I know, this sounds odd. Actually, this sounds VERY odd but you have to hear me out on this one and I'm sure that many Latino's will know what I am talking about. That or you'll laugh it off, but either way, stick around and I'm sure you'll catch my drift.
There was always one Sunday of the month that I dreaded. It felt like Report Card day but worse because it was at home. The dreaded "Latina Cleaning Day". For those that didn't grow up with a Latin mother, allow me to enlighten you. For me, this Sunday would consist of being woken up at 9:30am to the sound of my mom bursting through my bedroom door, yelling at my brother and I to clean up our rooms and to help clean the rest of the house. Sadly, I sleep like a ninja and am semi-awake five steps before she gets to my door. My brother? He just snoozed away, none the wiser. Lucky bastard. Laundry was being done, the bathroom was being cleaned till all the white shined (having a predominantly white bathroom sucked), and my bedroom went from Ground Zero to... NOT so Ground Zero. Music will be playing all day of course. The apartment would be swarmed by the sounds of "Secret Love" album 4. Richard Marx, the Bee Gees... all love, all the time.
This is how mom liked to clean much to my chagrin. I did appreciate the Sunday's though where I listened to Jose Luis Perales, Jose Jose and Julio Iglesias, made me appreciate my roots. Y como es el... dan dan dannnnn... En que lugar se enamoró de tiiii (C'mon, you know you just sang it too, don't front.)
While those dreaded Sunday's happened pretty much throughout my whole adolescent life, I never realized what my Mom was doing. How could I? She was the parent and I was not. I had no clue what her endgame was. Mom was actually preparing me to do things that I didn't necessarily like but knew had to be done. Laundry, clean dishes, clean the dreaded bathroom. Learn how to fold clothes and sheets properly along with towels of varying sizes. She would also tell me "Tienes que saber acer estas cosas. Asi, cuando es hombre, no vas a necesitar una mujer para que te lave la ropa." Learn these skills so, as a man, you won't need a women to wash your clothes. She was right. I fold clothes like it's nobody's business (though this skill is attributed to the manic life of retail at the Gap.)
In my teens, I began to grow a curiosity with cooking. Watching my mother cook rice for dinner was always interesting (though I was really just in there to see when the rest of the meal was done.) Slowly but surely, I took enough mental notes in my head to begin cooking rice. Not in a rice cooker; throwback style in a steel pot with water, salt, patience and time. I eventually became the rice cook of the house (though her rice will always be better than mine.) I learned to cook fried corn, make milanesa (of the steak AND chicken variety), I mastered mashed potatoes and continued to grow my personal menu with the assistance of the Food Network.
My mom let me have at the kitchen whenever I was inspired and let me do my thing (with a watchful eye to make sure nothing burned or was over seasoned.) She let me rock and I became quite the personal cook. Not a chef by any means, but I can throw down a mean Spaghetti and Meatballs now. Mom was proud and yet, in retrospect, I see what she was doing. She let me improve these creative muscles in her kitchen on her dime so that I can be a self-sufficient person. One who doesn't need someone to cook and clean for them.
In typical Latino culture, the daughters are taught the secret recipes and all the special dishes so that they can keep their men happy, their family's fed and pass along the knowledge of the kitchen to their daughters and so forth. Daughters are shown the miracle effects of Vivaporu (Vicks Vapor Rub for those in the know) and how it can cure most things.
Whatever wasn't cured by Vivaporu was quickly eradicated with some Agua Florida (you either know the stuff or you don't.) Nowadays, daughters are taught all these things to be strong, independent Latina's. Go-getters that don't need a man but when they get one, he'll appreciate all her knowledge of Arroz con Pollo and how to keep Chuletas moist when fried.
I was taught these things. As a man. My mother took the "traditional" Latin culture and turned it on its head. She taught me how to be like her. Strong. Independent. Someone who doesn't need anyone for anything. A person who can get by on their own steam and if things became difficult, keep pressing forward. My determination came straight from her when she was down and out and my father had just passed away while I was just a babe and my brother no more than 7 years old. My confidence came from her. My ability to persevere through tough times came from her because, buddy, she has had her time in the darkness.
What my mom did and how I grew up makes me appreciate my wife for who she is and what she does for me. She does my laundry and makes sure I have dinner every night for myself and my daughter. Anyone in this position can easily just call and order out but she likes us to have home cooked food. I can cook for myself, I can do my own laundry but her doing it makes me appreciate her that much more. I appreciate her actions and don't expect them like your archetype of a male Latino would. She also cleans the bathroom... which is beyond awesome.
Whether my mom knew it or not, she raised a new type of Alpha male. One who can hunt, gather, cook, clean and nurture when needed. I was raised a strong, independent Latina and have grown into an intelligent, appreciative Latino. Thanks mom.
(As seen originally posted on Medium)