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January 2, 2019

7 Practices to Start Borrowing from Latin American Culture.

I love Mexicans.

My mom’s side of the family is Tex-Mex. They are a fun-loving, big-hearted, fierce and fabulous bunch of people. I also love Colombians, Guatemalans, Hondurans, El Salvadoreans, Nicaraguans, Costa Ricans, Panamanians, Ecuadorians, Peruvians, Chileans, Argentines, Uruguayans, Paraguayans, Belizeans, Bolivians, Cubans, Dominicans, Brazilians and Venezuelans–in other words, I love Latinxs!

I was inspired by this great post on Japanese culture to share some of the customs I’ve learned to adore and appreciate through my travels through Mexico, Colombia, El Salvador, Belize and Ecuador and, especially, my residency in Guatemala for the past decade. My life has changed dramatically for the better since adopting many of the following ways of the Latinos.

Viva el amor! May this list be of benefit.

More affection

“We need four hugs a day for survival. We need 8 hugs a day for maintenance. We need 12 hugs a day for growth.” –  Virginia Satir

Hugs reduce stress by showing support; help boost our immunity and heart health; generally make us happier; reduce fear and pain; and enable us to communicate our compassion and care for others non-verbally.

Latin Americans are great huggers. They will wrap you in a big, warm bear hug. Also, they are major kissers. Not only with regard to hot-and-heavy romantic kissing but also kisses on the cheek accompany just about every hello and goodbye.

Handshakes are for the frigid. Latinxs will get right up close and smooch one another on the cheek, even when meeting for the first time. If they are close friends or family, the hug and kiss come as a package deal.

I come from a culture (in the US] where hugs between teachers and students are prohibited because of illogical fear and shame. So, for me, at first, all this Latin American kissing and embracing sometimes seemed excessive. Over the years, I have grown to like it. Especially the hugs.

A looser definition of time

Most things in Latin America do not start on time. If the party invitation says 7 o’clock, no one will show up until 9. A Colombian “five minutes” can be an hour of actual clock time. Ahorita means right now, yet people say “ahorita voy,” [I’m going right now] when they are actually not going anywhere for at least another half hour.

Of course, there are some exceptions. Yoga classes and elementary school days start on time—ish. Mass starts on time, obviously. These folks are not kidding around about the Jesus worship. But the ubiquity of Catholicism and evangelical Christianity throughout Latin America is one of the things I least enjoy about the culture, so I will refrain from going on about it.

North Americans and other busy-bodies can learn at thing or two from the way Latinxs view time. Which brings me to my next point…

A slower pace of life

Overall, life is moves at the pace of molasses in Latin America. Things like dining at a restaurant take longer—because the service is slower and amigos will linger around longer for a chat before departing. The waitress will never, ever bring you the check until you ask for it.

Things like construction projects and official paperwork take longer, which can be irritating. Attaining permanent residency in Guatemala took a year and a multitude of annoying trips to the Immigration office in the capital.

Although government ineptitude and bald-faced corruption rule in Latin America, the same can now be said for Trump’s United States and the overall effect of the slower-motion culture is more mindfulness and appreciation for the vibrant colors, flavors and sounds of la vida.

Natural fruit juices

Despite the not-so-colorful typical fare here in my husband’s hometown in rural southern Colombia–white rice, potatoes, corn and chicken or red meat of some sort–the natural fruit juice served after every meal makes up for it.

There are amazing fruits here in Colombia that aren’t found in Guatemala, such as lulo, borojo and guanabana. Other fantastic fruits are available throughout Latin America that are hard to find in the US, like granadilla, maracuya and tree tomato. Fresh fruits are affordable and abundant, from mango to pineapple to papaya. Delicious and nutritious!

Family love and togetherness

Latino family bonds tend to be tenacious. Families get together. I have fond memories of annual family reunion barbecues in San Antonio and Los Angeles as a kid. My maternal grandfather, his four siblings and their multitude of descendants would get together every summer, alternating between Texas and California.

In many cases, adult children continue living under the same roof with their parents and grandparents their entire life, on the same street, or, at the very least, within a few blocks of one another in the same neighborhood.

In our “developed nation” where we so often move our elderly into retirement communities and nursing homes to live out the last years and days of their lives, the way that inter-generational Latino family units stay so closely bound together and care for one another is both practical and inspiring.

Hospitality and a stronger sense of community

When you show up at someone’s house for a visit in Colombia, pretty much at any hour of the day or night, they will offer you coffee or “aromatica,” hot herbal tea, along with a delicious sweet or savory bread. Even the “poorest” of Guatemalans, economically speaking, will invite you to a delicious dinner of corn tortillas, black beans and scrambled eggs.

People from the United States often don’t even know their next door neighbors. It could be argued that the lack of community and increase in isolation in our modern times is the foundation of much mental illness and poverty of spirit.

Music and dancing in the streets

Last but not least, Latin Americans are great dancers and love to play vivacious music at every opportunity. In Cali, Colombia, groups of decked-out salsa dancers in public parks are a common sight. Mariachis in Mexico liven up the streets and restaurantes. Even the more subdued Mayans in Guatemala play lively marimba in the plaza. While I’m not a fan of people blasting horrid reggaeton from their speakers, in general I do appreciate the musical sense of Latin American culturas.

Latinxs have rhythm and aren’t afraid to shake their hips and show off on the dance floor. We more inhibited white folks ought to follow their lead and let loose a little more, even if it’s only in the comfort and privacy of our own home.

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