


I’m not religious. I never had a first communion or confirmation. I chose not to continue with the Catholic faith I was brought up in. While my parents have come around to it, it’s still a sore subject. My mom once tearfully told me she’s afraid I’ll end up in hell. I felt bad, but my beliefs are my own. It’s tough having talks about religion with parents who are deeply religious, or at least believe in God when you might not.

15. College.


Again, I was very lucky that my parents supported my decision to go to college, and helped pay for it. But it wasn’t necessarily instilled in me from a young age. For many, college and higher education was not something they could discuss with their parents if their families relied on them for help. Working and helping your family is more important. It’s tough. That’s why we’re so inspired and proud seeing Latinos graduate from college, excel in their jobs, or hold it down for their families.

16. Their stories of coming to the U.S.


It’s important to me to hear what they went through to come to the U.S. so I can understand what my parents sacrificed to give me more opportunities.

17. When to have a baby is our choice.


Latinx parents love telling us when to have babies. Whether it’s when we’re young and they go off on us about not having a baby, without giving us any information on how to avoid that, or when we’re older and they’re begging for grandchildren, our parents seem to think they can choose when we start families. I’d like to tell my parents in a polite and respectful way to let me decide. And to stop putting the pressure on me.

18. LGBTQ+ issues.


This is always a tough discussion. In my house, my parents support the equal rights of LGBTQ people. However, they’ll still use language that is offensive to that community. Some families reject their LGBTQ children completely and that’s just awful. While we’ve had many conversations about this, we still need more.

19. Inequity in general.


My parents are still of the belief system that if you work hard you can achieve anything. While they’re right in theory and made huge strides in their own lives by working hard, they don’t often realize how much society works against them. Perhaps they don’t want to believe, because they were sold on the American dream. But talking to them about how it’s harder for me to own a house than it was for them always goes awry because explaining the housing market and student loan debt and a million other issues become a lot.

20. How much you love them, or they love you.


Love is sometimes a weird topic. I love being able to tell my parents I love them, and having them say it back means the world. For my friends who don’t have that, who’ve never heard their dad say I love you to them, it’s heartbreaking and traumatic. Even if they did love them, they just wouldn’t say it. And then there are those parents who just aren’t around or give children love. It’s terrible. If you have love with your family, whatever that looks like, let them know.

Here’s hoping that we can start having these important talks with family and become more open with them.

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Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture


Día De Los Reyes Was The First Time I Allowed My S.O. To Experience My Culture

For many who regularly take part in the holiday season, Christmas traditions are strongly tied to religious beliefs and practices. The ways in which the customs around the holiday season are carried out often deeply rooted in cultural rituals and they often vary from family to family. For my Puerto Rican family, the holiday season is drawn out well past the first of January when radio stations reel back on the jingles and Mariah Carey classics. For us, the Twelve Days Of Christmas sales or songs we know of don’t relate to the days leading up to December 25, but rather the twelve days in between Christmas Day and January 6 The Epiphany, a biblical day that marks the final leg of the  Three Wise Men’s journey to deliver gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus Christ.

Día De Los Reyes has always been an especially important day for my family. The fact that “reyes” is my mother’s maiden name has only made the day a little sweeter.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

A more popular holiday back on the island, my abuela and abuelo Reyes brought their traditions to the mainland with them in the 1950s.

On the evening of January 5, each member of my family from grandfather to my youngest sobrino pull out cardboard shoe and clothing boxes (all marked with our names, drawn on and decorated over the years with crayons, markers, and glitter pens) to take part in a tradition that we hold dear in our hearts. After we’ve filled the boxes with snacks like carrots, lettuce, and sometimes grass for the Three Kings’ camels to munch on as they pass through our town we stick the boxes under our beds. Finally, just as we would with Santa Claus, we write the Three Kings–Los Reyes–a handwritten note wishing them safe travels as the journey to see the baby Jesus hoping that as they did with him on that first Epiphany, they’ll leave a small gift or token of some sort under our boxes.

Dia De Los Reyes functions similarly to Christmas Eve in my family. We all wake up and check under our boxes to see if we were good enough this year to receive any gifts. We’d go to mass together, where as kids we’d hope that maybe Los Reyes stayed in town with their camels long enough that day to be at the church community center to pose for photos. We would visit family and eat pernil and arroz con gandules, dishes reserved for celebrations and holidays.

As I got older I went to mass only sometimes and stopped looking to get my photos with Los Reyes.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

I never stopped checking my box for gifts though, or remembering each rey by the names older relatives taught me to write in my letters: Balthasar, Melchior, and Gaspar. As an adult I focused on new ways to celebrate “being a king,” as my family would say, and took on the role of expert coquito maker.

When I started dating and began wanting to bring boyfriends home for the holidays, part of my new role during the holiday season also unintentionally became one of both gatekeeper and teacher of my Puerto Rican culture. As a sophomore in college, I brought my then boyfriend home for December for the first time. In my household, Noche Buena, Christmas Day, New Years Day, New Year’s Eve, and Dia De Los Reyes were all days set aside for family, exclusively. I knew not to ask for exceptions, and in the past had willfully or grudgingly passed up holiday and New Years parties to honor the expectation of being en familia.

But in my twenties I badly started to yearn for my first New Years kiss and wanted, even more, to share part of my twelve days of Christmas with somebody who mattered to me.

My parents, on the other hand, were hesitant. Dia De Los Reyes was about Los Reyes, as in my family.

My boyfriend was someone they saw a few times a year and knew of only from phone calls, letters, texts, and video chats. Someone so unfamiliar certainly wasn’t considered family, and moreover someone who wasn’t Latino couldn’t possibly understand the sanctity of the day we’d honored so lovingly all our lives.

Most concerning of all, Dia De Los Reyes is also known among some circles as “the poor man’s Christmas,” my grandparents’ explanation being that back in the days of Jesus, being a king didn’t mean wealth like it means today. It meant that the giftschildren and observers receive in their boxes today are small, like a $10 gift card, socks, some mittens, or maybe candy. The last thing my family needed was for some guy they didn’t know to reach into an old shoebox of all things, pull out socks, and think we were cheap. With some convincing and a little grumbling, my family allowed me to write my boyfriend’s name on a box, fill it with lettuce and put it under my bed on January 5.

That night as I lay in bed, I did feel nervous knowing that I was bringing somebody into such a special part of my life that no one had ever seen before outside of my parents. Earlier in the day, I made sure to explain to him how seriously my family took our family only traditions, and how it wasn’t just about the religious holiday but the namesake that ties us to one another. I felt silly as I highlighted decorating beat-up boxes as one of my favorite traditions, something I hadn’t ever admitted out loud. Quiet and reserved, he listened to my stories but didn’t ask any questions.

In the morning, I still had my family only morning mass and our opening of gifts, but later that day my boyfriend was invited over for pasteles, coquito, and the checking of his first and only Three Kings Day box.

My parents observed with critical eyes as he went through the motions of our traditions, seeming charmed by the gifts of a hat and gloves left resting on top of torn up shreds of lettuce, proof that Los Reyes had come through our house. As he followed our lead I sat hoping that by participating in the events himself, he might better understand where my love for my culture comes from, or maybe even briefly feel the same sense of childhood joy I do on that day each year. Admittedly, it was an awkward day for everyone involved and not filled with all the magic I had hoped for. Nonetheless, I still felt proud of myself for being able to break down a barrier that had long existed between myself and not only romantic connections but a friend, too.

I wanted the opportunity to show those outside of my family the part of my identity that I hadn’t always made transparent in my daily life, even if that meant that they didn’t understand or wouldn’t “get it” at first.

Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

Even though the person who got to take the test run of my family only traditions and I aren’t together anymore, a few years ago he broke the mold for being able to bring others into a part of my life I was using to shutting so many close to me out of.n Maybe he did think that of us, our gifts, or the day we celebrate as cheap, but after the fact I, didn’t care. In the years that have followed, what has mattered most to me has been that I could start sharing Reyes, this name that laid down the foundation to who I am before I was ever born, and all the nuances that come with it with those I want to know me better.

This Dia De Los Reyes will be one of a few Reyes family festivities that my current boyfriend will be participating in, and another year where my family pulls out his box and welcomes his extra cheer into our holidays. While he’s still learning about my roots, I’m still learning that I can take these moments and use them to bring myself closer to my culture and my loved ones.

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My Latinidad Taught Me To Never Discuss Death, Which Made It Especially Hard And Confusing When I Lost My Grandfather

Calladitas No More

My Latinidad Taught Me To Never Discuss Death, Which Made It Especially Hard And Confusing When I Lost My Grandfather

Growing up, I was lucky enough to live with my parents and my grandparents as a child. Being raised by them and under their roof meant that there were a lot of things my grandfather taught me that I know most kids learn from their parents. He taught how me to walk, how to ride a bike, and how to swim. Years after this developmental stage where I learned so many basics, my parents and I moved into our own house that was never too far for a trip to Mama and Papa’s place. In my teens I’d take the train from my university to their apartment, just so that I could spend the weekend with my favorite people on the planet. In my twenties I’d come to stay for good, to work as a journalist in New York. I was never too old to go for a slow walk, carve a pumpkin, or decorate a Christmas tree with my grandparents. I’d do anything for them, just as they had for me in childhood and I loved doing everything with them.

When my Papa passed away in February of 2016, I did not know what death was.

The writer as a baby and her grandfather. / Photo provided by Wandy Felicita Ortiz

Sure, I knew the word, and I knew that it was something that happened–to plants, and batteries, and fictional movie characters, to other people’s family members and grandparents–but not to anyone that I loved personally. It was understood that discussion of death was taboo in my family and in my culture; my grandfather had led the ban on that dirty word. Anytime somebody would try to bring up the idea of death in conversation, he’d dismiss and exclaim “Dying? Let’s talk about living!” He was the epitome of life, earning him the nickname of “the happy postman” during his time as a postal worker in New York City. Everyone knew him for his round rosy cheeks, his chuckle, and his smile. I was always convinced that he carried the sun and warmth of Puerto Rico within his small, stout body. I was happy to not talk about death because of him. Why would you when you had an entire sun in the room that made you want to explore and love life just as much as he did?

This mindset of my grandfather’s, the one that said brushed off death and all that it could mean, meant that my family never sat down at the dinner table and came up with a contingency plan of what we would do if one of us did pass away.

My grandparents and parents never shared with me what it felt like when their own parents or grandparents died, and I was taught not to ask.

The writer’s sister [L], grandfather, grandmother and herself. / Photo provided by Wandy OrtizMy parents always did their best not to bring my sister and me to funerals or burials. Nobody ever talked to me about grief, mourning, or what’s appropriate in those moments.

So, when my grandfather died, I felt lost and confused. It was the first time I lost somebody so close to me and I didn’t know what to do about it. I had been accustomed to this caricature of how Latinx people are supposed to act. I was meant to be the sunny comic relief, the silly clown, the bufón, the woman with a ruffled skirt and fruit basket on her head. I was fun, bright, and jovial, but it kept me from facing something inevitable. I don’t know whether to resent or thank my family for letting me live a life where I was ignorant to the realities of death.

The night I had to say my goodbyes I kissed his cold and bloated cheek, and everything smelled like stale blood instead of his aftershave. I left the hospital after sleeping on a waiting room floor for three weeks and went home to take a shower. I smelled blood for months afterward, and I’d rub my body red with a loofah trying to rid my skin and hair of the stench. For the many months that followed, I was a zombie. I didn’t eat but I did gain weight. I slept all day but I felt like I couldn’t catch enough sleep.  I could never bring myself to speak and yet I couldn’t stop crying.

When I talk about my grandfather’s passing with friends who’ve lost parents or grandparents, I’m not totally sure that even they understand my grief.

The writer and her grandfather/ Photo provided by Wandy Ortiz

Some of my friends have lost their grandparents and even parents, and none of them act the way I do when it comes to my grandfather. When somebody says “You’re grandpa died, right?” or asks “How did your grandpa die,” I cringe. His name and “die” are two words I learned never to say in the same sentence. When I explain that he didn’t survive a heart attack, triple bypass, and valve replacement, they tell me that that’s “normal” and “expected.” They ask me why I’m still so shocked and broken up over it, they say “he lived a good, long life,” and they tell me that that’s what happens at old age.

Many people see moving out of a loved one’s home, or throwing out their belongings or putting them in storage as healthy, helpful ways of moving on. I do not feel as if I am in a positive emotional place where I can do that. The idea of packing up all of the tokens that remind me of my abuelo and storing them away in a dark and dusty corner of my mind is hard to conceptualize. Anytime I see my mother’s face, I think of how her freckles and nose mirrored his. Each time I sign my full name I think of how I was given my middle name because it was his mother’s first.

Instead, of bottling up my grief and diverting my thoughts to something else, the way my grandfather might I have preferred, I  speak to my friends and my family about what loss feels like, and what it looks like. While I’m handling my pain over his loss in a way that is very much unlike what he might have wanted, I still think he would be proud of how I have taken my hurt and turned it into a lesson on how to deal with loss in my future. Instead of shielding my kids from death, I like the idea of having discussions about it with my children when they are of age to understand what will happen when people we love die. I don’t have to stick to the narrative that to be Latina is to always be bright and happy. To be Latina can be to be in pain, in mourning, and at a loss too.

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