Is this a cultural thing?

My son is gorgeous. Red hair, blue eyes, and he grins at everyone. So I am not surprised that he gets attention whenever we go to the store or the post office.

But people always touch him. Not inappropriately — usually they pinch his feet (which strikes me as odd, but isn’t the source of my confusion). Sometimes they touch his cheek. It doesn’t bother him, but it makes me uncomfortable, especially if he is in a sling and therefore on my body; if he’s in his stroller it doesn’t weird me out quite as much.

This has happened since he was born (he is eleven months old) and there were only two instance when it was not a Hispanic person touching him. What I’m wondering, and I hope this isn’t going to be misconstrued as more than curiosity: Is it a cultural thing? Do Latin American countries have a more communal approach to children? Or is it just a coincidence (because there is such a high ratio of Hispanic people in LA)?

Any insight or opinions?

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18 Replies to “Is this a cultural thing?”

  1. Yes! I’ve been told that when praising or admiring a baby, in Hispanic culture you should touch the baby to avoid giving it the evil eye.

  2. It’s also just a baby thing : people love babies !
    (Esp. older women I’ve noticed).
    If you are bothered by the touching (as I sometimes was, esp. in cold/ flu season), just say something like : “Oh, he gets sick easily, we’re really trying to be careful of germs, but you can touch his feet”(instead of face, hands).

  3. One son is a strawberry blonde, blue eyes and we got a lot of that from all cultures. My daughter the platinum blond got the same treatment though oddly the Pakistani family next door kept wanting to shave her head so her hair would come in thicker. My youngest is a dark blond and was on par with his sister. I think the red hair is more of a novelty to some cultures more than anything else. Its more the universal “love an adorable baby” than anything. Weirded the hell out of my wife when they’d touch, me I stood there and was glad they were getting positive attention not looks of horror and repulsion. Run with the positive.

  4. Dhaval here from NYC Metblogs.

    Touching babies is common in cultures or neighborhoods where people are comfortable with each other.

    As for the shaving the head comment – Indians shave off the original hair of their babies and the 2nd patch that grows remains their “natural” hair. It’s one of those crazy things…

    My sister was born with curls and they were awesome but then we shaved her bald (so cute) and now her hair is straight. I don’t think she’s forgiven my mom for it…

    But yeah getting out of your way to touch a baby would creep me out too. Normal touching is everywhere.

  5. I’m half Mexican/Irish and came out blonde, blue eyed and fair. When my family would go to church in the more Mexican end of town, I’ve been told that people would just come up to us and touch my my head. I’ve always attributed to my being my mother’s child and the juxtaposition was a bit jarring and/or fascinating to some.

  6. Ever thought that your reaction is a “cultural thing” as well?

    I’m not accusing you of anything, esp. because I am going to be a father soon, and don’t like the idea of strangers coming up and touching my kid, but our attitude towards children and strong concerns about germs and safety, while not new, are really amplified to a level that was never seen before, I think.

  7. Blonde and blue-eyed, I was born in and grew up in Japan in the 50’s and 60’s and everywhere I went, all through my life there, people wanted to touch my hair or stare into my eyes, especially in the 50’s, especially in rural areas where my dad went fly fishing. I think it probably happens in all cultures as a ‘fascination with difference’ thing — but has probably faded with the pervasiveness of TV, etc., etc. Your baby must be exceptionally gorgeous! Have you considered commercial work for a nice start to the college fund?

  8. Evan – yes, I’m sure it is! Though I would like to clarify that it is not germs I am concerned about, but personal space. As I said, it really freaks me out when people touch Sam while he is attached to me, but less so if he is in his stroller or a shopping cart. If it bothered him, I would hate it all the time, but he seems OK with it most of the time.

    Thanks, everyone, for sharing your experiences. This is really fascinating to me. It seems that I am the only one whose baby is approached exclusively by Hispanics, so I am thinking it’s mostly a coincidence, though it seems that Hispanic cultures are more baby-centric (and if George is right, superstition could play a part too).

  9. Molly – we thought about modeling but I am not comfortable with the idea because Sam can’t consent. I don’t know, maybe that is weird of me.

  10. Yeah, personal space is a big concern of mine in general–having someone touch your baby while he is slung to you must be strange.

    But since I’m a man, I’ll never have to experience unapproved belly touching–complete strangers coming up and touching pregnant women’s bellies without asking for permission. Thankfully my wife hasn’t experienced this yet.

  11. Not everybody loves babies… oh sure they are cute in pictures and can be fun to play with when you visit the in-laws….

    but on airplanes and in restaurants? not so much…

  12. The folks who touch him, especially the Latinos, are probably overcome by his cuteness. Some of them might also be superstitious. See, there’s this thing called “mal de ojo” (evil eye) that you can give babies just by looking at them, or so they say. Mothers will protect their babies by having them wear an “ojo de venado” (dear’s eye) on red thread around their neck. This way, if someone with a particularly “strong” eye looks at your kid and doesn’t touch him, he won’t get sick. In order to avoid the mal de ojo, you need to touch the person. This doesn’t just happen to babies. My mom’s had it happen to her when she was younger and had very long, straight and shiny hair. A woman on the bus told her she had beautiful hair and that she was going to touch it because she had a strong eye and was afraid that if she didn’t the “mal de ojo” would cause her hair to fall out.

    Strange, I know.

  13. Annika, don’t worry – if I happen to see you and your adorable son on the street, I might just make eyes at him to try to make him laugh, but I probably won’t touch him.

    I love to make babies laugh, but I am always wary about touching a child I don’t know and doesn’t know me. Something about not wanting the parents to scream bloody murder on me….

  14. As for modeling: ask him to coo once to consent to funding his college education now, or coo twice to fund it later with student loans. ;)

  15. My brother and I recently had a discussion about this. He lives in Honduras (was born in America) and recently had a small baby boy with his Honduran wife. Apparently it is quite common for Honduran and central american people to be more communal about children and to freely touch them. From my brother’s perspective, he believes it is one of the main reasons that his son is so mild mannered and content.

  16. It’s not just “superstition” [eyeroll]; in Mexico in particular, there is indeed a sort of communal (for lack of a better term) attitude towards children, especially babies and small children. White countercultural travelers to Mexico and Central America in the sixties and seventies found that their reception in the culturally conservative small towns was often substantially warmer when they had their children with them (see later editions of “The People’s Guide To Mexico” for interesting anecdotes along these lines).

  17. It is mainly superstition. It is cultural. My girlfriend is first generation Mexican American. When we are in public, and she sees a cute baby and makes eye contact, she has to touch the baby to make sure she is not giving the baby evil eye. I can’t make this up. And no, it doesn’t matter what race the baby is. The latino culture here in SoCal is not in “awe” of blue eyes or red hair, they’re just keeping up an old tradition, regardless of the race of the baby.

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