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This Toxic Latine Mentality Held Me Back From Storytelling

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This Toxic Latine Mentality Held Me Back From Storytelling

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For Mental Health Awareness Month, we asked Latine comedians and creators we admire how comedy has supported them in overcoming trauma and confronting life’s most significant challenges. Read the pieces here.

There’s a cultural maxim within Latinidad that’s always left me a bit unsettled: “Lo que pasa en casa se queda en casa.” It means what happens at home stays at home — aka loyalty above everything.

Growing up in a subjectively funny family taught me invaluable lessons about the power of humor and its role as a survival tool, especially during challenging times. In my Ecuadorian immigrant family, our main coping mechanism was finding solace in humor amid chaos. But there was always a boundary, an invisible line to how far we could share drawn by the “lo que pasa en la casa” mentality — the notion that certain things should never leave the confines of our home. It became clear to me early on that this mentality stemmed from a desire to maintain appearances, protect the family’s reputation, and uphold the value of privacy.

The “lo que pasa en la casa” mentality always felt like a type of silencing or secrecy that prohibited many of my tías, tíos, cousins, and older siblings from seeking out things like therapy. It was also an invisible shackle placed around my artistry before it began. Some may argue that “lo que pasa en casa” is all about “privacy” or “protection,” but it’s a double-edged sword. There are situations where it’s crucial (say, if someone in the family wins the lottery and you don’t want everyone coming out of the woodwork for a piece of the pie). In those cases, it’s about protection. But for me, the weighty subtext that demands allegiance rears its ugly head when “lo que pasa en casa” is presented as privacy. It’s always bugged me how Latine culture seems to value what other people think more than the actual truth. It’s all about “el qué dirán!” — the fear of what other people will say — which is something that haunts me as a creative person. And trust me, after over a decade as a social-first writer and producer, I figure I can’t be alone in that.

As a comedic storyteller and griot who has utilized the internet as a personal testing ground, much like how a stand-up comic utilizes the stage, I’ve often felt the weight of this mentality bearing down on me. Although most of my content initially focused on pop culture and comedic rants, covering everything from J Lo’s relationship drama to New York City characters, my pivot into personal perspectives was much easier for me in concept than in practice. It was convenient to start with truths that always painted my family in the best light — for example, a story of how my mother’s fearless determination helped me get a rhinoplasty at the age of 3 to stop childhood bullying.

Tiptoeing around the easier stories with a hint of realness was second nature to me; it’s how I navigated the world throughout my formative years, never truly being allowed to admit how hard things were economically, how violent my father was towards my mother, or eventually how hostile one of my sisters would become toward me. Although my mother refused to let us share the truth with teachers, friends, or even extended family, I was fortunate that her strength and wisdom decided to sign us up for family counseling when I was around 6. Unfortunately, by then, my sisters were so entrenched with the fear and consequences of “lo que pasa en casa” that they refused to talk until they stopped attending altogether.

As the youngest who longed to be understood, I toughed it out. Still, I spent years perfecting the art of omission to ensure my mother would never have to face her greatest fear in “me las van a quitar,” a phrase that translates to “they’re going to take them away from me.” For 13 years, I’d spend my therapy sessions feeling mentally limited to how real I could be, which ultimately prolonged my healing and creativity.

Still, my first therapist must’ve seen I was struggling behind untold truths and advised my mother to sign me up for acting lessons. In the theater, I found the first creative outlet for my pain. The words on the page were never mine, but the emotions were, and for many years, that was enough. I eventually yearned to tell my stories, but the fear of exposing others through telling my truth kept me from exploring.

There are many different types of comedic griots: stand-ups and sketch artists, to name a few. The one I always admired most was the solo performer. I have always been a longtime fan of one-man show icons like John Leguizamo. But he’s also paid the price — and validated my “lo que pasa en casa” worries when I learned his father nearly sued him for defamation of character because of his impressions of his dysfunctional family in his 1998 show “Freak.”

The internet has been my most notable outlet for creativity, but I’m finally ready to explore more. As a result, I’ve recently decided to challenge and nurture my inner artist. The notion of “lo que pasa en la casa” has confined me to staying on the surface of my truths, but the tides are changing. I think one of the best examples of someone who leaned into her truth is Mayan Lopez, co-creator of “Lopez vs. Lopez,” with her willingness to reveal parts of her family that are arguably private matters. Her choice to do a whole series dubbed “Why do my divorced parents still act like they’re married?” led her to get greenlit by a studio. She told The Los Angeles Times, “Culturally, yeah, we don’t air that stuff out. But that’s part of some of the issues within our community — the generational trauma and the machismo aren’t addressed.”

It’s easy to say her content went viral with much help from her recognizably famous father. Still, it was the behind-the-curtain take only she had the right and bravery to share, along with her father’s support, that helped her challenge the “lo que pasa en casa” mentality. In the series, Lopez tackles themes of abandonment and daddy issues in a way that renegotiates the narrative of “the united Latine family.”

Given that we’re a wonderfully diverse community, it’s time we prove that Latines are not a monolith. Some of us have darkness, awkwardness, rawness, realness, and unfamiliar stories that need to be told to give our community its true, varied humanity and help us all heal through laughter. Our art will expand when we, as artists, embrace our messiness.

So here I am, at a crossroads, throwing caution to the wind and ready to share some unfavorable stories with the world. I’m learning, and inviting others to challenge the “lo que pasa en la casa” mentality with me. My “content” is developing into monologues with no limitations. I’ve returned to the theater, and this time, I’ll tell my true stories. I’ve taken some risks, cracking jokes about stuff like being the daughter of a dad who advocated for my mom’s failed abortion to skip out on his responsibilities. While I recognize that many family members and bystanders will judge my choices, I must honor my truth, even if it ruffles a few feathers.

I’ll always start with respecting others’ humanity and fallibility. Culture and family are important, but so is my right to share my story. Some of us use humor to hide our darkness, but we can’t be afraid to let our bold truths shine through. So, what if people don’t get me? Those who resonate with my story are the ones I make comedy for.

Honestly, I think you get to choose what you keep private. Humor is personal, but we’re moving into an age where authenticity is essential. And comedic storytelling isn’t a one-size-fits-all deal. I’m a true believer that creativity is in all of us, but some of us keep it locked up behind secrets we’re forced to keep. Art flourishes when it’s relatable and healing, regardless of how it’s perceived. It’s not about putting on a front; it’s about embracing the truth, about having the guts to challenge the norms that “lo que pasa en casa” throws at us to keep everyone else comfortable. And hey, sure, “lo que pasa en casa” has its place, but it’s time to kick that custom to the curb. It’s not all bad – it’s like a coin with two sides – but man, that “el que diran!” part! It’s one of the many things that’s holding us back as a community.

Katherine G. Mendoza is a seasoned Ecuadorian American writer and producer, boasting more than a decade of expertise in social-first storytelling. Her work has graced the pages and screens of renowned publications and media outlets including PS, The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, Variety, Univision, Telemundo, Huffington Post, and Uproxx.

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