Growing up, I watched a ton of Mexican telenovelas with my abuelita, or, as my family calls her, my Yaya. Side by side, we’d sit on the couch, eagerly tuned into the television to find out whether William Levy’s character would be the knight in shining armor Marichuy needed in Cuidado con el ángel. The overdramatized, all-consuming depiction of romance was one that stuck with me throughout my adolescence.
If you’re not familiar with novelas, most of them boil down to simple science: girl feels lost or unfulfilled with life, girl has a chance encounter with a boy, boy turns her world upside down, the two reach a peak of conflict, it’s resolved in a manner that leaves them both realizing they can’t live without each other, and then they make up, living the rest of their time together happily ever after. Watching the sappy dramatics play out on my TV, I felt that I, like the Latinas I saw on the screen, was destined to enter into a fiery, passionate relationship with (often toxic) twists and turns that would rock my world — and should settle for no less, and aspire for no more.
I wasn’t the only one who received this messaging. So much of how we view love stems from popular culture. And in Latin America and the Caribbean (and those in the U.S. who share origins in these regions), romance is tied to reckless passion and gendered duties that rely on women’s self-sacrifice and undying loyalty — often at our own expense.
So instead of defining romance by the blazing soap-opera love I watched with my grandmother, I recently turned to her for answers instead. Twenty years ago, she lost the love of her life: my abuelo. Although I don’t remember him much, I’ve felt his presence because of Yaya’s anecdotes about their romance cuando eran joven. She never remarried. “No me interesa,” she says. “Estoy bien.” In these words, I realize how my abuelita has lived it all — the ups and downs of love — and came out on the other side, loving herself and those around her.
In honor of Valentine’s Day, I set out to talk with 10 Latine grandmothers (mine included) across the world to share what they’ve learned about love throughout their lifetime, their advice to younger generations, and how they would best describe true love.