A growing number of Latinas and Latinos are marrying people of another race or ethnicity, but my mother wanted me to marry another Latino. She said that it would just be easier because we would have the same culture, the same values, and the same way of thinking, but as Selena Gomez has eloquently put it: the heart wants what it wants — cue music. Of course, my mom was partially right, and like a lot of happy endings mine did not start off with love at first sight.
See, before I met my Southern charmer, we'll call him L, I met his parents. He had left them to set up his room while he went off to the school store to pick up his books. Being a neighborly Latina, I went over there and helped them bring in their rug and bookshelves while I told them their no-good son shouldn't have left them to do the heavy lifting. I told them that when he came back I would give him a piece of my mind. And I did . . . oh, yes, I did.
While I went all feisty Latina on him, he just smiled and nodded and told me I was right, it was like an episode out of The Twilight Zone, and then before I knew it we were telling each other our life stories. We talked for hours, and the more we spoke the more apparent it became that we were from two different worlds. He grew up playing tennis, going to country clubs, and spending his holidays in South Carolina at the beach, eating fried chicken and biscuits. Talk about culture shock. I didn't know people actually lived like that. Up until that moment I thought such a life existed only for Hollywood darlings on the silver screen, not for actual normal people.
I grew up in a small two-bedroom apartment with my parents and sister, spoke Spanish at home, and rarely had a dinner without rice, beans, and plantains. My mom was loud, and my Venezuelan family was even louder, and though my light brown hair, hazel eyes, and pale alabaster skin were not traditionally seen as Latin, I was out and proud. I worked hard, I was fierce and unapologetic. For him, I was the stereotypical mixture of New Yorker meets Latin, and he loved every second of it.
We were different, there was no way around that, and so were our families. When I finally met them, I was presented with a cookie-cutter TV version of what every little Latino sees as the normal American family living the American dream. A mother and father and sister who were all blonde with eyes of bright shimmering blue and the sweetest, warmest pearl smiles. With a permanent home in the mountains and a getaway by the beach, they were the living stereotype of the typical "gringo" family.
When L met my parents, he was welcomed with a table spread that would rival any 16th century king's. Latin culture is all about showing love through food, and they cooked up turkey, steaks, pernil, pork chops, rice, beans, fried plantains, hand-cut and flash-fried fries, and more. They showed him my baby pictures, told him their immigration stories, and hugged and kissed him like they had known him for years. Of course, my mom was unabashedly nosy, forward, and frank with him, telling him that our culture, our family, and our name came first, but he welcomed it all with open arms, and I fell in love with him even more for that. As the years went on, L and his family continued to embrace Latin culture by downloading apps to learn Spanish, exploring the world of Latin food beyond Chipotle, and rolling most of their R's. My mom even started making bundt cakes and pound cakes!
On our wedding day, our families finally came together. It was an intimate ceremony, just immediate family and close friends. L said his vows in Spanish so my family wouldn't miss a thing, and once we kissed, we danced the night away to bachata, salsa, merengue, and old beach tunes. Our families drank, ate, and laughed together. Though we came from what seemed like two different worlds and two different continents, on that day we came together and made a new world where we all belonged.
My mom was right, it is easier to be with someone who has the same values and the same way of thinking, but that has nothing to do with culture. L and I may come from different backgrounds, but at our core we are the same. We value our family, we honor our love, and most of all we respect and support each other. He has relished in my culture and I in his, to the point that one flows into the other. Our holiday table is covered with biscuits, quinoa, turkey, pernil, and collards. I could eat fried green tomatoes and okra until I turn green, and my husband could eat fried plantains and arepas until his stomach bursts. Birthday singing is now a little longer because we sing the long Venezuelan version, then Portuguese, and then English, but it just makes the day that much more special.
Legally, I married a Southern gentleman. But above that, L married into my family, my culture, and my Latin traditions, and I married into his. Like a sweet, fried plantain-stuffed biscuit, we are perfect for each other. It isn't where you come from, it is where you go that counts. L and I are proof of that.
So what happened when South America married the American South? A lot of good food happened. Good food, great drinks, lots of laughs, lots of loud music, and most importantly, lots and lots of love.