Hispanic Mating/Dating Practice “Ir a Caminar”

My informant says this about his background:

“My parents are both um…from Mexico… and then they moved to the uh…Sacramento, California in uh ’88 and had my sister and I was born shortly after that in ’91…um…we lived in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood until the time I was in third grade at which point my Dad’s career brought us to a point where we could move into a high income neighborhood elsewhere in Sacramento and I lived there since until I moved to Los Angeles this year for college.”

He was also raised in a Catholic family.

He provided the following exchange about this Hispanic dating practice “Ir a Cominar”, which means, “to go walking”. It’s a specific way of socializing with teenagers of the other sex in a specific environment:

Informant: I guess the only way to put this is that it’s a sort of mating practice, in the sense, that uh, in the vil–small town where my parents grew up, La Pidad, there was a very specific way you would, uh, teenagers would, go around meeting each other–with the other sex. Um… in the plaza, they would always call it ‘Ir a Caminar’, to go walking, and basically, people would just go walking around in the park and the plaza and um…all the girls would walk around in the middle, talking to each other and would wait for the guys, who would sit on the outside and approach them and ask them to go walking. Um, I thought this was weird, because when my parents first talked to me about it, they, uh, they, treated it like a totally normal thing um, but this was [snicker] a specific environment where boy girl interactions would happen, in fact, that’s where my parents met.

Collector: Is this like going out?

Informant: No, no, it’s not going out, but just walking. It’s a very, a, this was a very odd way they,um, you know, every relationship starts like that! No matter where it goes, every relationship starts like that where they grew up. I haven’t heard about it elsewhere, outside of their town.

Collector: Why do you think they do this?

Informant: Um, to me, uhh..obviously you have no control what teenagers might do later in their relationship, but considering they grew up in a very very Catholic community, this seems like a very innocent, um, way of meeting people. But, there’s a certain level of tradition about it, with me, it always seemed old fashioned, um, it seemed like uh, because it’s so public–it’s out in the park–you want to display that modesty before the relationship is starting, um, and then uh, people experience a sort of private life from there.”

While there are many interesting dating practices existent in the folklore of other cultures, this one is specially interesting in how regulated the practice is and there’s a certain protective quality about this sort of regulation. The women are protected by each other in the inner circle and the guys have their guy friends, or what some might call “wing men”, around them. Each sex is supported by their friends as they mingle with the opposite sex and the practice becomes quite protective and innocent in nature.

The fact that my informant feels this practice is old fashioned might call into question the norm of dating in the United States as of now. While I may be over-generalizing, modern teen culture and dating practices seem to place an emphasis on sexual relations, or hookups/one night stands, instead of devoting effort to developing a nurturing relationship, losing or skipping the sort of modesty and innocence that my informant describes in the folk practice he observed. So, ultimately, perhaps this difference between dating practices suggests that teenagers these days are exposed to sexual relations way too early from the media and even propagated by their own folk circles–like a sort of leftover or lasting effect from the Free Love Revolutions of the 1980s.