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When a beso isn’t a kiss: integrating our cultures

Greeting with a beso

Photo: GettyImages

It was an awkward moment and we all felt it. My first official play date with a friend from school and Mami, upon meeting the girl’s mother, leaned in to plant an introductory beso on her cheek. The woman, a Chinese immigrant, was clearly taken aback and I felt the redness of embarrassment splash over my face. My friend smiled and whispered, “My mom does weird things like that all the time.” It was a gesture of solidarity. Our families eventually became friends and we girls bonded over the “oddness” of our immigrant parents. We forged a community.

Integration into a new culture requires more than just learning the language, as we all know. One must also learn the ways, las maneras, of the new people. Learn the ways of the natives and you can move fluidly among them. Learn the culture, and you can interact more easily with others and be part of an integrated society. And that’s ideal: an integrated society where people of all different maneras can come together and celebrate themselves and each other.

Not to say that getting to this promised land is easy. Moving between cultures is a bit of a minefield, isn’t it? It’s important to learn to avoid some sticky situations by being able to predict how a certain action will play out in a particular context. For example, perhaps I wouldn’t have been the recipient of the swift chancletazo of justice had I not spoken to my mother in the same way some of my non-Latino friends spoke to theirs. What I thought was an attempt to loosen up our relationship was viewed as disrespect for the Mami. And we all know, one cannot disrespect the Mami.

Imagine seizing the Latino teaching moment by giving out some knowledge nuggets. I wish I could have done that when I was teased for kissing my fingers after crossing myself. No need to feel embarrassed! Tell them:  lots of people all over Latin America do it this way. Mi barrio international.

What a great mosaic! I should have been proud that el Veeks was my mother’s favorite medicine. I was not alone. I should have shared the treasured knowledge of the great Vapo-rub. Just as I delighted in that lovely custom that my friends had of collecting wages from their parents in the form of allowances. I was all too happy to integrate into that particular U.S. tradition. “Que allowances ni que nada” my father explained when I first approached him with the idea. Eventually, he got to meet other parents who had already been tricked into this “wage for being children” program and he too slipped into this part of the society. Lucrative integration of cultures for me.

This is why multi-culturalism is so important and beneficial for the society as a whole! Among different communities and between social classes, sharing the wealth of our shared human experience enriches us all. When in Rome, do as the Romans, but add a little salsa!


About Adriana Villavicencio

Dr. Adriana Villavicencio is the youngest child of Ecuadorian immigrants. She has moved 29 times in her life, taking her on a journey from California to Bangalore, India, and New York City, where she recently earned a Ph.D. in Education Leadership and works as a Research Associate at New York University. An avid traveler, Adriana has collected experiences in four different continents and 16 different countries. But as a former high school English teacher, some of her fondest memories are those of her brilliant and brilliantly funny students in Brooklyn and Oakland. Adriana has contributed to several publications including the Daily News and, and is a managing editor for the Journal of Equity in Education. She earned a B.A. in English and an M.A. in English Education at Columbia University, and currently serves on the board of Columbia’s Latino Alumni Association (LAACU). She enjoys scary movies with red vines, Sauvignon Blanc, and her Maltese dog, Napoleon.

To learn more about Adriana’s education consulting company, please visit

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. Awkward besos

  2. When I was a little girls I hated that my mother expected me to kiss all her friends (esas viejas) hello. I repeatedly complained that I did not want to kiss people I did not know. My son however, always said he did not mind kissing my friends because they were pretty LoL.

  3. When we moved to El Paso 3 years ago, our family friends would hug/kiss us, even people we’ve never met or seen in years. It was awkward to me. Now, that I’ve lived here for a while, I’ve grown accustomed to it. I’m sure if I went home to IL, my friends would be wth?

  4. Every once in a while it happens to me. Some one reaches in for a friendly hug and I instinctively throw a beso in there. When Italian people do it, it’s expected… but I don’t think it’s as well known that Latinos have their own variation. lol

  5. Great article, Maitri! The benefits of living in a multicultural society is that you pick up the best aspects of each one. People learn to become more open minded and understanding towards each others customs, beliefs, and traditions and even go on to implement a few into their own lifestyles.

  6. When in doubt, I always greet people how they greet me. If someone just waves and says “hi” I’ll do the same.

  7. That’s the best way bryan anlas!

  8. Same here, Bryan. I play it safe and go with the handshake. Once I gain confianza with the person, if it’s a lady, I’ll go with the kiss, if it’s a guy, I’ll stick with the handshake and in most occasions a hug for both. Yeah, I’m a hugger. LOL!!!!

  9. I tend to invade people’s personal space with my touchy-feely self. In the office I am always respectful, but on my off-hours, you will get a hug and a kiss even if I’m meeting you for the first time.

  10. I extend my hand so that it can be kissed! (J/K!) LMAO! No tongue, please!

  11. I think the “hello kiss” is much less complicated than the “what up homie handshake” that seems to have endless variations (do I touch knuckles first? do the finger-slide?). When in doubt, I’d rather pucker up!

  12. Cause she had too much perfume on!

  13. Is very common in our Latino culture that we hug and kiss people, when we meet or when we see each other period. In Chinese culture, they do not liked to be touched by strangers. This was a new person for her this lady, she did not know her so she probably felt her space was invaded. For them is proper to shake hands, nod or bow. If it was a Chinese woman probably that probably adapted to the new culture, embraced some of the manerims, than she probably wouldn’t have felt that uncomfortable. But being that she was an immigrant, her traditions are very pure. I guess, keeping your distant and reading the cues of the other person would be appropriate before we jump in to hug someone or kiss someone. -I’m a hugger! LOL… but I have to watch myself.

  14. Because in her culture it’s too ” familiar” in our it’s openness, ….hot, abstractly their culture is cold per se, they don’t show open emotion often in public in this manner, thier culture is about showing or saving face, read Thick face black heart , or the Asain mind game to understand, this could be seen in Asia as a sign of weakness.

  15. I love our openness and love but, different people diffrent cultures, I was with a Koren girl in Santo Domingo and we were in Chinatown , I met an Chinese Dominican and she greeted me with like I was her son , besos and all , very warm. my asain freind said ” that woman is not Asain she is Latino I don’t care where her parents came from, that’s not Asain culture, we don’t do that , aren’t that warm to strangers” …..she was one of ours.

  16. roxana stachura says:

    I like the fact that Latinos are affectionate people. It shows in everything we do.

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