We recently celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), which celebrates the presence and heritage of Hispanics in the U.S. Our Hispanic heritage is a cultural pyramid of sorts, encompassing a unique blend of Spanish/European and native beliefs, mores, and customs. And at the foundation of that pyramid is the family, without which the whole structure would crumble and fall. The Hispanic family unit and its values continue to be of significant importance even in the modern world.
For many Hispanics, doing one's family duty is an important way to honor Hispanic heritage. Like the mortar that keeps the stones in place, family duty is a dominant feature in both career and lifestyle choices. The man's duty is to be the provider, the father, the procreator, and the family authority. Importantly, his children will carry on the family name and line. The woman's duty is primarily as mother, then as wife, housekeeper, and occasional worker outside the home, but only to supplement the family income -- even when she may be the family breadwinner. Children are brought up to carry on this tradition: Be dutiful sons and daughters and stay close to the family net.
For many first-generation Hispanics in the U.S., the culture, cuisine, and customs of their homeland continue to dominate. They eat their kind of food, shop in Latino-oriented markets, live in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods, and work and mingle with other Hispanics, but modern American culture inevitably penetrates their defenses, usually through the vehicle of their kids.
So what happens if a child is gay? Are they a misfit, rebel or outsider?
Yesterday's gay son would have been forced to either marry a woman or enter the Church. Today's gay son is still a part of the family, but Hispanic parents, especially fathers, may be disappointed in, or even enraged by, his sexual orientation. To the father, he might not live up to the macho Hispanic male ideal, and might be seen as a setback in a culture that values male offspring.
A lesbian daughter might be a different issue. Many Latino families see it as just a phase that she is going through. They believe that she will get over it once she finds the right man and settles down.
Furthermore, many Hispanics still tend to have a stereotypical idea of what it is to be gay or lesbian. If the son is masculine, then it's assumed that he can't be gay, and if the girl is feminine, then it's assumed that she can't be a lesbian.
And in the Latino community, a son's or a daughter's sexual orientation is often seen as a reflection on the parents. To them, the "wrong" sexuality could mean that their child is sick or got in with a degenerate crowd. Parents pray as they blame themselves for not doing something to stop it earlier. The main worry for such parents is that there will be no grandchildren to carry on their line and their name.
And don't even mention the possibility of a bisexual child. For many, the word alone means "degenerate." For others, there is no such identity, only "straight," "gay," or "lesbian." Many Hispanics may say, "I don't believe in bisexuality," or, "Bisexuals are perverts/sex addicts/sick/kinky," or shake their heads as if it's a dirty word.
I am a Hispanic bisexual woman. I am also a psychotherapist, a mother, and a grandmother of eight. I am proud of my Hispanic heritage, proud that I can love regardless of gender, and proud that I'm no longer constricted by outdated norms and rules.
As a girl growing up in an upper-middle-class family in 1950s and '60s Mexico City, I was told that my mission in life was to get married and become a good housewife and mother. When my mother discovered that I was friends with a lesbian, she said, "Better to be a whore than a lesbian," broke up the friendship, and packed me off to a convent. I acceded to her wishes, married a man, settled down, and had children. Then I divorced. Then I had a long, passionate relationship with a woman that we kept secret; if it had been known, I would have become a social pariah, and my children as well. Hiding our relationship was painful and unnatural. After we broke up, I had an affair with a man. I married again, finding that it was less complicated to lead a straight-appearing life for 20 years. Now I go out with whomever I want to. For me, it is and has always been the person and not the gender that matters.
Why is sexuality such a misunderstood topic among Hispanics? Ignorance rather than intolerance is the primary factor. All of us Hispanics -- straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender -- share the same proud heritage. We are all part of that pyramid, the ground stones, and the mortar that form our Hispanic tradition. Looking back on this recent Hispanic Heritage Month, I find that the one thing that lacked was a celebration of the fact that we can now be free to love whomever we want. Tough Hispanic culture has been slow to embrace it, it is happening. To see Hispanics become more informed is why I am celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month. To see my culture throw out old stereotypes makes me even prouder of where I came from and where we are going.