The following is based on my personal experiences as a Latina world traveler. Here are some important historical and cultural insights to know about Latin American culture. This is particularly important to be aware of before dating a Latina. A great way to approach a multicultural relationship is to become more educated and culturally competent! So we thank you for doing the work. Welcome to la familia 😉
Who is Considered Latino?
First, who is Latino or Latin American? According to many scholars, Latinos are people from (or whose ancestors are from) a Latin American country. These include but are not limited to: Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and most of Central/ South America.
Please note – since a lot of this is social construct, it’s normal to feel the lines blur and hear a lot of debating about the delineation. The definitions also vary depending on the country you’re in and how they teach these terms.
Dating a Latina: Interesting Tips & Things to Know
1. Introversion Can Be Interpreted as Rudeness or a Weakness
Generally speaking, much of our Latino culture encourages community values, outspokenness, affection, charisma, dancing, get-togethers, and things of that sort. This means that shyness or introversion may be interpreted in a negative manner. Now, this doesn’t mean that the Latina you’re dating is this way; she might be an introvert too! But it could mean that her family, especially if they are more traditional, may very expect some extroversion from you.
Not-so-fun-fact: There is no direct translation for boundaries in Spanish. So things like keeping your bedroom door closed may be considered rude and family dropping in at the last minute unannounced may be accepted as a normal thing. But these are also the beautiful things that make our community, fun, supportive, loving, and always there for each other!
2. Declining Food or a Gift May Be Considered Offensive
I’m laughing as I write this thinking back on several occasions where I’ve invited a white friend home who declined food and my family’s dismay towards them. Many of us Latinos put a lot of detail, flavor, and love into our cooking. Food can be a special sign of affection and unspoken communication.
Many years ago, I remember feeling upset with my grandmother after she made a mistake. She felt bad, but instead of her saying “sorry,” the next morning she made me one of the best Dominican dishes for breakfast. And with that, our quarrel melted away. Food can be a gesture of caring and sharing.
So to make a delicious meal for someone and then be told: “no, thank you”. Whew! It can feel like disregard. Especially because we’re not serving you a pre-packaged meal. It’s made from scratch and takes time!
The same applies to gifts. Even if you don’t like the actual gift, it’s the effort that matters. Accept it, say thank you, and move on. And if you can wear the gift around us, you’ll get major points!
3. We Tend to Have Strong Community Values
Dating a Latina, you’ll soon learn that many (if not most of us) have very strong community values. This means we are there for each other at the drop of a hat. Families support each other unconditionally. When you’re sick, everyone rushes to the hospital to be there for you. Or they make you traditional teas and stews to help you feel better. This is very beautiful. However, the same behavior is expected of you. If your Latina mother-in-law needs something, you may be expected to drop everything you’re doing to rush over and help out. Depending on who is in your community, this can honestly be either amazing or annoying.
As a cultural world traveler, I’ve noticed that strong community values are pretty common around much of the world outside of the Anglo-Saxon culture. So if you don’t like community values, just know that it’s not us… it’s you that’s the “odd” one out! 🙂
For more information – I’ve written before on the collective versus individualistic values you grapple with when you’re raised in both Latino and American cultures.
4. Don’t Exoticize Us Latinas
Exoticizing, sexualizing, and fetishizing Latinos for our ethnicity is not OK. We’re not a disposable novelty to check off on a bucket list or to “spicen” up your life (that’s toxic thinking if you’re looking for chaos in your life). We are not a kink. And we should not be reduced to one-dimensional trait such as our ethnic background. We are much more than just a label based on a geographic delineation.
5. Our Families Extend Beyond the American Nuclear Family Model
The typical Anglo-Saxon-White-American tends to have a smaller family model. I’m not referring to the number of children or actual family members. I’m referring to the number of relatives they keep a tight bond with.
Latinos, generally speaking, will maintain a very strong and active connection with their aunts, uncles, grandparents, grandparents’ siblings, cousins, etc. We remain so close to our relatives (beyond our parents and grandparents) that our cousins are like are siblings and our grandparents are like another set of parents. In fact, our aunt/uncle’s children are referred to as “primo-hermanos” in Spanish which means our cousin-brother. Because we’re that close.
For this reason, our family reunions and gatherings can get big quickly. This also means that we provide a huge network of support to each other in myriad ways.
6. The Myth of the Latino Monolith & Decentering Latinidad
Americans were shocked to see the results of the most recent election. The news headlines kept repeating the word “monolith”. They were shocked that we were not all the same, didn’t have the same values, and didn’t all vote for the same candidate.
But how is this surprising when Latinos come from over 30 different countries, spanning across North, Central, and South America as well as the Caribbean?
Just the continent of South America is almost twice the size of Europe. So think about it– you wouldn’t lump a Portuguese, an Irish, and a Turkish person together just because they’re both European, right? So why do people still generalize millions of Latino people?
Latinos are very culturally diverse with different values and historical influences. And we also have different ethnic backgrounds. For instance, I am African, Native American, and Iberian. Some Latinas are also Chinese. Some have blue eyes. Many are Black. And so on.
7. Not All Latinos Speak Spanish
Not all Latinos speak Spanish. Instead, some Latinos speak French, Portuguese, Creole, Cuecha, Mayan, and more. And many, like the millions of Latino-Americans raised in the United States, only speak English.
8. We Don’t All Know How to Dance & Other Latina Stereotypes
Stereotyping us is beyond a huge turn-off. Comments such as calling us spicy or “caliente” or assuming that we like dancing to Daddy Yankee is nauseating! It tells us you’re not looking at us for who we are, but rather as a caricature or as a disposable novelty to check off.
Stereotyping, especially a historically opressed group, is a problem and imposes an unjustifiable constraint. Not all of us Latinos know how to dance. We don’t all eat hot spicy food (that’s only a handful of Latin American countries). We’re not all curvy. We don’t all listen to the same music. And we don’t all represent each other. We are all distinctly different human beings. I’m a Dominican but I don’t represent all Dominicans. Just like you’re American but you don’t represent all Americans.
If you want to learn more about the cultural values of the Latina you are dating, that’s great! Look closer into her particular cultural heritage. Is she Mexican? Haitian? Cuban? Those are completely different cultures, dialects, and historical influences.
9. Our Cultural Identity is Distinct
Remember, Latino, Latina, Latinx – are very broad terms. Like African, European or Asian. For this reason, many of us simply refer to ourselves by our cultural heritage. For example, I refer to myself as a Dominican-American from NYC more than Latinx or Hispanic.
And as for the evolving terminology, Latinx has become a more inclusive term out of consideration for non-binary people. I personally, use them both interchangably but will 99.999% of the time simply refer to myself as a Dominican-American from NYC.
10. History of U.S. Imperialism in Latin America Has Shaped Our Migration Patterns
The history of Latin American migration to the USA is due largely in part to American imperialism through political/economic interventions and military invasions which left so many Latin American countries unstable politically and financially to the point where many of our families were forced to leave. This is one of the more recent reasons why so many Latinos live in the USA today.
Almost every single Latin American country was disrupted or invaded by the United States and then left either with a U.S.-backed dictator and/or unsafe and unstable.
Even bigger reasons of course include European invasion and colonization of the Americas since 1492 and the transatlantic slave trade which has led to a plethora of effects we’re recovering from today such as colorism.
11. We Cherish & Want to Preserve Our Cultural Heritage
Speaking another language and seeing the world through more than one cultural lens is a gift. It’s like having a third eye from which to see the world.
In a globalized and interconnected world where the hegemonic mainstream culture is western/American/Anglo-Saxon, embracing and preserving cultural diversity is of utmost importance. Diversity of perspectives strengthens a group. And our unique cultural heritages make us humans smarter/stronger and push innovation and critical thinking.
We Latinos, adore our Spanish language. And many, if not most of us, want to pass this down to our future generations. Speaking another language and seeing the world through more than one cultural lens is a gift. It’s like having a third eye from which to see the world.
So if you can take some Spanish classes, make an effort to learn our language and appreciate our food and the great things about our culture…. we will notice that and love you more for it! Because it means the world!
Note: This doesn’t mean we won’t embrace American or other cultural values. It just means we want to keep BOTH. Many Asians, Africans, and Europeans already do this. They speak several languages and raise cross-cultural families. It’s not a new development. What is uncommon is the American concept of only speaking one language and sticking to one mentality. Not the most efficient way for humanity to grow forward (in my opinion)!
12. We’re Actually Not That Different From Everyone Else. You Are.
Cultures/people who are not white Anglo-Saxon are often lumped into the label of “minorities”. But in terms of numbers and geography… it’s actually the opposite. You can find a lot of the things (especially the community-values) I just mentioned above in most cultures around the world outside of white/Western-influenced societies.
Community values are more of the norm and many anthropologists such as Cacilda Jethá and Christopher Ryan (Sex at Dawn) agree that community and tribes could very well be a part of our human nature.
13. Latinas Tend to Be More Intuitive
Generally speaking, of course, many Latinos have a keen sense of intuition. All humans have an intuition. But not all are trained to listen and pick up on things as much as Latinas are from a young age. We’re trained to be almost like a bruja. To pick up on social subtleties and vibes. Maybe it’s our sense of community and constantly being around other people that have sharpened this extra sense. But the deeper you go into more culturally concentrated Latino cultures, especially in Afro-Latino spaces, the more people have refined “street” smarts or a “bruja-like” intuitive skills.
I hope this helps better contextualize how we see or should not see the Latinx community. Thank you for doing the work for your Latina partner and looking up tips and things to know when dating a Latina!
The lack of awareness for many of these things stems largely from the lack of diverse/Latino representation in the media. And also from the misrepresentation in media such as these Latino stereotypes in TV/movies that have to go! So there are a lot of misconceptions out there and I applaud you for doing the work and looking deeper for your Latina girlfriend!