Destination I Do
Thursday, May 17, 2012

Destination Wedding Etiquette: Combining Cultures

Words by Courtney Kellar
Words and photos courtesy of Evette Rios
Intro by Courtney Cox

Evette Rios, TV correspondent on ABC’s The Chew, has been hailed as a Latina Martha Stewart and is having a destination wedding. Because planning her wedding in Puerto Rico has had a unique set of challenges, she set out to let the world know how best to combine two very different families into one beautiful, sanctimonious event. Her family originally hails from Puerto Rico and, based on her admission, Latinos can be a rowdy bunch. Thus, Evette was concerned her fiancé’s Midwestern family might encounter a bit of a culture shock. Read on to see how she and her fiancé did all they could to ensure their destination wedding would be all they dreamed of while incorporating both unique families.

Meeting the Family: Welcoming my Anglo in-laws to our Latino Family

For me it was never a tough decision. I knew I wanted to get married in Puerto Rico. Growing up in New York City with parents born and raised there I had heard all of the stories: how life used to be there, how they came from families which were poor, but proud and hardworking. I have always tried to keep a strong tie to Puerto Rico. As a kid I would go every summer with my parents, then as I got older I started going by myself and staying the whole summer with family and friends. In college I did a semester in a Puerto Rican University so I could get to know my PR peers. So it only seemed natural Puerto Rico would be the place where I would make my love for my main squeeze, Stephen, official.

  But what I didn't realize about my daydreaming for this super Latin wedding I was going to have in idyllic Viejo San Juan, was that the love of my life, Stephen, was going to be a nice, white, Midwestern boy.

Race doesn't matter, for me it never has. (You could have filled the seats in the United Nations with all of the different people I have dated.) But, it still kind of does – especially when it comes to a wedding. Puerto Ricans are a rare breed, my family included. They will jokingly refer to people's short comings, "ven aqua gorda" or in English, "come here fat one," is something totally OK to say to your little chunky cousin, or the fat lady on the corner. This is meant with all due respect, but is something that I have never, ever, encountered in Michigan, where Stephen's family is from.

Stephen’s family, the Davies/Davidson are incredibly smart and well read, but also incredibly polite and in some ways, not so upfront. They will go to great lengths not to make anyone feel different, weird or out of place. They are just those people. Salt-of-the-earth types.

My family is the complete opposite. We point out the obvious, we yell, we argue, we cry, we scream, we make fun of each other, we dance, we cook, we eat, we yell some more. In his family, they talk, they debate, they read, they write, they research, they cook, they eat and they nap. So making these seemingly different branches of family comfortable at our wedding has been a worthy challenge. Here are some of the things which I am incorporating to make our wedding as comfortable for our families, old and new, as possible!

Keep it bilingual.
We are doing everything, for the most part, bilingually. This is so important when you are blending two cultures, even if most of the family speaks perfectly good English, like mine does, I feel it is important to give a nod to where you came from through language. It sets the tone for the event and says we are merging here, blending if you will. But no one culture is going to be more important than the other. Here are our invites. We tried to include Spanish wherever possible!

Choose a location where you don't have to be a local to get around.
There is a reason tourists love Viejo San Juan. For example, it is insanely beautiful and incredibly historic. Don't let an area being a tourist hot-spot dissuade you from choosing a wedding location. Remember, your new family is essentially tourists, there only for your wedding. (They are not real Puerto Ricans until they have passed out after drinking too many rum coconuts at my Abuela Flor's coercion).

Include both families as much as possible.
My family is going to feel snug as a bug being back in PR and family which lives there is basically going to roll out of bed and make it over to the wedding, so the focus has to be on how to make your visiting family feel included. It is for this reason we asked Stephen's aunt, who is an Episcopal priest, to marry us. My mom wasn't too thrilled that I wasn't getting married Catholic, and in a church, but the ceremony is going to mean so much more to have her marry us. She is like Stephen's second mom and he loves her dearly (we will have one of my family translate too).

Make it a buffet!
Nothing is more impressive than having a huge spread of ethnic eats. It is one sure-fire way to introduce your new family to your culture. Having a buffet also ensures that people can eat what they want to eat, a sit down dinner means you’re forced to eat what you've got, even if it is too spicy.

Make sure everyone has something to eat!
When you are dealing with so many different types of people, with very different dietary restrictions, it is important to make sure everyone has something to chew on! We are taking into account Aunt Bev's peanut allergy, my Prima, Wanda's, gluten free diet, my Tio's lactose intolerance and my own vegetarian-ness. Keep the food typical, but with the spicy stuff on the side. In Puerto Rico we like our food hot, both in temperature and in spice, but some people may not want to have their heads explode from so much heat. So we are putting additional mojo, pique (the garlic and olive oil sauce) and hot sauce on the side so people can make things as spicy as they would like them to be.

Remember your families are getting married too so make sure that each side feels safe, comfortable and equal. Wish me luck on the big day!

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