There’s a gorgeous ceramic Day of the Dead figurine, La Catrina, looking down on me. Her name’s Lily, as her dress is patterned in black-and-white lilies. She’s reminding me not only that her special holiday approaches, but to take a moment to appreciate National Hispanic Heritage Month. After all, I’ve married into this heritage.
My husband is Mexican American, born in El Paso, Texas. You could call him an “anchor baby,” if in some corners that phrase might be sneered as a pejorative. He’s certainly my anchor.
A racist might consider him a lesser American than me, because he’s first generation American, while I’ve got potato-famine-era Irish roots from New York. And because I’m as pasty white as they come. The irony is that my husband was born in the United States; I was not.
Marrying into Hispanic culture was something of a surprise to me.
I’ve learned that when you get involved with someone of a different race/ethnicity, there are often assumptions of some kind of fetish. While I’ve fielded an “Ooo, you like Latin boys, huh??” dozens of times, I’ve seen the same reception of anyone in a “mixed” match. I suppose there sometimes is a fetish. Were you to line up all the guys I’ve ever lived with, however, you’d see variations on vanilla.
At least, my first serious-and-consummated crush was a Puerto Rican Jew, perhaps owing to my fondness for Juan Epstein during adolescent years watching Welcome Back, Kotter. Notably, the actor playing Juan, Robert Hegyes, actually claimed Hungarian-Italian ancestry. Maybe Jewish, but not Latinx. Possibly, I am guilty of fetishizing Middle Eastern men. Puberty was hitting full force while living in Tunisia, so it’s hardly a puzzle. But Fernando is the first Latino with whom I’ve had a serious relationship, much less married.
With the white boys, my world expanded to include the Pennsylvania Farm Show and a Mayflower descendant. Nothing too exotic. Fernando welcomed me into a world that continues to teach me. So much of his family, from El Paso to Albuquerque to San Diego, have also welcomed me warmly. He has a big family.
And he does a much better job of keeping in touch with kin than I do. Is that cultural? I don’t know. No tribe is monolithic, certainly. And there are no rules claiming any identity. Still, I do feel possibly tighter bonds within his family. My family is wonderful, certainly, but a bit more laissez-faire.
What is unarguably Hispanic is the cooking. Early on, Fernando tried to convince me that Mexican cooking didn’t routinely feature garlic or onions. What? Turns out that was how he was raised. These otherwise awesome alliums can too easily cause heartburn in his family tree. So, hardly a cultural trait, but a familial one. But now we’re both on heartburn medication and one of our especialidades de la casa is our Hatch green-chili chicken enchiladas, full of garlic and onions.
The Hatch, N.M., piece also illustrates the culture I married. New Mexico is a big part of our domestic brand. While my husband was born in El Paso, he and his three siblings, as well as my late mother-in-law, Blanca, all graduated from the University of New Mexico. Go Lobos! (There are maybe a half dozen college mascots I know, and now UNM’s is one of them.)
The religion component is also curious. Hispanic culture has no specific religion. There is no denying, however, that there’s loads of Catholic influence. That should be familiar to me. Fernando and I were both raised Catholic. But it’s still been so different. A Catholic funeral in my family is over and done in an afternoon. In Fernando’s family, it’s easily a three-day affair. At least it’s familiar enough that, even in Spanish, I know when I’m supposed to sit, stand, or kneel.
Among my favorite initiation nuggets has been learning an inside joke. Though I’m using “inside” loosely. I’m told that nearly anyone in New Mexico would understand this:
What do you call a guy from Española with one leg shorter than the other? Not even.
Even if you could hear me doing the accent, for the uninitiated, it falls flat. But damn if the El Paso nieces don’t think it’s hilarious when I tell it. And damn if my heart doesn’t warm a bit when they call me tío.
Across these 20-plus years of our relationship, it has been such a privilege to be brought into an extended family whose culture is rich and vibrant and joyous. Of course, Fernando has been fully welcomed into my own family. Honestly, I can’t blame many of them for seeming to appreciate him over me. He really is very charming.
The diversity of our species is wondrous. Having sprung from a single source, to migrate to all the corners of our planet and evolved, to now be reintegrating into a human whole is life-affirming. Should you be lucky enough to enjoy some measure of that in your own life, savor it. Growth is the purpose of life, and Hispanic culture has nurtured so much of mine. Muchas gracias, mi familia.
Will O’Bryan is a former Metro Weekly managing editor, living in D.C. with his husband. He is online at www.LifeInFlights.com.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!