MEXICO CITY Arthritis, gastritis and hepatitis are known worldwide, but you have to spend time around Mexican mothers spoiling adult sons to witness another infamous ailment mamitis.
While it is not an illness, it is regarded as a pain, at least if you read advice columns or overhear wives and girlfriends complain how it stops their men from becoming responsible adults.
Mamitis (pronounced "mameetees") is slang for a man's overwhelming dependence on his mom, sure to be on full display for Mother's Day, which is always celebrated on May 10 in Mexico.
It might be considered a variant of "mama's boy," but mamitis is different it is widespread, steeped in Latino culture and leaves a man's sense of machismo intact.
It's not even a fight-provoking insult, necessarily. Some men see doting on their mothers, and being doted on in return, as their duty.
"It is a lifestyle," observed Miguel Angel Hernandez, 30, a department store salesman.
Mamitis sets in like this:
An aging mother spoils her son by cooking, washing and ironing for him forever. The son treats his mother as the reigning queen in his life. He sees her as an ideal woman to which no one can measure up with the comparisons often at his wife's expense.
"They do what their mamas say and she treats them like babies," laughed Martha Cuellar, 33, a magazine vendor. "That is why I got a divorce; she even told him how to raise our kids."
Dolores Prida, who writes the "Dolores dice" (Dolores says) column for Latina magazine, said mamitis destroys relationships.
"Mamitis is a serious disease that can sour the milk of human kindness," she said. "Funny thing is, every woman has the cure at hand she should raise her son keeping in mind that one day, he will be another woman's husband, not another woman's spoiled child."
Her blunt advice: "Let the dishes pile up in the sink and serve him menudo on a paper plate. And buy him disposable underwear."
Men afflicted by mamitis compare women to their mothers on everything from their wardrobe to their enchiladas, said Roberto Bermudez Sanchez, a sociologist at Mexico City's national university. The married women take a back seat, "but there can be the hope that when (the mother) dies, she will be able to take her place," he said.
Mamitis is found among the rich and the poor alike. It can strike daughters but is overwhelmingly more common among sons.
Mexico's first lady, Marta Sahagun de Fox, filed a libel lawsuit earlier this month against a journalist who penned an unauthorized biography which that contends Sahagun spoiled her children to incompetence.
Gloria Gonzalez-Lopez, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Texas at Austin, said idealizing one's mother to the extreme can indeed prevent some men from becoming independent and emotionally mature and may affect romantic relationships.
"Here we could have a man who could never be able to find the right woman because there is no woman on earth who would measure up to (his) mother's person attributes," she said.
Guadalupe Sosa, 58, a social worker with two adult sons, said mamitis is a form of power.
"It is a way of controlling them," she said. "You give them all they want and they do what you say."
Raquel Dergal, 50, an elementary school teacher, admits she fought hard to stop a mamitis relationship with her son.
"I now understand what is most important for my son is his wife and daughter," she said. Her son still visits daily.
She was brought to tears as she said that she now accepts that another woman can love her son as much as she does.
The mamitis relationship is hinted at in the song, Despedida, written near the beginning of World War II. It relates the thoughts of a soldier headed to battle. The lyrics tell of a man bidding farewell to his buddies and his girlfriend, but goes, "It breaks my heart to leave behind my mother."