You know that stereotype about how we Latinos are overly emotional people? As is usually the case with stereotypes, it's just not true. Not in the case of my family, anyway. But with one glaring exception. I remember one balmy summer evening when I went to go see "The Joy Luck Club" with my mother, the perfect mother-daughter bonding film. By the end of the exceptionally touching movie, I was sobbing so hard we had to wait until the other patrons had left the theatre and I had wiped the trails…nay, four-lane highways, of mascara off of my cheeks. My mother just sat and stared from the seat next to me.
"Why do you do this to yourself?" she inquired.
"What do you mean?" I asked sniffling into the thirtieth tissue.
"I mean, if you know films like this do this to you, why would you put yourself through this?"
I just gaped at her. She really didn't get it. "Going through this" was exactly why I went to films. To feel, to think…to cry. "Mom," I attempted to explain, "I enjoy expressing my emotions! It was a wonderful touching movie and I am just honoring it!"
She shook her head and sighed. "Emotions like that are signs of weakness."
I glared back at her with fury.
"You have the same feelings, mother," (I always called her mother when I was angry, like she always used my middle name when she was pissed at me), "you just bury them and they come out in bad health. THAT is a sign of weakness!" The argument went on as we left the theatre and walked up Seventh Avenue, our raised voices echoing off the closed storefronts.
I have since had this same "discussion" with many people, mostly men, but all ending with the same "agreeing to disagree" conclusion. I just don't get it. I love to cry, laugh, yell, and express pretty much every emotion that blows through my psyche. There is such a feeling of relief to let them out, to guffaw in public or, yes, sob. A colleague and I were actually shooshed at an outdoor university gathering for laughing out loud. Yet people like my mother feel that bottling up is the best option. Hell, I'm not sure where my cap even is, so bottling is out of the question for me.
And how do I feel this differs from gender to gender? Personally I don't think there's much sexier than a man who can cry. I mean really, there is a time and a place for the, “Oh come on! Suck it up and deal!” attitude, but there are other occasions that beg for a tender expression of emotions, and I don’t just mean funerals. Though my husband is literally the strongest person I’ve ever met, he cried at the birth of our son, Carlos, and I have never loved him more. However when Carlos broke his wrist and I was away at a writers’ residency, I knew that he was the best parent for the situation. Though I am clearly better at the empathy side of parenting, our son really needed his father’s, “Okay, cry for awhile, then suck it up and deal” type of crisis management. If I had been there I fear my husband just would have been taking care of us both as I am never more emotionally raw than when it comes to my kid. But in general it serves me quite well in parenting and the rest of my life. I get as excited as Carlos does when we go to the Champlain Valley Fair, or the new Harry Potter book comes out. When I cry, he holds me. When he cries, I hold him. And we laugh…God we laugh…
So go ahead and bury the emotions my friends, stiffen your upper lip when Bambi's mother is killed and titter into your hand at the latest Jib Jab short, but I'll be a few rows back sobbing and guffawing with the other "overly emotional" folk. All I ask is that you don't make judgments about the strength of our personalities based on our display of emotions. You might be surprised just how tough we cry babies turn out to be.