Breaking the Unwritten Latina Rules


Nathalia Ortiza and her friend Lisa Fernandez discuss the perils of being single, Latina and over 30.

If you’re over 30 and you’re single, Catholic and female, there’s only one more ingredient that could make for a combustible “cosmo-mojito” cocktail: being Latina. I was born and raised in the U.S. but when it comes to dating, the fact that I’m technically American means nothing to my very Cuban aunt. Up until a few years ago she and several of the women in my Hispanic family hypothetically shopped for the dresses they would wear to my hypothetical wedding. Whether I had a boyfriend or not didn’t matter, because to my traditional family, romantic life is like the setting on your Facebook account: You’re only allowed to choose from a pre-established menu. And if you happen to fall into the “single” or “it’s complicated” category… let’s just say it may create buzz worthy of votive candle lighting and prayer to the Virgin of Charity in El Cobre (patroness of Cuba).

If you come from the typical Hispanic family, getting married before you hit 30 is an unwritten rule you’re bound to. Older Hispanics don’t usually understand that dating today is not the same as it was in their time. I’m sure other cultures experience generational differences too, but Hispanics are blessed/cursed with being traditional and intrusive. This makes your single status a reason to be singled out.

To my traditional family, romantic life is like the setting on your Facebook account: You’re only allowed to choose from a pre-established menu. And if you happen to fall into the “single” or “it’s complicated” category… let’s just say it may create buzz worthy of votive candle lighting and prayer to the Virgin of Charity in El Cobre.

Our elders forget that today’s generations of singles overwhelmingly come from broken homes (Hispanic–Americans not excluded) making us prone to commitment-phobia. Factor in that, from the time we’re learning to say our “Ave Marias,” we’re strongly encouraged to pursue the American dream our parents left their countries for. Then, our high school guidance counselors indoctrinate us to get a higher education and be career-minded. Add in a little something we want — financial stability and self-exploration — and the pressure is on.

When my grandparents married in Havana almost 60 years ago, the only item to check off their “marriage prep” list was love. In fact they didn’t even have a reception. They married when my grandmother was about 18 and (as newlyweds) took in my grandfather’s elderly mother. Perfect circumstances or not, they’re still at it today; and they’re still in love. That is why they struggle to understand how someone past the age of 25 — especially a woman — can be single. That is why sometimes I struggle with it too. They set the bar high. And sometimes I’m not sure the reasons we give for postponing marriage are anything more than a red herring designed to disguise and rationalize our fears and inadequacies to ourselves.

No one in my family has ever actually said they’ve given up on me getting married. All I know is that my very fashionable aunt’s wardrobe talks no longer include mention of my nuptials. She’s moved on to fantasizing over what she deems a sooner-occurring event: the wedding of my 19-year-old cousin.