THE BLOG

What Else Don't I Know About My Latin American Heritage?

A movie about the Day of the Dead inspired me to examine the traditions my family adopted, altered and abandoned.

01/30/2018 10:14 EST | Updated 01/30/2018 10:14 EST
Lucitania Robles

After watching the movie Coco, the Pixar animated film about the Day of the Dead, I thought the concept of honouring your dead relatives was so endearing. How wonderful to keep their memory alive! It got me wondering about my experience growing up as a second-generation child in Canada, where I often observed many different cultural practices within my family. As an adult, some of those practices I adopted, some I altered and some I abandoned.

Lisa Robles

When I was in Catholic elementary school, we were always surrounded by religion in some capacity. Our Christmas in those days was more religion-based, but as time went on, it became more secular. At my house, we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 24 — and still do. The Canadian kids in my class would celebrate on the 25th.

Recently, I asked my father about dia de los reyes (the Epiphany). He mentioned that in some Spanish-speaking countries, especially Spain and Mexico, people would leave their Christmas trees up to remember the Three Kings that visited Jesus when he was born and brought him gold, frankincense and myrrh. Some kids even got more gifts. Some Spanish-speaking cultures, including in Ecuador, would bake roscas — a type of sweet bread — and eat it. In some places they would even hide a Baby Jesus figurine in it, and if you found it, you were the lucky one! We never had either of these customs in our home.

I felt a bit cheated in my Latin American cultural experience.

New Year's Eve celebrations in Canada were pretty standard. People would come over, there would be drinks, music, dancing, and a big hug- and kiss-fest when the clock struck midnight. One year, I went to Ecuador with my family and I saw a whole other world to New Year's Eve. Guys were dressed up like la viuda del año viejo (the widow of the old year) and they would cry and ask for money — all tongue in cheek, of course. People were furiously buying año viejos (paper maché representations of the year that had gone by) to, get this, burn them in the streets! So you would have, for example, unpopular political figures for adults and cartoon characters for the kids. I found this fascinating.

Easter in my house was a somber time. Even though closer to my adulthood it became more secular, we would still not eat meat on Good Friday and would watch movies of Jesus being crucified. One day, I was speaking to a co-worker whose family had been in Canada for several generations, and she mentioned that she was buying gifts for Easter. I was puzzled and asked her why. She mentioned that they would hide Easter eggs and toys around the house and the kids would go through the house to find them. The gifts were an early gift for cottage-ing in the summer.

Lucitania Robles

One particular cultural aspect that my parents didn't push, and even though I would have hated it at the time, was a quinceañera (a young woman's coming of age or Sweet 15). We didn't celebrate a sweet 16 either, but maybe they didn't know about this.

More Born And Raised on HuffPost Canada:


Curious after watching Coco, I asked my father if honouring the dead was something that was done in Ecuador. From what I can vaguely recall, people in Ecuador appeared strangely comfortable moving in and out of cemeteries, so I was pretty certain they did honour the dead. My father said that, yes, they did celebrate the Day of the Dead, but it was not as extravagant as the Mexican customs.

At that moment, I felt a bit cheated in my Latin American cultural experience. Sure, we didn't have dead relatives in cemeteries here in Canada, that was besides the point: my parents never even mentioned it. What else am I missing?!

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by HuffPost Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. If you have a story you want to share to be featured on Born and Raised, please email us at bornandraised@huffingtonpost.com.

Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook

Also on HuffPost: