BY JOSÉ CARLOS MARULANDA
If you’re of Latin American and Caribbean descent, it’s probable that your parents have scolded you since childhood for putting your elbows on the table while eating. It’s either this or some other arbitrary violation of “etiquette.”
If you were a contestón like me, you would have asked them to explain why this was such a crime, to which they probably could not give you a proper explanation.
At least my viejos couldn’t.
The usual answer of “es de mala educación” has been passed down from generation to generation. It turns out that our parents’ odd indignation towards our elbows assaulting an innate object has its roots in colonial elitism.
In medieval Europe, when kings and rich aristocrats would hold public banquets for the more “unfortunate” members of their society, the table would become overcrowded, leading to pushing, shoving and even fights. In order to not be considered “brutes” who lacked manners and education, peasants and workers made a point of “behaving” themselves for their political and economic masters.
Spanish colonials who got lost and arrived in the “Americas” in 1492 not only brought diseases, genocide and backward political and economic models. They also brought backward traditions that have been passed off as “manners” and “civilized culture.”
All types of table etiquette — be it not laughing while eating, talking while eating, eating “too fast,” straightening your back, and so on — have no functionality, but rather are traditions that elites impose on us. Arbitrary traditions are not limited to the dining table either. From being a child and having to accept kisses on the cheek as a greeting to being teenagers and having to ask for permission to speak to adults, why must we go along with it?
Other remnants of colonial traditions continue to haunt the Latinx experience. In parts of Central and South America, the word “mande” is often used, especially by the working class, to express that they are ready to be ordered. It literally means “to send,” as in, “I’m ready to be sent to do a task.”
Another word with colonial and elitist roots used across Latin America is don and doña, which we have all been taught to use for those who are “superior” to us, be they our parents, our bosses, or people who are older than us in general. Ultimately, these terms help to internalize outdated forms of class and racial supremacy as opposed to conveying mutual respect for others.
Adhering to these imposed colonial elitist traditions only helps to keep our rebellious spirit dormant and neglect revolutionary ideals.
Free your elbows, and the masses.