It’s officially the holiday season, and for Latinxs, this could mean a variety of things: large gatherings that go until the following morning, gallons of coquito, pounds of natilla, celebrando la novena, or simply being around our loved ones. For better or for worse, these moments when we’re all together become the most vivid memories we have with our families. Oftentimes, there’s at least one tía who we dread seeing: the opinionated, close-minded aunt who body shames, asks intrusive questions, and makes judgmental and queerphobic comments all evening. Sound familiar? In a culture that sanctifies respect for elders and so-called traditional family values, these problematic tías present an emotional and ideological dilemma for a new generation of Latinxs breaking generational curses that are brushed to the side because “así son.”
But it doesn’t have to be this way. In fact, growing up, there was constant friction between my tía Martha Lucia and me, which became even more strained in the year leading up to my mom’s death. However, when my mom passed away and my universe collapsed, it was that same aunt who helped build me back up. In so many ways, my tía helped me heal. From chismeando for hours on the phone to keeping my mom’s memory alive through old stories and photographs, my tía’s love filled the void my mom’s death created and has helped me grow into a man that would make my mom proud. Now, I couldn’t imagine my life without her.
And that’s only my story. For so many others, tías are healers, protectors, nurturers, and symbols of love, power, warmth, laughter, and of course, chisme. Most importantly, they are long overdue for their flowers. We spoke with four Latinxs who shared stories about the tías who changed their lives for the better.
My Tīa Empowered Me to Love My Dark Skin – Lisa Ventura
I was born with dark skin in a predominantly light-skinned Dominican family. Growing up in New York’s Washington Heights neighbourhood, I witnessed and experienced colourism early. Whether I was told I needed to have my hair relaxed or called “Black Panther” by my peers, I internalized this idea that whiteness was prettier and better, and I began to hate the skin I was in. But when I opened up to my tía Omayra about my woes, she surprised me: she told me that she wished she had my complexion. That shifted something in me as a little girl. It made me feel like I could love myself.
Now as a mom, I’m instilling the same confidence in my own children that my tía planted in me. I do this by helping them understand why their features may be different from their Latinx peers, including sharing the history, fight, and beauty behind their skin’s hue and hair texture. I’m letting them experiment with wearing their hair naturally, reminding them that their big coils demand space in this world.
Thankfully, my tía taught me the importance of self-love at a young age. When you have someone in your household rooting for you, that’s all you need, and that’s where the confidence comes in. Thanks to this love from my aunt, I’ve been able to heal the little girl I was in Washington Heights and stop the cycle of internalized anti-Blackness in my family. I command dance floors with radiance and self-love, and I proudly embrace myself as an Afro-Dominican woman.
My Tía Showed Me That Body Positivity Is a Journey – Laura Villasmil
Growing up in Miami, and later positioning myself in a career in media, perfectionism and image were everything. Add in the fact that my family is from Venezuela—the world's powerhouse for pageant queens—and that I’m part of the rave community, and you can just imagine the dated body ideals, expectations, and shaming that I experienced. I always felt like I needed to play catch-up with my friends, and I had a really tough time knowing where I fit in.
With my mom living in Mexico at the time, I often confided in my tía Maira, who in many ways was on her own body love journey. My tía faced similar societal pressures to follow a certain beauty standard and, because of this, struggled to know her self-worth. Sympathetic and vulnerable, my tía was selfless in her support for me. She held space for me whenever I needed it, including 2 a.m. late-night phone calls. These conversations showed me that life is constantly evolving, and that I wasn’t alone. Instead, I had someone who I could learn with and through. It gave me hope.
Now as a tía to a niece struggling with body issues, I’m taking the lessons my aunt taught me and passing them down to her: you have to value who you are—in every moment, including this one. She doesn’t know it, but my tía provided the foundation and love to help my family understand the importance of self-love and embracing who you are.
My Tías Knew I Was Born to Be a Star – Beau “Beaujangless” Gotier
They say it takes a village to raise a child. For me, it was a village of tías who taught me that I was born to be a star. As a self-made model and drag performer, I credit everything I’ve learned to my tías: runway looks, resourcefulness, entrepreneurship, self-confidence, and most importantly, compassion.
Growing up queer in Puerto Rico, I was fortunate enough to not have a traditional tragic coming out journey. I’ve known who I am since I was young. After my mom moved away to New York, my titi Maritza was the one to buy my very first Ariel Barbie doll and hid me away from the boys so I could play in peace. She saw beyond gender, and she was the first person to show me that I could be myself without any repercussions. Titi Maritza was a pillar for that. But she wasn’t alone. She, titi Luce, and titi Migdalia were jefas, in every sense of the word, and they taught me how to be one as well. Titi Maritza was one of the first women in her community to start a business at home, with my other tías following shortly after. When I was 10 years old, I worked for her, taking inventory, selling candy or juices, and counting the money. I didn’t know it then, but I was gaining skills that would prove to be valuable much later.
As I assess my life today, I see their hands in so much of my work. They taught me how to be innovative and responsible. More importantly, they showed me that I don’t have to do anything that isn't worth my time or energy. With 999+ WhatsApp notifications and raving performance reviews, there’s one thing that feels even more exciting than my growing success: My titi Migdalia is coming to New York and will finally see me perform live. I can’t wait to make her as happy as she and each of my tías have made me.
My Tía Showed Me That Life Could Be Different – J
For many Latinx immigrants like myself, assimilation is a method of survival. “Lay low and embrace the ‘American dream’ or be subjected to prejudice,” my Mexican family told me. Growing up in a rural, conservative town in Texas, I saw my family emulate this diminutive, Republican, and fundamentalist Christian conduct and belief system that surrounded us. Witnessing and experiencing these sudden changes was depressing, especially as a queer person. But through it all, I had my tía.
An unapologetic queer radical who was part of Texas’ Chicanx rights movement, my aunt blazed a trail for many of us. Before I had the language to name my own experiences as sexism, racism, and queerphobia, she was challenging them. While other family members scrutinized me for my choices, like who my partner is or how I raise my children, my tía embraced me wholeheartedly. She taught me that it’s OK to be me; in fact, the person I am is glorious.
As a mom and a tía now, I’m paying it forward by teaching my children and nieces the power of their own voices and exposing them to different paths that are available to them. I take my children to protests and marches to empower their young voices while reminding my niece that she doesn’t have to live up to family standards or play quiet and small. Throughout it all, my tía continues to be my own rock.