(I have included links in the underlined words so you can read more about that particular subject.)
It is important when we write about our characters, we know every detail about them. If we have a female character raised by a hooker mom, who learned to live off the street, she will be very different than the woman who has pedigree, a law degree from Harvard, and was raised with servants in a mansion. It will affect how they act, speak and why they do what they do.
The same is true for a characters ethnicity. Many writers, me included, are using more Hispanic and Latina/Latino characters in their novels. In the USA, with this ethnic group growing, it is definitely something important. But just as important is knowing your characters ethnicity.
You wouldn’t describe someone raised and living in Texas as speaking with a New York accent? The same with a character raised in Southern California is going to speak different, act different and probably eat different foods than someone from Louisiana. A person raised in Montana, does not have the same scenery, hectic traffic, or lifestyle as someone raised their entire life in New York and therefore has a different world view of what to expect on a daily basis, how they interact with people, and how they speak.
All of these same differences hold true for persons raised in households either from the countries of Cuba, Mexico, Latin America, and Spain or raised in households in descendants of any of these countries. Each country has their own norms. Be it food, dialects, slang, games, music and other activities.
I recently read a novel, and a character was of Cuban decent, it mentioned his mother was famous for her tortillas and went on to describe a tortilla from Mexico. You know the kind, a flat corn or wheat tortilla you fill with something?
This was not only wrong, but disconcerting. Cubans share many traits with Spain, one of them being tortillas. In Cuba, when you ask for a tortilla, (especially a Tortilla Española), you will get what we call a potato omelet. In Spain, and Cuba, a tortilla is our version of an omelet. Now you could mention, something about being Cuban, but his mother liked to cook like her Southern California Mexican neighbors, or something similar. This would allow you to mix and match. You often see characters that are from one place, but ‘learned to live like the locals’ then the reader knows that, and expects that. It still entails you as a writer must know why is your Cuban characters mother making Mexican tortillas. If you do, you will want the reader to know. If it isn’t necessary, neither were her making tortillas necessary either, so just leave it out.
There are many other differences between Latin and Hispanic cultures, just like ‘sweet tea’ is common in the south, here in Montana we ask for iced tea. Did you know in Cuba, the word Papaya is a woman’s vagina? They say Fruta Bomba. Yet in the US and Puerto Rico, they say Papaya. Mitt Romney learned that lesson. As a writer, it is important you know the difference too.
The same can be said of differences between many Latin and Hispanic cultures. Whether from Puerto Rico, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Mexico, Central America, South America, Spain, or any other Spanish speaking countries, it is imperative that a writer get to know their characters culture. A side note, they speak Portuguese in Brazil.
Another important reminder, just like each country in Latin America is different, remember so is each region in Spain, so should your characters foods, traits and mannerisms match.
If you are writing about any of today’s young Latin or Hispanic urban teen or young adult, you will probably want to consider some street slang. It is going to be different in Miami, Southern California or Texas, they might use Calo, or Spanglish (which could be used with any Latin or Hispanic American, but common in second generations). I am sure there are differences in New York, Chicago and any other large US city.
It is the details that are essential because they make a character special. Recently I watched a television show that took place back east. They had a suspect from North Dakota, a ranch woman, I think they were making her tough (her and her husband both carried guns) who spoke with a very prominent southern drawl. I had to rewind and try and figure out if they said Texas and I miss understood. You bethcha, eh?
I am not saying a character can’t have different likes, one of my Spanish characters loves American fast food but it is clear he has traveled to the US frequently. The reader understands the different like, and when I bring up anything Spanish, it is appropriate.
Besides food and language, consider the music, games, celebrations, and dance of their culture. In my second book, Big Sky Allure, due out later this year, several of my characters are from Spain, so when I need them to pass time in Barcelona, I have them play a card game called Chinchon. Just a small thing, but real.
To sum it up, know your character very well. What foods they were raised on, the music, the types of families that surrounded them, the language. Just as important is their age and financial status. A kid raised in a gated community in LA is not going to act, speak or be the same as a teen raised on the streets of NY. One will be street smart and then speak different than one who went to prep school. Some of it may never be used in your book, but it will all add to the essence of your character and the reader will find them more believable.
The same with their ethnicity, someone from Spain has listened to different music, eaten different foods, and definitely speaks different than someone from Mexico.
Here is how I make my tortilla:
I slice three to five peeled Yukon potatoes (about 3 lbs) very thin.
I heat up about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups olive oil until you can smell it. Add three tablespoons chopped onion, when that is cooked (3 to 5 minutes) remove the onions with a slotted spoon, set aside. Add the potatoes (the oil now has a nice onion flavor that will infuse the potatoes) and cook about 7 minutes, use a flat spatula and press the potatoes down, when they are soft, (check with a fork), pour the whole mixture into a mesh sieve, saving the oil. Let the potatoes drain well, several minutes.
Beat 5 eggs with two tablespoons of chicken broth. Put one tablespoon of reserved oil in the pan, when it is very hot (steamy) add the egg mixture let it cook a minute and add the potatoes and onions. Cover and cook around ten minutes, when it is done on the outside, carefully flip it over onto a large plate, and slide it back into the pan. Cook it through.