The Gringos in My Family—surviving Being Married to Latinos

When it was time to fall in love and get married, all my siblings married Americanos. That's right-white, red-blooded, not a pinch of Latino-Americans. Soon, there were holidays together, the next generation of children was born, and we basically merged into a nicely-mixed (sometimes mixed-up!) family. But one day I started to wonder- has anyone ever asked them what it has been like to be a gringo (and I use this term with great love and affection) in a Latin family?

I sat down with my in-laws--Sarah, Sammy and Brad--for a first-person account of what it's really like to marry Latino.

Pre-conceived notions of married life

Sarah: I had none, mainly because of where I grew up (Virginia Beach). This was a very diverse area where many Navy families lived, and I made friends with many of them. Some of my friends there were of Mexican descent, although none were Puerto Rican.

Brad: I really had no pre-conceptions. It was all new to me!

Sammy: I thought it was neat! Marrying a foreign person intrigued me. She was very pretty, but being Spanish added to the attraction. I did, however, assume that they all ate Mexican food. Found out Puerto Rican cooking is Caribbean, and it's all about the "arroz con habichuelas" (or rice and beans). So, if I wanted a taco, I had to go to a restaurant to get one.

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Surprises of a Latin family

Sarah: I loved the food! Grandma's cooking was so good. I loved her bistec encebollado (cubed steak with garlic and onions) with white rice and red beans. I also loved her recipe for making Puerto Rican-style corned beef [hash] with French fries. My mother-in-law once told me to forgive how loud and boisterous they were, but I come from a large family and was already used to that.

Brad: The food is amazing. Love those Christmas "pasteles" (green banana dough tamale-like dish)! I also like all the rices, the "tostones" (fried and flattened green plantains) and the "bacalaitos" (cod fritters). Your grandma was a great cook.

Brad: And, that EVERYBODY goes to the airport to receive you when you come home from a trip!

Sammy: Well, for one, the family looked normal. They were a nice, church-going family, and spending time together was important to them. The grandparents put a lot of emphasis on carrying forth the cultural traditions into the next generation, especially how holidays were celebrated with traditional foods. My favorites are the rice with "gandules" (a small, round and dark green bean), jamón con piña (glazed ham with pineapple) and the "arroz con dulce" (coconut milk rice pudding) which your grandma made sure I always had.

Learning the language

Sarah: Well, it took a while to get used to not understanding the language. I constantly wanted to know, and kept asking "What are they saying?" It took me about seven years to understand the language completely. It helped that we attended a bilingual church and got to hear both languages interpreted simultaneously, so I learned by listening and being around it.

Brad: I'm still learning it, but my wife doesn't really speak the language at home. She only speaks Spanish when she corrects our kids.

Sammy: I took Spanish in high school and college, but I was very interested in finding out what the family was saying. It took me about three years to understand Spanish.

Cons of the culture clash

Sarah: I can't think of anything.

Brad: I didn't know they took pictures at funerals!

Sammy: I didn't expect the lack of promptness or punctuality. I usually have to tell my wife that the event starts 30 minutes before it actually does, so she can be ready on time.

Advice for others marrying Latino

Sarah: Enjoy the differences. Whether you are marrying into a different culture or not, there will always be differences.

Sammy: Keep in mind that you're not just marrying this person; you're marrying an entire family!

Brad: And I agree.

And like my abuela used to say, ¡Eso es así!

Have you married Latino? Do you have a loved gringo in your family? Share your experiences here.

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