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!

Mexican Retablos and Catholic Faith

One of the most well-known types of Mexican folk art is also one of those most fraught with religious, social, and emotional meaning. I’m talking about Mexican retablos, those small, rectangular paintings of religious scenes that are associated with the country’s expression of the Catholic faith.

History of Mexican Retablos

In Spain, a retablo was used to describe the set of religious images that decorated the back of the altar in a church, as well as of the chapels in a cathedral. Hence the name retablo (from the Latin retro tabula, or “behind the altar”). These images were used not only as a religious tool, but also an educational one, as they told the stories of holy persons.

Brought to the New World by the Catholic priests, this important element of Hispanic culture took on a similar but different meaning in Mexico.

Retablos and Ex-Votos

A typical example of a Mexican retablo.

A typical example of a Mexican retablo.

Do you know there are two kinds of Mexican retablos?

A retablo is the painted image of a saint and other holy figure such as Jesus and Mary. We use them for prayer and they play an important role in home altars. These were often reproductions of previous works, for example, religious art in a local church.

The other, perhaps more well-known kind of retablo is the retablo ex-voto or simply ex-voto.

Ex-voto paintings, meaning “from a vow,” generally reference a life-threatening event in the life of a person who has since been cured or saved from the situation. They are painted as a way of thanking the saint or other holy figure to whom the person and his or her family prayed for help.

A Mexican ex-voto has three main parts: the situation, the holy figure who intervened, and a brief written section thanking the holy figure for his or her assistance.

While common occurrences include illnesses or other deadly situations, more modern ex-votos have even been created as thanks for helping individuals cross the border to the United States or for obtaining a passport.

The Unique Style of Mexican Retablos

Given that many of these images in Mexico are painted on tin plates, these expressions of Hispanic religion are also called santos sobre hoja de lata (“saints on tin plates”) or láminas (“plates”).

The use of tin became popular in the 19th century as it was easy to obtain and not expensive. This accessibility led to an increase in retablos for the home during this time, considered the pinnacle of the art form.

One of the most interesting artistic aspects of Mexican retablos is the variation between them. As religious yet naïve art, people who weren’t trained artists but rather were strong Catholics painted them. As such, they have a folk art quality which has made them popular among art collectors.

For example, after the Mexican Revolution, artists looking to reclaim the Mexican heritage turned to retablos for their representation of Mexican home and religious life.

Frida Kahlo was a dedicated collector of retablos ex-voto and used their imagery in her own art as a reference to her Mexican heritage.

Other countries in Latin America have their own versions of retablos as the colonizers brought from Europe their different Catholic traditions. For example, in the highlands of Peru and Bolivia, the Andean people create portable boxes, also called retablos, depicting important events in their lives.

Mexican-style retablos are also traditional in Chicano communities in New Mexico, where they date from the eighteenth century.

Do you own a Mexican retablo? Tell us about it in the comments!

What Is a Bodega Store?

Many times when people know I am Hispanic they ask me: What is a bodega store?  If you look up the English translation of “bodega,” you’ll find a number of different meanings depending on the country: wine cellar, wine shop or winery; the hold of a ship or place; pantry or larder in a home; or warehouse.

But in Hispanic places in the U.S., when you hear the word bodega, it will almost always mean a corner store. And not just any corner store – the bodega, originating in New York City’s Hispanic neighborhoods, plays a very specific role in the city’s culture.

History of the Bodega – What Is a Bodega Store?

Corner stores themselves have been around for generations, particularly in urban areas such a New York City.

In Irish and Italian neighborhoods, they were called food stands. But with the increase in Hispanic, particularly Dominican and Puerto Rican, ownership in the first part of the 20th century, these small grocery stores and Latin food markets came to be called bodegas, after the word for the little markets in their home countries.

There, the stores were part of the neighborhood, where locals would gather to talk, drink, and play dominoes. That community aspect came to be associated with the stores in New York City, and the name bodega stuck.

Today bodegas sell much of what a typical convenience store sells, and an average bodega has over 3,000 products. But the focus is definitely on convenience food and necessities: milk, bread, eggs, newspapers, candy, and cigarettes are all essentials at a bodega.

With changes in liquor laws, beer also became a staple; in recent years, more bodegas even offer fresh sandwiches as a nod to the New York City deli.

What Defines a Bodega?

what is a bodega store-1

For many New Yorkers, it’s just a feeling.  In fact, these days bodegas are not necessarily owned by Hispanics or even in Hispanic neighborhoods – many New Yorkers call any neighborhood corner store, or tienda de esquina, a bodega.

There are certain aspects of appearance and product selection that seem to be the hallmarks of a bodega.  For example:

  • Signage: Bodegas generally have red and yellow awnings and signs, with signage in block letters. Instead of the name of the store, the products on offer are prominently displayed: “grocery,” “ATM,” “ice,” “soda,” etc.
  • International food selection: As neighborhood stores, bodegas respond to their local demographics. Hispanic areas will have plantains and plantain chips, stores owned by Muslims stock a wider variety of non-alcoholic beverages, etc.
  • Location: Many bodegas are on corners and often converted from some other space, and therefore they generally have no windows and only one or two doors. Unfortunately, this is one of the reasons that they can be targets for robberies.

Beyond just convenience, New Yorkers value bodegas for their unique atmospheres and their relationship with the community.

Many have cats to keep mice and insects away, and, like other cats, the Internet loves bodega cats. When radio station WNYC announced a contest the best bodega cat in New York, it got over 200 entries. Perhaps not surprisingly, there are even bodega cat Tumblr and Instagram accounts.

There are over 10,000 bodegas in New York City, so chances are, if you visit the city, you’ll have the opportunity – and probably the need – to visit one especially in Spanish harlem and Alphabet city.

Have you visited a bodega? Tell us about it in the comments!

What Are Los Ojos De Dios or God’s Eyes?

As a child, you may remember having made one or several ojos de Dios or God’s Eye during art class. But you probably were never taught about their cultural and spiritual significance. This Mexican folk art, like many others throughout the world, is more than simply a beautiful craft. For the Huichol people, God’s Eyes are an integral part of a child’s development.

The Huichol tribe (wixárikas/wixáricas in their own language) is an indigenous group that lives in central Western Mexico in the Sierra Madre Occidental, many in Jalisco. Their best-known traditional religious offerings, nierika (nearika), are small diamonds or circles that have threads of yarn pressed into them. The sikuli, or God’s Eye, is actually a special type of nierika that is also called a Huichol cross.

Early anthropologists gave them the name in English and Spanish, noting that nierika comes from the Huichol verb nieriya, “to see”. Viewed as a talisman and placed in religious shrines and other sacred places, the sikuli came to be called the ojo de Dios.

The Purpose of God’s Eyes

Huichol folk art: Ojos de Dios, or God's eyes.

Huichol folk art: Ojo de Dios, or God’s eye.

The spiritual purpose of the ojos de Dios is to protect children in the first years of their lives. When a Huichol child is born, parents create the central part of a God’s Eye by tying together the two sticks into a cross. As the child grows, each year the parents add another color, until the age of five.

The resulting God’s Eye, considered a protective talisman, is then treasured throughout the person’s life and may be used in rituals and traditional medicine. The colors parents use to make it have different meanings, just as the points of the ojo de Dios represent the elements and the cardinal directions (North, South, East, and West).

While God’s Eyes are the most famous of their folk arts, the Huichol are also well-known for other more modern artisan pieces used as Latin decor such as intricately beaded sculptures and yarn painting.

How to Make Your Own Ojo de Dios

Given their significance in the lives of children, it’s appropriate that God’s eyes are a common craft for young people.

Want to give it a try?  You’ll need two sticks (Popsicle sticks will work) and several colors of yarns or embroidery thread.

  • Make an X with the sticks, tie a slipknot with the first color of thread, and wind the thread several times in figure eights around the joined sticks.
  • Once they are firmly in place, don’t cut them – you’ll start weaving with the same color.
  • Going counter-clockwise, weave the thread over and under each stick, making a loop around each.
  • Once you have gone over and under all four, you have completed a round.
  • Change colors by tying a new thread onto the strand. Finish up by wrapping the sticks with the remaining thread.

Need a visual? Here’s an easy tutorial with video about making your God’s eye.

If you have little ones around, give it a shot! And this time, you can let them know what this Hispanic tradition means to the Huichol people.

Have you ever made a God’s eye? Tell us in the comments!

The Ox Carts of Costa Rica

What comes to mind when you think of Costa Rica? For most people, it’s the world-renowned beaches, majestic forests, and opportunities for adventure travel. But some of us who have visited, another image may come to mind: the historic painted ox carts.

While using oxen as draft animals is a tradition from the past in many countries, ox carts (carretas) in Costa Rica are indeed unique.

In fact, in 2005, UNESCO declared this tradition a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity; basically, an intangible World Heritage Site.

Originally used to transport coffee beans, the carts were designed for the humid climate, with spokeless wheels that were able to make across muddy roads.

Through trial and error, Costa Ricans eventually developed a unique design suited to the elements and rough roads, with triangular pieces of wood bound together within a metal band.

As is often the case in folk art, work implements became a canvas. The broad, flat wheels make a great showcase for those with an artistic bent, and in the early twentieth century, the tradition of decorating them began.

The ox carts of Costa Rica are recognizable by their bright designs with bold colors and unique patterns, which pay homage to the country’s flowers through stylized curlicues.

The Ox Carts of Costa Rica

The Ox Carts of Costa Rica

They are also highly geometrical and require experience and a steady hand.

While several Costa Rican towns claim to be the birthplace of traditional ox cart making, Sarchí is generally recognized as the home of this folk art form.

Sarchí is a tourist town that has store after store selling handicrafts whose patterns echo the distinctive colors, flowers, diamonds, and swirls of the Costa Rican ox carts. You can even take home an actual ox cart or wheel if you have room!

In recent years, the country has begun to promote the unique beauty – and tourist attraction – of this tradition.

In addition to Sarchí, tourists can also attend one of the various ox cart parades in the country, two of the most famous being in the capital San José and neighboring town Escazú, a safe and probably the nicest neighborhood in San José.

Both cities are near the airport, so timing a visit to coincide with an Entrada de Boyeros can add a different twist to your Costa Rica vacation.

It’s very impressive to see cart after decorated cart as hundreds of animals and their skilled masters make their way through town. Older life-long oxherds, young children, female oxherds – all come together to celebrate their animals and way of life.

The Ox Carts of Costa Rica come with a complete design for the carts and the yoke.

The Ox Carts of Costa Rica come with a complete design for the carts and the yoke.

Here is an interesting piece, the yoke, or yunta, which pairs the two oxen (bueyes), is specially made for that pair. In fact, artisans paint the yokes themselves to match the carts they pull.

Add that to the oxen, brushed and lovingly adorned with ribbons, and it becomes clear that the animals themselves are part of the artistic vision.

Unlike many traditions from rural life, oxherding in Costa Rica is still an agricultural practice. Many of those you will see in a parade actually use their carts and draft animals regularly.

Beyond just a colorful, joyful tribute to Costa Rica’s past, the events – and the carts themselves – are a testimony to the continuing importance of agriculture in a changing Costa Rica.

Even though there are many reasons to visit this country like to learn Spanish in Costa Rica or to do great surfing at Tamarindo beach, you should definitely take the time to visit the neighboring towns close to San José, specifically Sarchí and Escazú, to experience first hand the Ox cart tradition.

Have you seen ox carts first hand?  Let me know what you thought about this article.

What Is the Chicano Movement?

The 1960s were a critical and challenging time in the United States. While most of us associate them with the movement for civil rights for African Americans, they were also vital to the crusade for civil rights for Hispanic Americans: the Chicano Movement. In Spanish, we know it as El Movimiento.

The Chicano Movement started in the 1940s as the Mexican American civil rights movement.

The word “Chicano” (short for “Mexicano”) generally refers to people of Mexican origin and originally had a negative connotation, but was embraced by activists during the 1960s.

Since the U.S.-Mexican War, which finalized the border between the two countries, those of Mexican origin living in the United States had been subject to discrimination, on both sides of the border.

In fact, one of the most defining characteristics of the burgeoning Chicano Movement was the development of a collective political consciousness.

As Mexican Americans began to acknowledge the discrimination they faced, they also became more determined to work to change the situation.

The political actions of the Chicano movement targeted issues similar to the civil rights movement, such as education, voting, and political rights, but also issues unique to the community.

For example, César Chávez, perhaps the most famous Chicano activist, worked to improve the lives of farm workers.

A significant aspect of the movement was Chicano art. Much like in Mexico Chicano art used public art through the creation of murals, incorporating influences from both countries.

In the years since, the significance of Chicano art has continued to grow, expanding to forms such as novels, poetry, sculpture, and more.


Chicano Park Restoration 2011 in barrio Logan, San Diego, CA.

Current Chicano popular culture continues to reflect the importance of the visual arts. In fact, Chicano tattoos are a well-established form of this art form and are even the subject  in the Acclaimed Documentary on the History of Tattooing.

Some of the most distinctive characteristics of the Chicano tattoos are the black and grey color scheme as opposed to full-color tattoos.

Chicano tattoos began with the Pachuco culture (1940s and 1950s) and have since become more elaborate with a unique style. Often incorporating religious themes, they feature detailed portraits, as well as gothic-style fonts which are now associated with Chicano and graffiti art.

Given that the black and grey color scheme developed as a result of prison tattooing, these tattoos are also often associated with gang culture.

In terms of Latin Music, Chicano rap, closely related to Latin hip-hop, is a vibrant example of the current Chicano movement.

Mexican-American musicians generally are the ones who perform Chicano music incorporating aspects of the West Coast and Southwest U.S. Chicano culture.

While the current Chicano movement is different from that of its origins, it is clear that it continues to be a driving cultural force in the United States.

Although the movement achieved its major reforms in the 1960s and 1970s, with the increased interest in immigration reform in recent years, politics has again begun to play a significant role.

Constantly evolving, yet tied to its roots, the Chicano movement is much like the Hispanic people themselves.

I would love to hear what you think about the Chicano movement and its art and history.  Leave a comment below!