Question of the week: Adressing los abuelitos

Last night I joined Pachuco3000, Chimatli, El Chavo, El Random Hero, Wendy Carrillo (who goes to USC, boo!) and Leticia of Thats So Paisa for the monthly bloguer@ gathering. We met up at La Carioca in East LA for beers and $2 waters (really, they charged us for water).

After talking about Halloween and Día de los Muertos plans, I learned that Chimatli had also just finished reading Gustavo Arellano’s new book, Orange County: A Personal History.

“You’re from the same place, right?” she asked.

“Yeah,” I told her. “Well, my mom is from the same place, El Cargadero.”

“Did you grow up in Orange County too?”

“Oh no.”

We both liked the book and discussed some of the things Gustavo wrote. I don’t have time to get in to a full review (I should be packing). However, I can say that I really enjoyed the autobiographic aspects. As I learned more about Gustavo and his family, I learned more about my own family history and roots. While everything felt so familiar to me, Chimatli found some things curious, like how Gustavo addressed his grandparents.

“Do you call your grandparents something like that too?” she asked.

“Yeah. I call my mom’s parents — the ones from El Cargadero — Papa Chepe and Mama Toni. But on my dad’s side, the Guanajuato side, we call them Grandpa and Grandma.”

I never thought this was odd. It’s easy to generalize your personal experiences and make them seem normal. But Chimatli made me wonder. Could such labels be associated with gente del rancho? Wendy chimed in and suggested that the labels may correspond to the role your grandparents played in your upbringing. Perhaps the mama/papa was emphasized because the grandparent played a surrogate parent role or lived with you.

Or it could all just be a family thing. So I went to the expert on my family, my mom.

Mom admitted that all she and her cousins addressed their grandparents as Mama ____ y Papa ____.

“Mama Toni’s dad was Papayito. I don’t know where the -yito came from. [His name was Juan.] There was your Mama Chila, Papa Chepe’s mom, too.”

I’m still curious, thus the question of the week.

La Pregunta: How do you address your grandparents?


33 thoughts on “Question of the week: Adressing los abuelitos

  1. On my mom’s side, Grandmother and Grandfather, very formal. We knew NOT to ever try grandma or grandpa!

    On my dad’s side we call his mom Mamacita and we called his grandmother, my great-grandmother, abuelita. My grandfather was not a part of the family. (long story) When I met him I called him “señor.”

  2. Gabbo says:

    Well, I didn’t have grandparents, but in reconnecting with my dad’s side of the family, I remembered that my dad’s grandkids called him “Tata” and they call their grandmother (his 1st wfie) “Nana”.

  3. On my mom’s side, it’s “abuelita” because she liked the cuteness of the diminutive. On my father’s side, it’s “abuela” because she thinks the diminutive is demeaning of her position.

  4. On my dad’s side, it was Abuelita, pure and simple. She didn’t marry my dad’s dad, so we had no contact with him. Her husband was named Frank, so that’s what we called him.

    On my mom’s side, it was Abuelito Cristino and Abuelita Anita. She died when I was young, so not much contact, but we’d visit Abuelito Cristino in Chapala, Jal., where he sat behind the bar at Cantina Don Cristi. I credit my avid fondness for alcoholic beverages to my dear, departed Abuelito.

  5. Bea says:

    On my mother’s side – it was grandma and grandpa. Once in a great while I would call my grandma – “abuela” but it usually was grandma. I think it came down to us being raised here and them living here in the US. Although often my grandma would say, “Ve darle esto a tu papa.” Without questioning it I knew she was talking about my grandpa and not my actual father.

    On my dad’s side it was abuelita and abuelo. They lived in Guadalarja, Mexico. One wouldn’t dare call him abuelito. It was a respect thing with him. When my dad’s father passed and we got to see our abuelita more often, she would cheerfully respond to us calling her grandma – but it always went back to abuela or abuelita.

    Sadly they have all passed now. 😦

    Thanks to my brother and sister-in-law, our family was blessed with the first grandchild this July, we find ourselves addressing our parents as her “grandma” and “grandpa”.

    Thanks Cindy for the post – I’ll have my grandma, grandpa, abuelita and abuelo on my mind this day! 🙂

  6. Carmen says:

    Well my on my moms side I call my abuela, mama Lala her real name was Librada and my abuelo papa Toquio his real name was Eustoquio. My ma is from a small ranch in Durango… I never met my dads parents they passed away before my parents ever met but when I talk to my dad about them I refer to them as abuela Enriqueta or abuelo Gilberto. My pa is from Mexico City.

  7. Claudia says:

    My dad’s parents I referred to as Abuela and Abuelo, although not often
    the rest of the kids in my family who were closer to the Abuela called her Chimina, short for her first name, Maximina.
    My mom’s mom died before I was born and her dad we called Tito;
    (may they all rest in peace).

    My BF’s family call grandparents Tata and Nana (or Nany).

  8. Gustavo Arellano says:

    Cindy: Maybe it’s an El Cargadero thing. Now that I think of it, my grandparents from my dad’s side were Abuelita and “mi Pepe,” since my grandfather’s name was José. This, even though Jomulquillo is even more rancho than El Cargadero despite both of them being nearly right next to each other. Wendy’s theory is interesting, but my grandparents never raised me. And for my cousins who had two parents from El Cargadero, they called their other grandparents with the Mama and Papa honorifics. Strange…

  9. Cindy, thanks for bringing up the subject!
    As I mentioned at the meeting, I called my grandparents, “grandma” and “grandpa” but I come from a Chicano family. However, I used to be slightly embarrassed by having to call my parents “mama” and “papa” (without the accent) when no one I knew used these terms. It was either said in Spanish with an accent or the English equivalent. I come from a weird family! 🙂
    With regards to Gustavo’s book, all the “mamas” and “papas” kinda confused me and I had to read a few passages over again to remember who was who…It’s my fault though, I read too fast.

  10. Momo says:

    I like this post; it makes me think of my family. My mom’s parents were from the rancho and my dad’s parents were from the downtown in Santiago de Queretaro. I didn’t know my dad’s parents cuz they died before I met them, but my mom’s were referred to Mama Gina (Gabina) and Papa Siquio (Esiquio). Even the adults referred to them as such. On my dad’s side, the adults refer to those deceased grandparents as Don Juanito and Dona Severiana.

    I just bought Arellano’s book last week! My boyf loves Ask A Mexican, so I bought this one as a surprise for when he comes to visit this weekend. Ask a Mexican was so funny that when I read a few Q & A’s to my mom, she took the book from me and read the rest of it to crack herself up on her own.

  11. My grandma on my fathers side, which we saw much less regularly was Abuelita ____, Whereas the one on my mothers side, and a regular part of daily life, I just simply referred to as Abue’.

  12. I never got a chance to meet my grandfathers but both of my grand mothers I would call nana _____. I’m not sure if that’s just a middle eastern thing or what though.

  13. My maternal grandfather passed away when my mom was three months old and my paternal grandmother passed away in 1986, so I only have one grandparent from each side of the family. I was taught to refer both as “abuelita/o.” My whole family (cousins, aunts/uncles) uses abuelita/o. Thinking about it, our whole pueblo uses abuelita/o. Sometimes I’ll refer to my grandparents as Don/Doña ______ and they also don’t mind that, but that’s rare.

    I was too young when I met mis bisabuelos to remember. I only have photographs.

    My physical greeting towards my grandparents is something that I don’t know many other people do. When I see them, I always take their hand and kiss it before hugging/shaking it. My parents also do this when they see their parents. Maybe it’s after a certain age that it’s done. In my Spanish class in high school, we started talking about greetings and we got to physical aspects (handshakes/kisses/etc.). I raised my hand and said that when I see my grandparents, I always kiss their hand. No one else in the class said they did it, but my teacher did. She was also from my part of Los Altos de Jalisco and I was the only Alteño in the class. Does anyone else kiss their parent’s/grandparent’s hands?

  14. diana says:

    wow, you got a lot of responses. =)

    mine’s simple, with both sets of grand parents we call them Mama ___ and Papa___. And the same applies to the great grandparents.

    and I’m also from Guanajuato, but it’s a pretty small town, and a rancho, so i don’t know if that has anything to do with it.


  15. Hector says:

    Good question: My paternal grandmother was “abuelita” and my maternal grandparents in Salamanca, GTO were “tito” and “tita”.

  16. Gustavo Arellano says:

    @soledadenmasa: I still do the kissing-the-hand bit with my aunts and grandmothers. Straight-up old school!

    @Momo & Chimatli: Gracias for buying my book!

  17. Gustavo,
    I don’t do it with my aunts/uncles because they’re still young, but once they get older, I feel I will. Ya think this is some leftover of strict Catholic mores?

  18. Lupita says:

    Cindy, I enjoyed reading this post! So, I have to comment.

    My grandfathers have both passed away. My mom’s side of the family which are from northern Jalisco, not to far from Jerez, Zacatecas, I call her Mami and everyone called my grandfather, “Papi”. According to my family, I renamed or added “Papi Tata”! As for my dad’s side, which are from a ranchito between Lagos de Moreno, Jalisco and Leon, GTO, I call my grandmother “Abuelita” and of course called my grandfather “Abuelito”. I also greet my grandmothers with a kiss on the hand and then a hug and kiss on the cheek.

  19. I called my grandfather Bob. That was his first name…lol..I never thought it was weird until someone pointed it out to me that this was odd.

  20. spamfriedrice says:

    for a lot of us cantonese folks, we call our maternal grandmother and grandfather “pau pau” and “gung gung” respectively. on the dad’s side, it’s “mah mah” and “yah yah”. growing up around a lot of portuguese and polish kids, they all seemed to call their grandmas “nana.”

  21. Carmen says:

    i agree this is a GREAT post….well they are all GREAT post but i especially enjoy reading your family ones, they make me smile/cry and think of mi familia too 🙂

    soledadenmasa: the kissing the hand thing wasn’t unusual in my ma’ rancho but we only did it after or before my papa toquios bendicion before leaving to come home every year. My dad would always tell us to do it when meeting older relatives as a sign of respect.

    I usually greeted Papa Toquio with a super big hug and he would immediately sit me on his lap and sing me a song he made for me and it always ended with a kiss on his cheek covered in stubble, until i got too big and he got really frail. My mama Lala wasn’t super affectionate so it was usually a quick hug and kiss, but we always bonded in the kitchen I liked helping her make stuff.

  22. I’m the oldest of six cousins and when I was young I always called my grandmother Delfina who was born in La Habra, Gramma Fina. Somehow by the time the younger ones came around it turned into Gramma Del. For us I think it was just a matter of what was easiest to say.
    The most interesting part of the whole dynamic is that when my little sister was born with curly blond hair and blue eyes Gramma Fina used to call her Chula Madre with only a hint of sarcasm.

  23. Lorena says:

    I was blessed to meet three of my great grandparents and three of my grandparents in my lifetime…all from Mexico.

    On my Moms side my great grandparents were always Abuelito Luis and Abuelita Lolita when I was calling for them. If I spoke of them to others then they were Bis-abuelita/o respectively.

    On my Dads side I had my Bis-Abuela, mainly because my Dad and his brothers all called her Abuela…Before she passed I had started to call her Bis-Abuelita Esperanza.

    Growing up I called my Dads Mom, Abuelita Julia…On my Moms side I called her Grandma and her husband Abuelito Jesus.

    Today I still have my Abuelita Julia and Grandma….Yesterday I spent an hour on the phone with my Grandma and I realized over the last few years I have taken to calling her Abuelita or Abuelita Amparo. One thing never changes, ever since I could remember we always spoke to them in the “Usted,” form. Yesterday when I momentarily switched the tense in Spanish- I stopped and apologized and Abuelita Amparo accepted. Ever since I could speak she has watched over my Spanish, corrected and guided me- I can’t imagine our relationship in any other language 🙂

  24. Claudia says:

    Ah yes, the Usted form…
    I’ve always used this with my parents, aunts & uncles and friends parents, basically most if not all elders

    Actually even my parents and some aunts & uncles refer to me as Usted
    one day I realized that my parents spoke to my brother as “tu” and I wondered why… they didn’t know, just randomly became a habit

  25. My dad’s mom we call Grandma. His father died before we were born, but we usually refer to him as Grandpa Roland, possibly because there’s some distance and “Grandpa” is too personal. My mom’s mom and (now deceased) stepfather we call Nana and Opa (“Opa” because he was Austrian). Nana has since remarried, but we just call him Robert because anything else would feel weird.

  26. LOL@ “Oh no.” Poor Orange County. I call my grandpa Gramps and my grandma Nana. We all call her Nana. I don’t know how it started, but it stuck.

  27. all the cool bloger@s are in LA = (

    I called my abuela Nana. I learned that that’s a form of respect for the Purepecha. I don’t know why I call her Nana, maybe cuz she took care of me?

  28. My family and I are from Michoacan. On my dad’s side we call them Mama y Papa…no names. On my mom’s side, all the cousins and I called them ‘buelitos like ‘buelita y ‘buelito, they loved it because it sounds more loving and sweet.

  29. I called my grandparents Nana and Tata, which really used to frustrate me because I never knew how to relay that to my non-Latino friends. I mean, Tata does sound a little different. 🙂

    I called my great-grandmother Grandma Amalia.

    My kids call their great grands Nana and Tata like I do. They call my dad Tata Ray. My mom is Grandma-Mama and my stepdad is Papa. I think I will want to be called Nana.

    My nephew named his grandma from his other side of the family Kika when he was a toddler. Now their entire family calls their grandma Kika. I think that is cool that he got to name her.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s