How hand fans were used in traditional Puerto Rican courtship

The hand fans became an effective way for young women to send messages to their suitors or boyfriends. (Image courtesy of Centro Cultural Carmen Solá de Pereira de Ponce).

By Mivette Vega

February 12, 2024

Puerto Rican lovers used to have secret codes to communicate. These are their meanings.

At the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, Puerto Rican lovers had secret codes to communicate.

During those years, many social events were held where the danza puertorriqueña was the main musical genre.

Young single ladies could not attend these events alone and had to be accompanied by their mothers or another adult, who were called “chaperonas” (chaperones).

The chaperones paid attention to the young women and their possible suitors.

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Without the possibility of being able to speak freely with their suitors, young women developed a secret way to communicate with hand fans. During those times, Puerto Rican women used fans as an accessory, especially during the hot weather months. These objects became an effective way for young women to send messages to their suitors or boyfriends.

According to how ladies placed their fans, gentlemen knew if they had a chance or not. 

The 2002 book “Memories of the Mayagüez Casino,”by Silvia A. Aguiló Ramos, reveal the signs and their meanings:     

🪭Carry it closed and hanging from the left hand –  I want to have a boyfriend.

🪭 Carry it closed and hanging from the right hand –  I am engaged.

🪭 Fan yourself very quickly – I have doubts about you.

🪭 Close it quickly – Talk to my dad.

🪭 Close it against your heart – I love you madly.

🪭 Rest it closed on your forehead – I don’t care about you.

🪭 Keep the fan closed – I’m not going out for a walk today.

🪭 Take it out of the pocket –  I’m going out of the house.

🪭 Rest it open on your lips – Don’t doubt me.

🪭 Hold it open in your heart – I want to get married.

🪭 Point to the side – I’ll wait for you in the garden.

🪭 Tap on the palm of the hand – Retire, they are going to catch us.

🪭 Give the fan to the boyfriend – My heart is only yours.

🪭 Take the boyfriend’s fan: I’m not interested in more lovers.

🪭 Open it and cover part of the face – Everything has ended between the two.

🪭 Drop the fan – I suffer, but I love you.

🪭 Tap the fan in the left hand: – I like you.

🪭 Stare around – I think it’s good for me.

🪭 Tap the right hand – I hate you.

🪭 Tap the dress – I’m jealous of you.

🪭 Tap the nose – I think you’re fooling me

🪭 Rest it closed on the left cheek – I am all yours.

🪭 Pretend to count the rods – I want to talk to you.

🪭 Place it on the temple – I think of you night and day.

🪭 Playing with the fan – I’m impatient.

🪭 Have it suspended and open upside down – Without your love, I prefer to die.


  • Mivette Vega

    Mivette Vega is a seasoned journalist and multimedia reporter whose stories center the Latino community. She is passionate about justice, equality, environmental matters, and animals. She is a Salvadorrican—Salvadorian that grew up in Puerto Rico—that has lived in San Juan, Venice, Italy, and Miami.


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