Grandparents or Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions

Unfortunately my grandmother passed away before I was born and my grandfather has lived in a different state than me for most of my life but I have seen firsthand my own mother become a grandmother and I have noted that her role in our family is conducive with that of grandparents of other Hispanic families.

The abuelos importance in Hispanic family traditions is far-reaching as they are involved in everyday family life matters.  The image of a granny and grandpa in rocking chairs on the porch riding out their golden years in peace doesn’t necessarily apply in many Hispanic families.

Instead Hispanic grandparents take active roles as leaders of the family and in households.  For one thing, most Hispanic grandparents opt to stay close to their children and their grandchildren.  I don’t think my mother could bear the thought of not being able to see my nephews any time she wished.

The paternal and maternal instincts of Hispanic grandparents don’t seem to dwindle with age.  In fact they only seem to get stronger.  As a result many Hispanic grandparents take an active role in raising their grandchildren-a role that is all the more pronounced and vital especially if both parents work.

How Does the Latin American Culture Value Grandparents

By and large Hispanic grandparents are relied on heavily in the child-rearing process, as providers of sage advice for all aspects of life, the anchors of the family support system, as authorities and links to our heritage and the conveyors of Hispanic traditions. Grandparents are absolutely indispensable in Hispanic families if only for the experienced advice they have to offer.

Grandparents or Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions

Grandparents or Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions

Generally, Hispanic grandparents are seen by their grandchildren as the kinder and gentler authoritative alternatives to their parents.  This can work against the entire family unit however since there seems to be an inherent urge for Hispanic grandparents to spoil their grandchildren.  Still, grandchildren tend to grow extremely attached to their Abuelitas and Abuelitos as a source of comfort and nurturing.

To their children, grandparents are counselors and mediators.  I couldn’t count on my fingers and toes how many times my brother-in-law sought my mother’s counsel regarding his fiery Latina wife (my sister, read my article Why Do latinas Marry Gringos).  I also couldn’t even begin to tell you how much my nephews have benefitted from my mother’s experience.

Where my sister is confounded with her 2 son’s behaviors, my mother recognizes them and knows how to deal with them.  That is not to say that my sister is incapable of handling complicated family matters (in fact quite to the contrary, after all she has one of the best examples to draw from) but there is a certain degree of experience that all mothers who are not yet grandmothers will gain in time but have not yet attained.

Abuelos Importance in Hispanic Family Traditions – Steering the Ship

In my mind at least, grandparents or abuelos importance in Hispanic family traditions can be assimilated to a captain of a ship-righting the course when the gales threaten to cast it into oblivion and quelling internalized mutinies and upstarts. They are anchors in the strongest sense of the word and images of stability, warmth, wisdom of love within Hispanic families.

The Famous Evil Eye Amongst Latinos

Have you heard if the famous evil eye amongst Latinos?  To say that Latin America can be a place to find all kinds of wild superstitions would be an understatement.

In fact it may be more accurate to think of such superstitions as a basis for many Hispanic cultures.  The famous evil eye amongst Latinos holds varying degrees of validity and clout depending on which country you are in and who you talk to but there is no denying that this superstition has permeated Hispanic culture to the point that it is still relevant to this day despite its archaic roots.

What is Evil Eye

I remember hearing of the dreaded evil eye as a child but it was mostly in jest as my family didn’t give much credence to the superstition-at least not in any medical sense.  Instead my mother and her sisters would talk about the evil eye when someone gave them a cross gaze (usually from another woman).

The superstition has much deeper roots and some believe it to be an actual medical condition.  So what is mal de ojo?  The history of the evil eye can be traced as far back as ancient Babylon and Egypt.  In fact Egyptians used to paint their eyes with something like eye liner to protect them from the condition.

For Hispanics the idea that you can become ill from an envious stare or from the gaze of someone much more powerful from you came from Spain and South America ran with it.

The famous evil eye amongst Latinos refers to a gaze that is given usually unintentionally to someone and that intent look has the power to make the subject physically ill.  It is usually prevalent amongst babies and small children and can occur when someone simply looks upon a small child with admiration.  The child becomes ill, may vomit, may lose appetite, may incur a fever or engage in unstoppable fits of crying.

The condition is usually cured by passing an egg over the one inflicted with the evil eye in the shape of a cross.

The Famous Evil Eye Amongst Latinos

The Famous Evil Eye Amongst Latinos

The Significance of the Evil Eye Among Latinos

The superstition of the famous evil eye amongst Latinos most likely rose from the fear of weak or poor individuals for the strong and empowered.  The evil eye usually afflicts the weak, feeble, elderly or very young and just the malevolent look of a powerful and feared person was enough to curse an entire household.  The eyes after all have always been very telling of a person’s intent and have significant mental attachment to our spirits and thoughts. In many cultures it is a warning against envy as well.

The Practicality of the Evil Eye

In my opinion, people picked up on this tradition for valid reasons.  The eyes convey more information than we give them credit for and negative energy and the effect of ill intentions, even if not acted upon, have very real effects.

For me the evil eye is something that can be harmful in the way that surrounding yourself with negative people and being in a negative environment can be detrimental to your mind and body.

Can a person become medically ill form the evil eye?  Probably not.  The fact that symptoms accredited to the evil eye include sadness and fear is probably evidence that people who believe in the evil eye are grasping at straws and looking for any excuse to attribute their woes to.

However, I do believe that the evil eye has more of an impact on our psyches than we would like to believe. Surround yourself with ill and ill will come to you.

There are many other strange and culturally rich traditions in Hispanic culture, to know more about them check the section Hispanic Traditions.

The History of Tango Music

Breaking down the history of any musical genre is a daunting and near-impossible task.  Genres of music are not like physical inventions that can be traced to a singular point in time.  Rather, music is an amalgamation of moods, attitudes, social circumstances, emotional states and even geography.

It is impossible to pinpoint the birth of any genre because music is ultimately collaboration between people and it takes many shapes even in the infancy phase.

The History of Tango Music

So, what is Tango and how can its origins be traced?  For this we must turn our attention to late 19th century Argentina.

Argentina is widely considered the birth country of Tango music as we know it today but the truth of the matter is that the genre owes its style to influences that stretch far beyond the borders of Argentina.  Just upon hearing traditional Tango music, you will see what I mean.

You will be able to pick up on the exotic rhythms of Africa in the almost staccato nature of the 2/4 and 4/4 time signatures. Again, we may never know who incorporated African rhythms into Tango or how they were influenced by them but the infusion is undeniable.

Tango music also owes some debt of gratitude to Spain.  Spanish musicians were simultaneously developing what would ultimately help to shape the definitive Tango style in their Flamenco Tangos.

Spain and Italy play a further role in the formation of Tango music in the 20th century when European instruments were introduced in Argentina and subsequently integrated into the Tango ensemble.

An Argentine by the name of Angel Villoldo is credited with the very first Tango recording.  He played guitar and sang by himself and helped solidify the characteristics that we associate with Tango today.  One might say that he is the Godfather of Tango but who knows who he borrowed from and was influenced by.

That was back in 1905.  Somewhere around 1910, more instruments were being used to play Tango music which fleshed out the Tango sound and gave it a greater level of distinction as a genre of music.

The History of Tango Music

The History of Tango Music

The Music of the Lower Class

In the beginning Argentine Tango music was relegated to street hoods and young thugs.  The music was often played in brothels and other unsavory establishments where the “riff raff” of society normally convened.

The upper class outwardly disdained the music as it was seen as a bad influence.  This quarantining of Tango music to the poor and working class Argentine was not to last very long.  By 1913, the influence and aesthetic appeal of Tango music had reached as far as France and what was once taboo among the blue bloods of Argentina was now an acceptable and much enjoyed form of entertainment.

Influential Tango History

As with any genre of music, Tango was helped along thanks to landmark songs, recordings and artists.  Mi Noche Triste was a Tango song written by Pascual Contursi but sang by indelible Tango icon, Carlos Gardel.  The song became the blueprint for subject matter in Tango songs: heartbreaking tales of love and loss.

La Cumparista is widely held as the most famous Tango song of all time and was written by Roberto Firpo back in 1916.  To this day the song is recorded by Tango bands and orchestras and has been arranged in almost every conceivable style.

Tango Today

The history of Tango music shows us the mighty wave that Tango rode to popularity in the early 20th century eventually hit the shore and rolled back but it regained popularity once again in the 1980’s thanks in part to the TV show, Tango Argentino.

Today, Tango is experiencing a resurgence around the world as evidenced by radio stations, cable TV networks and new recordings dedicated to Tango.

Tango history intertwines itself with the history of Argentine culture.  While the history of Tango music requires a greater study than what I can get into here, and while a definitive point in time can never be named “the birth of Tango” for any music lover, it is a labor of love to seek out the roots of this enticing genre of Latin music.



The Mate Ceremony

Simply called the mate ceremony the Yerba Mate tradition has become something of a fad in recent years. You can even walk into a grocery store here in the states and buy a pack of a branded Yerba Mate tea. This drink however has very deep and significant roots especially in Argentinian culture.

What is Mate

The word Mate in this case refers to the vessel from which Yerba Mate has been drunk for centuries.  The Mate is actually a gourd that is hollowed out and filled with the tonic.  The Mate gourd is then passed around in a circle so that friends and family can drink from it.

What is Mate Drink

Mate drink is essentially tea made from the Yerba Mate leaves. The leaves are dried and chopped up which form the basis of the mate. Other herbs can be added to the dried leaf mixture but the mate leaves are the main ingredient.

The leaves themselves come from holly trees which are common in South American rain forests.  These leaves are rich in caffeine and natural antioxidants.  This is why in many ways, Yerba Mate is compared to coffee and other mild stimulants.

Once the leaves and herbs have been grounded, they are very carefully placed inside the hollowed out mate gourd.  The placing of the yerba inside the gourd is considered very important because you never want to put too much or too little Yerba into the mate gourd.  Both circumstances will produce undesirable effects. The leaves are then steeped by pouring hot water into the gourd.  A metal straw called a bombilla is inserted into the gourd and the mate ceremony is ready to commence.

The Mate Ceremony and the The Gauchos

Mate ceremony

The Mate Ceremony by Marcela Hede

The gauchos were essentially cowboys or farm workers.  They lived simple lives, labored and wanted for very little.

Gauchos are credited for popularizing yerba mate in Argentina and the mate ceremony itself.  After a long hard day in the fields, the gauchos whom you can read more about here would prepare their Yerba Mate in the manner described above and sit in a circle with their friends and family.  This was a somber time of rest, reflection and fellowship.  One person would drink from the mate gourd and pass it to the next person in the circle.

The gauchos of old would sit in a circle around their campfire and drink the mate which was very important to them culturally and physically as mate drink holds many health benefits and replenishes the body of a worker with essential nutrients.

The mild stimulating effects of the mate are supposed to induce a sense of euphoria and as the gourd is passed around, conversations are started amongst close friends and relatives.  Everybody drinks the mate and everyone bonds with one another.

Though this tradition is centuries old, it still permeates everyday life in modern day Argentina and regions all over the world including Europe and Northern Asian countries.

Today, traditional mate ceremonies like the one aforementioned are still practiced but every Argentine observes this rite in their own way.  Workers, students and families incorporate the mate ceremony into their daily lives, sometimes with just a couple of participants.

The mate ceremony has become very important in the Argentinian culture as it serves as a vessel in which loved ones and fond companions can pass into communion and deep discourse with one another.  To say that the mate ceremony is social in nature would be something of an understatement.  What underlies the mate ceremony is a deep sense of community, a tuning of one’s spirituality, and an alignment of the mind and the body.

What Is the Story of Mariachis?

If you’ve ever been to Mexican restaurant with live music, there is a good chance that you’ve gotten to hear the famous mariachis. These roaming musicians, easy to spot in their sombreros and black and silver charro clothing, are the best-known of all kinds of Mexican music.

In fact, mariachis and their music may be one of the most recognized Latin art forms worldwide. Since 2011, this form of music has been recognized as part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO.

Importance of Mariachi

Mariachis themselves are an important part of any Mexican celebration: weddings, quinceañeras (15th birthday parties), birthdays, celebrating Mother’s Day in Mexico, etc. They even play in churches on feast days in celebration of saints and the Virgin Mary.

here is the story of mariachis, they figured heavily in the movies of the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, spreading their popularity throughout Latin America.

You can find mariachis as a significant part of celebrations in many countries outside of Mexico, including the southwestern United States and other regions with large Hispanic populations. Indeed, the festival Mariachi USA is over its 25th year.

Origins of Mariachi Music

Mariachis in their traditional black outfits.

Mariachis in their traditional black outfits.

As a form of mestizo folk music, its origins are not fully known. Jalisco is often considered to be the home of mariachi, although it is possible that it originated throughout the entire region of western Mexico: Jalisco, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Nayarit, Aguascalientes, Colima, and Michoacán.

The first written mention of mariachis is in the mid-1800s, in a letter by a priest. In it, he complained about the noise that these folk musicians made.

The most common instruments in a mariachi ensemble are: guitarrón (bass guitar), guitar, vihuela (small guitar), violin, and trumpet.

Although for many of us, the horn section of a mariachi is one of its most iconic aspects, they were only added to the mariachi ensemble in the early 1900s, due to the influence of recording devices and radio.

Origins of the Word “Mariachi”

There are actually a number of theories about the origins of the word “mariachi.” For many years the word was thought to come from the French word for marriage (mariage), due to the popularity of mariachis at weddings. This explanation has now fallen out of favor.

The word is now considered to be of indigenous origin.

One explanation holds that The Coca tribe, which spoke a version of Nahuatl, had a religious song called “María ce son,” which eventually became Mariachi and “son,” or song.

“Mariachi” itself came to mean “el indio está contento” – the Indian (native American) is happy.

Other possible origins of the name include derivations of the name of a local wood, which, according to theory, was used to make either guitars or the dance platform for the groups.

“Mariachi” is unique word because it can refer to the group of performers, to an individual musician, or to the music they play (son de mariachi) even though, mariachis play a number of kinds of music, including polkas, corridos, rancheras, boleros, and huapangos.

If you have a favorite traditional Mexican song, don’t hesitate to ask: there is a very good chance these accomplished musicians will know it.

Have you had Mariachis at an important family event? Tell us in the comments!

La Guayabera, A Must-Have Shirt from Hispanic Culture

If you Google a photo of a recent summit of heads of state, for example, the Cumbre de las Américas (Summit of the Americas), you’ll notice something interesting. While some of the leaders will be wearing suits, as expected at such a formal occasion, you will also see leaders wearing a loose, white button-down shirt with four pockets and embroidery – worn long and untucked. Called la guayabera, this shirt is considered formal attire and is completely appropriate.

La guayabera appears to have first come about in the late 18th or early 19th century, and like so many aspects of Hispanic culture, the history of la guayabera shirt has different versions.

Cubans claim it’s Cuban, Mexicans claim it’s Mexican, and there are even those who say it came from the Dominican Republic, where it’s called a chacabana.

Origins of La Guayabera

La Guayabera, a formal Hispanic shirt.

La Guayabera, a formal Hispanic shirt.

However, most histories point to Cuba as the original creator of the guayabera, although the exact story varies.

In one, a husband asks his wife for a shirt designed so that he could carry around important items such as handkerchiefs and cigars. In another, a Spanish immigrant created the style of shirt.

Stories of the Mexican origin of the shirt are generally tied to the coastal areas of Veracruz and the Yucatán Peninsula. These regions both had considerable trade with Cuba, and it’s likely that guayaberas arrived in Mexico near the turn of the 20th century through these trading routes.

Despite the likely Cuban origins, Mexico clearly contributed greatly to the popularity and the spread of la guayabera, particularly in the 1970s.  In Mexico, it’s called a Mexican wedding shirt, since they commonly wear it at weddings.

The Yucatán, where it’s called a camisa de Yucatán (Yucatán shirt), is also believed to have added the iconic embroidery to the shirt, making the embroidered guayabera truly a mix of Latin cultures.

One part of the story that stays fairly consistent is the origin of the name. Given the size and number (four) of pockets, it’s believed that they were used to carry guavas (guayabas). However, it’s also possible that the name came from Cuba, from the people called the yayaberos who lived near the Yayabo River.

The shirts themselves can be short- or long-sleeved, and they can be any color. Most common, and most formal, are white shirts.

One of the hallmarks of the guayabera is its trademark folds, generally accompanied by detailed embroidery.

Wearing a Guayabera

One reason that so many Latin men prefer guayaberas is their comfort. They are lightweight and men wear it untucked (hence the straight hem), and even have side vents – great for those who may have put on some weight! And of course, you can carry anything in those four pockets.

The shirts can be made of any lightweight fabric, but traditionally they have been made of linen or cotton, both cool choices in the warm climates of the best Cuban beaches and coastal Mexico.

Given the recent increase in destination weddings to Latin American tropical locations, guayaberas have become wedding attire for a new, non-Hispanic generation of couples.

Men choosing this kind of attire for their wedding, not traditional in their own culture, do so as a nod to the country where they are getting married. Many also appreciate the guayabera’s more informal look, as well as its comfort in hot climes.

As a symbol of Latin culture, this shirt has become even more acceptable amongst those looking to unite Latin America. Hence its recent popularity by the region’s presidents and others, who years ago may have chosen a suit for formal occasion but now often choose guayaberas.

Are you a fan of guayaberas at formal occasions? Let us know in the comments!

Should We Raise a Macho Man at Home?

The concept of the “macho man” has strong roots in the Spanish and Portuguese cultures. In fact, the word machismo stems from the Latin word “macho” which means male. However, its definition has changed over the years.

The word macho now means strong masculine pride, which is the concept the Latin culture has iconized over the past five decades.

The question is: should Hispanic families continue supporting this culture in their households?

Understanding the Concept of Machismo in Hispanic History

Will they grow up to be macho men?

Will they grow up to be macho men?

Despite the negativity surrounding the concept of machismo, it’s not really as abusive as it sounds. For centuries, men were the default leaders of a household since they brought food to the table.

Today you may be offended by the outdated concept of men being the leaders of the household, but male leadership may be part of what continues to keep Hispanic families together. Proving this is a statistic from the 2012 U.S. Census America’s Families and Living Arrangements, which states that 72% of Hispanic kids in the U.S. live with their fathers whereas only 49% of African American children have their fathers in their lives.

Going further back in time, manliness in Spanish-speaking countries was associated with honor, responsibility, courage and chivalry.

In Matthew Gutmann’s 1996 book “The Meanings of Macho: Being a Man in Mexico City,” Latin American males believed machismo to mean taking care of children’s responsibilities, acting polite, respecting their women, and possessing non-violent behaviors.

Because of the dominance of their gender, younger males are spared from chores like cleaning or cooking. They’re also given more freedom, allowed later curfews, and provided with larger allowances.

What Being a Macho Man Means Today

The last few lines you just read are just a little of what being a macho man today means.

Open any dictionary and you’ll see that hyper-masculinity is associated with aggressive behaviors, being oversexed, chauvinistic and committed to gender normative roles. While some mothers encourage these characteristic to a degree, others frown upon them.

However, you need to understand that machismo has a positive and negative side. It’s up to you to cultivate the positive characteristics while avoiding the negative ones, especially those which your children watch on TV.

The notion of male superiority can drive a macho man towards exercising control over their female partners’ life, leading to domestic violence or abusive relationships.

Another newly uncovered flaw of modern machismo is death for gay Latinos. According to, homophobia and label-fear has driven many to lead double lives due to cultural obligations rather than sacrifice their egos by coming out. This, in turn, causes the spread of STDs and HIV/AIDS among all three sides. Due to the lack of awareness, Latino macho men have died and claimed others’ lives as well.

So, before your son embraces the negative aspects of machismo, make sure he understands exactly what this Hispanic tradition meant rather than what it currently means.

Teach your son to be more considerate, helpful and gentle, especially when treating other women aside from you. Only then can you really have a real macho man who’ll always make you proud.

Are you raising your son as a macho man? Tell us in the comments!

3 Things that Define a Compadre

If you look up the word “compadre” in the dictionary, you will find two definitions which may seem at odds with each other: a close friend, and the godfather of someone’s child. Sounds confusing? If you know a bit about Hispanic culture, these two definitions make perfect sense.

Since the majority of people in Latin America are Catholic (at least culturally, if not religiously), certain aspects of this Hispanic religion have become such a part of the culture that they transcend the religious context. One of these is the concept of compadrazgo (“co-parenthood”), or the relationship between a parent and the godparents of his or her child.

Compadre: A Commitment for Life

A baptism creates one of the greatest bonds in Hispanic culture, that of compadres.

A baptism creates one of the greatest bonds in Hispanic culture, that of compadres.

For a Catholic family, choosing a godfather (padrino) and godmother (madrino) for their child’s baptism is a very big deal.

The compadrazgo is more than just standing in front of the church on the day of the ceremony, it is a commitment for the life of the child and of the parents.

The words “compadre” (co-father, or the godfather of my child) and “comadre” (co-mother, or the godmother of my child) literally reflect the intention of godparents to assist in raising the child and, should something happen to the parents, to take responsibility for him or her.

Compadres and comadres also are taking on the responsibility of making sure that the child is raised Catholic.

Being a compadre is an honor that is only bestowed on someone that the parents trust, respect, and want to have as part of their lives. This generally means that this person is a close friend; if not, it means that they will become so.

Perhaps most interestingly for a non-Catholic is the fact that at the time of baptism you form two sets of relationships: one between the child and the godparents (padrinos), and one between the two sets of parents (compadres).

This close relationship has since been reflected in the use of compadre to refer to a good friend. You can even use it to refer to the intense friendships that arise between soldiers during war. Eventually, it also has come to be used as a general term for friend, especially amongst Hispanics in the United States.

What Defines a Compadre?

Strong relationship
The compadrazgo is considered one of the closest and most significant bonds in Hispanic culture. In fact, some suggest that the relationship between the parents and godparents is even stronger than that of the godparents and their godchild.

Keep in contact with each other
The word comadrear (from comadre) means “to gossip,” likely due to the godmother and the child’s mother having a close relationship and tending to be in close contact.

Not only Latin comadres had this strong relationship: the word “gossip,” in fact, comes from “god-sib” (as in, god-sibling) and is a 12th century holdover from Catholic England.

Treat each other with respect
In certain parts of Latin America, compadres even switch from the informal “tú” form to the formal “usted” form, as a sign of respect after the ritual of baptism.

So if a Hispanic friend asks you to be a compadre or comadre, take it as both a big compliment and a big commitment.

Does your family have friends with a relationship like compadres? Let us know in the comments!