My Mexican daughter-in-law: the bride wore green and white and red

articles Living, Working, Retiring

Maggie Van Ostrand

A Balloon in Cactus

“Be careful what you wish for,” they say, “you might get it.” That may be true most of the time, but not this time.

My son has given me what I wished for — he just married a Mexican girl!

Keiko was born and raised in Mexico City to Japanese and Mexican parents. She was sent to the U.S. to watch over her sister who had come to California, stayed, and subsequently married a Northamerican.

How warm and loving is a family which sends one daughter to a strange land to look after another. I’m more used to the dysfunctional family and, in fact, don’t recall ever meeting a functional family in my entire life. But I liked Keiko’s entire clan right away, even though I hadn’t met them yet.

Family values in Mexico are similar to those family values practiced in the U.S.A. at the turn of the 20th century. Respect, love, discipline. I had seen a great deal of romantic restraint when I first moved to Mexico, doubtless attributable to the high standards taught Mexican girls and the even higher standards set for the men they marry.

One of my favorite stories is the one where three village boys were sent north to Los Angeles to spend the summer with their cousins. When they returned to Ajijic, they were dressed in beltless, baggy cutoffs that hung down around their hips, torn t-shirts, a baseball cap worn to the side over doo rags, and dirty Nikes with untied laces that dragged on the dusty ground. They thought they were hip, slick, and cool and dreamed of all the girls who would surely throw themselves at what they thought were fashionably shod feet. This kind of thinking caused them to seriously underestimate the power of Mexican standards.

In response to this “new look,” the girls committed Mexico’s answer to Lysistrata, the story of a group of Greek women who withheld sex until their men stopped going to war.

No Mexican girl would go out with them.

Ultimately, the boys had to take these low-fashion garments, burn them, and dress again as they had before, in clean trousers, with shirts and ties. Only then was the interest of the girls rekindled.

I hope a few of the old Mexican traditions will survive the 21st Century, like the paseo. That’s the one where unmarried village girls walk round and round the zócalo while unmarried boys circle in the opposite direction. This enables them to check each other out right there in public, which certainly beats the secretive doorway romances that we now see on sultry summer evenings. Winter, too.

As for Jason and Keiko, theirs is an old-fashioned romance. On Christmas Eve day when Keiko’s parents were in California visiting her sister, Jason went to ask her elderly, hard-of-hearing father for her hand in marriage.

My son, using every Spanish word he knew, said “Keiko y yo want to get married.” (Here he mimed slipping a ring on his finger) “Yo asking for permission, por favor.” (I confess to loving this part of the story because Jason is the only person I know whose Spanish is worse than mine.)

Anyway, Keiko’s father ran into the living room and spoke to his Mexican wife half in Japanese, half in Spanish, which she translated in her head into all Spanish. She then went into the kitchen and in Spanish, told Keiko’s sister what had been said. In her head, the sister translated the Spanish to English, rushed into the room where Jason sat waiting, and said to him in English, “My father says, “What??”

This amusing tale will surely stand the test of time, no matter which country it’s told in. We’ve gotten a lot of mileage out of it already.

To have respect for the one you love, as Jason has for Keiko, is a very fine thing. To be a part of Keiko’s family, as we now are, is another.

Next time someone tells me, “Be careful what you wish for, you might get it,” I’ll simply smile and say, “It worked for me.”

Published or Updated on: May 1, 2003 by Maggie Van Ostrand © 2003
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