The culture behind the wolf-whistle |

The culture behind the wolf-whistle

Nicole Frey

AVON- Walking through an apartment complex to get to the bike path beyond it, I was shocked to get a shower of wolf whistles and comments from the balcony above me.”Ay, mami!” cried one young man in Spanish. “With you I could happily spend the rest of my life.”Wow – strong words from a man I’d never met before. Unsure of whether to laugh or be offended, I hurried on, head down. When I returned half-an-hour later, the half-dozen guys were still there taking advantage of the sunny day. My cold shoulder hadn’t dulled their enthusiasm, and again comments about my beauty and grace rained down.Truth be told, I am neither particularly graceful nor beautiful, but my curiosity was piqued. I had dealt with these catcalls, known as “piropos,” when I spent a few months in Costa Rica. The “piropos” were brutal. I remember walking past a group of about five young men one day followed not only by whistles and comments, but dog barks, donkey brays and chicken screeches. What did it mean? After flirting with the idea of investing in a paintball gun, I accepted this bit of Latino culture and got on with life. But here I was, years later in the middle of Avon, getting the same treatment. The situation demanded investigation. I turned and, squinting up at the balcony, demanded – in my broken Spanish – that the loudest in the posse come down and face me like a man. Perhaps he thought his “piropos” had worked, because I’ve never seen a man move so fast outside a professional sporting match. Followed closely by a friend, Alwin Estrada screeched to a halt, breathing hard and smiling expectantly. The rest of the group watched anxiously from the balcony. But their smiles faded as I whipped out my notepad, introduced myself as a reporter and demanded to know why anyone would engage in such activity north of the Mexican border. “We wouldn’t do it with white girls,” sputtered Estrada, now nervous after having just pledged his life to me minutes ago.Although flattered to be mistaken for a Latina, I explained I don’t have a drop of Hispanic blood. The combination of my Chinese mother and Swiss father somehow produced a tanned-skin, wide-eyed girl who will forever be mistaken for Mexican.”Well, it doesn’t offend Hispanic women,” Estrada said. “We just like to tell a woman she’s pretty.”Estrada’s friend, Jonathan Blanco, chimed in saying “piropos” were just one way to get the attention of the opposite sex.”We’re not asking them to go to bed with us,” Blanco said. “We’re just telling them that they’re pretty, that we like the way they dress, the way they move.”Blanco added a man would never utter a “piropo” if a lady were with another man – be it father, brother or boyfriend. But Blanco may be the gentleman among rogues because Luz Jimenez said getting whistled at while walking down the street with one’s father isn’t uncommon in Latin America. “Most of the ‘piropos’ are good,” said Jimenez, pausing from her work in the kitchen of the Carniceria Tepic, a Mexican restaurant and market in Avon. “They’re fun. We like them. But of course, there are bad ones too.”According to Mayela Meza, a voluptuous woman with heavily lined eyes, who runs the cash register at the market, the good ones include a little sweet talk about how pretty she is or how lucky a man is to see her. The more vulgar sort include anything that mentions a part of the body.The women wrinkled their noses but laughed as they pointed out some “out of bounds” body parts. The “piropos” start when a girl is about 14 years old, said apron-clad Estella Barrios in the Carniceria Tepic. The comments continue through a woman’s 20s – longer if she looks particularly sexy or unattached. “We give the older women more respect,” Estrada said. But Estrada quickly clarified the “piropos” don’t mean the men don’t also respect young women. While I was unaccustomed to the “piropos,” the Latina women I spoke with said they see it as a norm. The racier comments roll off their backs, and the pleasant ones plump their egos. “There are some that make you feel very good,” said Maria Ramirez. Past the age of receiving “piropos,” she surrendered herself to the memories and walked out of the market smiling. Staff Writer Nicole Frey can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 14621, or Vail, Colorado

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