Sorta Latin

Note: This a cross post from

In my experience, white, Dutch Americans typically lumber into a dance with rusty, jerky, mechanical movements that resemble tin men without the grease (anyone ever see Dutch Dancing?). It’s a natural condition, no doubt fostered by a Calvinist/puritan roots skeptical of displaying too much emotion and a climate of cold mid-western winters that discourage displays of passion.  But, although it is a natural condition, it can be changed with persistent practice and a healthy appreciation for beat and rhythm.

Last Monday Ren and I had a double date with Jeff and Kristen. We went Salsa dancing. It’s part of our concerted effort to seek out latin cultured everythings. I am acutely aware of the difficulties of maintaining our daughters’ Latin American roots in Cincinnati.

My 17 year-old self learning to dance Lambada in Brazil

Anyway, we danced Salsa. Or tried to. I was having problems with my hips. They wanted to take my torso along for the ride. This, apparently, was a no no.

Before folks think I’m just a funny, skinny looking guy trying to dance I want to mention that I’m a halfway decent dancer (or at least not terrible).  My year in Brazil was one long, continuous dance (samba, lambada, foho). When Ren and I started dating we frequently went swing dancing (popular for a brief period of time in the late 90s). I can feel a beat and follow it.

Still, since moving to Cincinnati we’ve had such little opportunity for Latin dance. We were rusty. And, listening to the Porto Rican band play that evening, I realized I’ve grown rusty in many ways.

I love Latin America. This love began when, at 16, I spent a year living in Brazil. Since then I’ve studied in Chile, backpacked and hitchhiked through through the Andes, gotten lost in Jesuit ruins in Argentina, graduated with a degree in Latin American Studies, asked Ren to marry me on a beach in Brazil, taught History in Spanish to ESL students in Houston, and, now, am adopting two girls from Colombia. The people, the languages, the history, the beaches and the mountains, the stories and songs.  I love them all. I’ve often joked that mi corazon es latino (or the Brazilian version “minha coracao e brasilero”).

Yet these past few years have felt so, I don’t know, middle American. Part of this is because Cincinnati, while a great city, is not necessarily a mecca for latino immigrants (and, of course, any place that lacks “the other” tends to have greater xenophobic views of them). I rarely speak Spanish. It’s hard to come by a decent taqueria. There tends to be a rather narrow world view.

Before adopting I was somewhat at peace with this. We still get 3 month off out of the year. We can travel to other places (indeed, Ren and I had planned to go to Brazil this summer before – happily – finding out about the girls). I would have to work harder at engaging my Latino interests, but I could get by.

Now it’s different. I don’t want my daughters to loose their identification (and my identification?) with their Latina roots. While certainly not the most pressing issue (bonding and attachment definitely take precedent), it’s an issue that sits on the back burner.

Our identity as a family is changing. I’m thrilled and happy with the change, but I wonder what it all means. Is there a wise way to do this? How important – their Colombian roots – will it be to them? What is Ren and my relation to Colombia now? Are we obligated to keep abreast of its current events and its culture? Is creating opportunities with other Latinos the same as creating opportunities with Colombians?

Just some random thoughts that pop up from the back of the mind.