The Great Hispanic Way

Delta Winds cover 1997Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


The Great Hispanic Way

Alaska Rivera

Many Hispanic parents stereotype their children from an early age. Baby boys and girls are only perceived as equals for about one year. As they get older, they are stereotyped by their parents. For instance, parents remark about their differences: "My three-year-old son is a typical boy" or "My three-year-old daughter is so prissy." In fact, three year-old boys and girls have few or no differences, especially at that age. Parents also give their children gender-specific toys to play with; boys are given trucks; girls are given dolls. Hispanic parents have a special way of putting their little girls in a glass bubble. In the home girls are both protected and restricted more than boys. Girls are not allowed much association with the boys, their dress and grooming have certain criteria, and their recreation is limited.

Because of my parents' Hispanic and cultural background, their attitude toward females is different than that toward males. Due to this background, my parents suppressed me in several ways. In my teens, my parents tried to limit my association with boys as much as possible. My parents did not allow me to date boys or to be left unsupervised with a boy. I had to beg to go to school functions, and if they granted me permission, I had to be supervised by my brother. My parents' biggest fear was that I would get in some trouble. Primarily, they were worried that I would get pregnant. Most Hispanic parents fail to educate their daughters about sex; therefore, they feel the only solution is to restrict or isolate them. However, the male in the Hispanic household has few or no restrictions at all.

Hispanic fathers are extremely restrictive in many ways, but especially in dress and grooming. When I was growing up, my father had to approve my outfits and dictated that my hair remain long. I was not allowed to wear short skirts or tight jeans. I felt his restrictions were a bit unfair at times. Once I received a pair of shorts as a gift. One day he saw me wearing them and ordered me to never wear them again, saying they were too short. I tried to explain to him that I had worn the shorts before and that they were a gift, but it was pointless. I simply withdrew to my room, took off the shorts, and cried. I could have avoided future confrontations by only wearing the shorts when he was not around. However, I both feared and respected him, and thus was prevented from disobeying him.

My brother, of course, could wear anything, even suggestive clothing. He could wear tight pants, but the point is, his clothing was simply not an issue. My father never looked at it, never viewed his son as needing inspection for proper dress. The assumption must have been that his sexuality was not in need of protection or scrutiny--that was for girls only.

My mother's restrictions were even more frustrating, and many of her beliefs or ideas were even stranger than my father's. Because she lived her first thirty years in Mexico, she had deep-rooted ideas about proper treatment and behavior of women. She felt women needed education but only the minimum required by law. She felt women would grow up, get married, and have children. One of her frequent threats was "If you do not behave, I will take you out of school." My mother's biggest fear was that her daughters would not meet up to the standards set by her culture. She was right: we would never meet up to their standards since we had been born and raised in America. Hispanic women are supposed to be meek, humble, and obedient. Never are they to talk back to their parents or husbands. They're considered weaker and less intelligent than men. This idea was simply not acceptable to me; if anything, it made me spiteful of their restrictions, and I got in trouble more than once for challenging their ideas.

My parents did not restrict me in the same areas. They often disagreed. The total effect, however, was heightened because I was restricted in several ways by both parents. I had few rights or freedoms because I was almost certain to displease one or the other.

My mother had a strange belief that if a virgin girl wore tight pants or rode a horse for an extended period of time, she was endangering her virginity. Because of her belief, I was allowed to ride my horse no more than two hours a day. As my brother used to say, "Mom thinks if you ride your horse too much it will pound your cherry loose" (even though I didn't quite know what that was at the time). This archaic belief about not letting me ride for more than two hours was quite puzzling to me; my mother never explained to me what my virginity was or how I would lose it. The only thing I thought was that if I rode for more than two hours at a time, this most precious and sacred virginity would be lost.

I remember asking my parents why they allowed my brother to come and go as he pleased. They replied, "Anna, you have to understand that girls are different than boys, and because you're different you need more supervision than your brother." I was supposed to be satisfied with their vague answer, but was I? NO! I questioned authority, especially that of my parents. One of the reasons I questioned their authority was because I felt my parents were not giving me the necessary education and trust I needed. Because of the restrictions that were placed upon me, I resented two things: my brother and my gender. How unfair it is for parents to have double standards for their children.

Restrictions tend to stunt a person's mental and emotional development. The remedy is education and trust. It's bad enough to be stereotyped by society, worse yet to be stereotyped by your parents. Perhaps all parents stereotype children, but Hispanic parents seem to be among the worst in this regard. They raise their children in fear of what other people might think. They are extremely image-conscious. I must say, it was difficult to deal with my parents' customs and beliefs.

In retrospect, I can appreciate some of my parents' desire to protect me, and I view it today with no emotional ill effects. I accept my parents for who they are, and I love them. However, a young child cannot have such an emotional distance and perspective. It hurts to be restricted and treated in a seemingly unfair manner. So, if you are of Hispanic descent, I can sympathize with you.