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When Joining A Hispanic Family, Watch Out For The “Chancla”

Loving each other starts and ends with respect.

Six years ago or so, it became clear that we would be able to get married. Like – officially. The long-time Chief Judge of the 7thCircuit, where we reside, had just authored a landmark decision that ‘traditional values’ weren’t justification enough to keep gays from the pleasures and pains of marriage that everyone else enjoys. WOW! We could be a family! The next day, my Hispanic partner knelt before me and I said, ”Yes.”

My joy quickly turned to fear. I was daunted by the family I was marrying into. There were 7 new parent- and siblings-in-law (+ two spouses and three or four ex’s), 8 nieces and nephews, more than a dozen new tias (aunts) and tios (uncles), scores of primos (cousins), and a stern abuela (grandma) whose views on traditional family values were well-known. What would they think of me – a white, corn-fed city lawyer whose family never had to run from La Migra (Immigration) – interloping to prune a branch of the family tree?

Would I be considered one of the girls – hanging out with the women, cooking huge meals, running family affairs and calling guys “papi”? Or worse, would I emasculate one of their men – would their Army vet son become a Dandy? I didn’t think they would hate me, of course, but those stereotypes drove my fears.

I needed help and my hopes soon landed on my two soon-to-be brothers-in-law, who had married into the clan and knew what it would take to be accepted. Problem was, they were both first-generation Americans and their English wasn’t up to ‘chummy brother-in-law’ yet. Neither was my Spanish.

Thankfully they saw the fear on my face and at the next party, they sidled up to me with a beverage and we muddled through in Spanglish. The only word I would need to know, they told me, was “chancla.”



A slipper? Really? Like a flip-flop? A sandal?

“Sí. Chancla.”

If someone shouts “CHANCLA!”, they explained, that means “DUCK!” Someone has gotten so mad at you that footwear was hurtling towards your head.

So, stay away from anything that will weaponize footwear? That’s it? Yup. The family would accept the deviation from “traditional values” because you love their son. But you have to respect that. If it’s a melting pot, you’re the new ingredient. Be the man… or the woman. Or both. It doesn’t matter. Be faithful. Don’t gay it up too much around the kids – that is, don’t make it awkward for the parents to melt a different flavor of love into the family. Go to church sometimes and become a padrino (godfather). Stay employed. Be there for the family. Cook if you want to, grill if you can, but don’t suggest store-bought flour tortillas are “fine,” ever. (If they’re not made with masa, they’re not tortillas!) Above all else, respect the family the way it’s respecting you.

That, to me, is love. It starts and ends with respect. Mutual, earned, respect. IMHO, the world would be a better place if we all learned to respect each other’s chanclas more.

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@Jeff Fuhrman Cook if you want to, grill if you can, but don’t suggest store-bought flour tortillas are “fine,” ever. (If they’re not made with masa, they’re not tortillas!) - Ahhh yes, I can vividly hear my mothers voice saying this to me, so true! Thank you for sharing your story. Coming from a Hispanic household has really taught me to respect each other's chanclas.

Adilio Alfaro
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