10/09/2018 13:04 EDT | Updated 10/09/2018 13:21 EDT

The Latin American Customs I Grew Up With In Canada

Did these customs develop as a form of keeping good, harmonious relationships and having the ability to count on each other?

Lisa Robles

I was travelling in Cuba recently and I heard a man whistling for his wife or family, trying to get their attention. I remember my mom doing this whistle calling with us as small children. When she would call us in from playing outside or calling for my dad. It made me think back to other customs silently occurring within my family.


When our parents would invite company over, we had to stop what we were doing and start the long line of greeting each other with a hello and a kiss on the cheek (usually right cheek to right cheek). Then we were free to go. This would also happen when the guests were leaving.

Interestingly, I did notice differences with other cultures growing up. Italian friends did one kiss on each cheek and Persian friends did three alternating kisses on the cheeks.


Whenever my family and I would go back to Ecuador to visit, my mom would always get gifts together for people who she would be seeing. It was common to bring Canadian T-shirts, fashion jewelry, liquor, or gold as gifts. The items would be exchanged at some point in the evening while visiting someone's home for dinner and catching up. Sometimes, my parents would send items with other family members who were travelling to Ecuador.

Family that has come to visit Canada has done the same.


Growing up, my dad had nicknames for all of us. When he used them, it was always in endearing ways and seemed very normal to me. We were: Flaca, Gorda, Negro, and Negra. Literally translated, it may sound insulting, but it isn't meant to be.

Lisa Robles

As well, it's not uncommon to hear lovers calling each other: mi amor or mi vida, literally, my lover or my life.

In other instances, family members names I thought were their names were actually nicknames. Chabella was actually Isabella, Antuco is Federico, Cocha was Hilda, Michunga is Mercedes and the list goes on. I only discovered this recently while doing my family tree online.

See a more inclusive list here.

Whistle Language

Back to the whistle calling. I think this is a great way to find your family in a crowded place. When I visited Ecuador, each family seemed to have their own style of whistling that their family could identify.

In looking further into this, it appears like some remote areas in Latin America (and a handful of other places around the world) use a more complex form of whistle language to actually communicate longer phrases between each other. An example of this complex whistle language is in the Oaxaca mountainous region. Perhaps this developed due to large distances between people.

Did these customs develop as a form of keeping good, harmonious relationships and having the ability to count on each other?

Over time these Latin American customs I grew up with, even calling your kids down to greet guests, seems to have died down for us in Canada. In circles where Spanish-speaking friends are the majority I see some customs more often; perhaps they are more recent new-comers. I'm grateful that I can be reminded to keep up the cultural affection with my own son.

What Latin American customs that you grew up with do you not see a lot of these days?

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