Los Saludos & Bodily Autonomy: The Intersection of Discomfort and Cultural Norms
To Latinos, cheek kisses and warm embraces are staple gestures in our culture. We love to show love and receive it as well. As adults, we understand the value of “los saludos” and how much these gestures mean to our friends, family and neighbors.
But to children, these forms of affection are saved for special people who make them feel comfortable. When we force our children to demonstrate affection when they are reluctant, we are sending a dangerous message that their comfort takes a back seat to what the adults in their lives want from them. According to Defend Innocence, this makes children vulnerable to becoming victims of sexual abuse.
Many of us can look back at our childhoods and pinpoint memories of being forced to kiss or hug that one adult that gave us the creeps. Whether it be an old Tía, a creepy family acquaintance, or a complete stranger at a party, many of us learned early on that we had to say our uncomfortable hellos one way or another unless we wanted to face the fury of angry parents and feel the discomfort of being “una malcriada.”
While these lessons in humility and politeness carved us into the pleasant adults we are today, our parents did not realize the dangerous notions they were forcing upon us at an early age.
In 2019 and in the midst of the Me-Too Movement, the ideas of consent and bodily autonomy are at the forefront and in the crosshairs of an important and previously overlooked discussion. How much of our children’s’ bodily autonomy are we forcing them to give up just to perpetuate the traditions of los saludos? Are we placing the irrelevant feelings of adults above the feelings of control and worthiness of our children? These questions are important for us to analyze for the sake of our children.
Of course, none of this means that we need to raise rude children who never say hello. As a new mother, I am willing to be flexible and allow my daughter to say hello to people by other means. Handshakes, high fives or simple waves should suffice and of course, if she feels the need to kiss and hug adults that she feels comfortable with, she can do so. What I will not do, is force her to show affection when she does not want to. My child’s feelings of control and worthiness are more important than maintaining a cultural ritual that could potentially put her at risk later on.
Personally, I have lost count of the family parties I have attended in my lifetime. What I can recall however, is being a shy child who quivered at the idea of being forced to show affection to people when I had no genuine desire to. Whether it was a Fourth of July cookout, a baby shower or a birthday party, the feeling of dread would come over me as the moment of having to say hello by kiss and hug to people who I barely knew drew closer and closer. To this day, I hate being late to functions in hopes to avoiding the dreaded ritual of saying hello to every single person who arrived before me. While I am not a psychologist, I wouldn’t be surprised if this reaction is a direct consequence of being forced to show affection when I did not want to.
Upholding cultural rituals for future generations is important, however, there is nothing wrong with changing up the status quo especially when it means keeping our children safe from unwanted physical advances. When we raise our children to be confident, respectful and independent, they are less likely to be taken advantage of. Adults need to respect the wishes of you as a parent and your child. Next time let your child wave hello to the old creepy Tia and watch them sigh in relief knowing that you’ve listened to and respected their desires.
What were your experiences as a child giving los saludos?
Images Courtesy of: Charlein Gracia | Unsplash