Family Far and Wide

So I was at the ophthalmologist’s office, getting my yearly exam to make sure glaucoma hasn’t kicked in, or that my retina hasn’t detached (again).

In any case, the nurse looked at my chart and said, “Hey, we have the same last name.”

Now, the only people I’ve ever met with my last name are cousins or aunts or some other semi-immediate family member. So this was a little surprising.

The nurse made me go through my family history, and we discovered that we have the same great-grandfather (!). Yes, I too am impressed that I was able to remember the name of my great-grandfather. Try it sometime — it isn’t easy.

According to my subsequent Google research, the nurse and I are second cousins. She was California-born, which makes sense in that the largest population of Salvadorians (outsider of El Salvador, of course) is right here in Los Angeles. And she assumed, naturally, that I was also a SoCal native.

“No,” I said. “I’m from Wisconsin.”

Consider her mind blown.

Yes, the nurse was impressed that our family name had made it all the way to the American Midwest. But then she added that some of her cousins (my third cousins?) moved to Melbourne a decade ago.

“I talked to them on FaceTime a few weeks ago,” the nurse said. “They have these El Salvadorian kids who have thick Australian accents.”

Well… crikey.



Later, I told my mom about running into my second cousin, the nurse. Mi madre really wasn’t that surprised.

“Your great-grandparents had eighteen children,” my mom said.

“I’m guessing they were very Catholic,” I said.

“Yes, so you were bound to run into a cousin someday.”

OK, that’s true. But I still thought it was kind of cool.



A year ago (actually, 16 months ago), I became a father.

I have purposely avoided writing too much about my son because that gets into, shall we say, less modest territory (the kid is awesome!).

In addition to my desire to avoid being a braggart, I also presumed that the last thing people want to read is another blogger ranting about how his/her kid is a supergenuis who will cure cancer and solve climate change before hitting kindergarten. Basically, it doesn’t make for good posts.

Also, there’s something a little creepy about putting your kid’s personal life out there on the internet, no matter how innocuous or anonymous.

So for all those reasons, you have not heard much about the little guy. Still, I will mention that my wife and I recently took him back to the Midwest to meet his extended family.

At one point, Cousin #3, ace photographer, took a picture of my son, my mom, my grandma, and me. The shot captured four generations, which I imagine is a pretty rare image.

The photo also captured the direct line from a tiny village in El Salvador to a bustling metropolis in America. And it will serve as reminder to my son that no matter what he accomplishes, and no matter how comfortable his life is, he should remember that he is descended from people who walked dirt roads barefoot, and who still have ties to a poor country that, except for a little bit of luck, could have been his home.

With hope, this will serve as a lesson in humbleness for him.

dirt road

But of course, he doesn’t really need it, because the kid is awesome.

Back in My Day

As I’ve mentioned before, I recently became a father. My wife and I were having one of those most natural of conversations, which was discussing what kind of person our son will grow up to be.

Somehow, we got into a “those kids today” rant about how cushy the Millennials have it. After all, my wife and I are Gen X, so we didn’t have the internet, iPods, and bike helmets. We didn’t have parents chauffeuring us around to special events geared just for our age group, nor did we have culturally enriching programs that told us how special we were. And of course, there was never the option of living with mom and dad indefinitely.

Yes, after talking about our childhoods, my wife and I were feeling pretty good about our toughness and resiliency. Look how cool we are!


Then we remembered our parents.

My mother grew up in a third-world Latin American country where she literally walked miles barefoot to school each day. Then she came to America, where she knew nobody and barely spoke the language. As for my wife’s father, he was a child during the Great Depression, and he went to sleep hungry most nights.

Yeah, that shut us up pretty damn quickly.


The Eagle Has Landed

Yes, there’s been a bit of a gap since I updated the site, but as you can guess from the tenor and tone of the last few posts, there is an obvious reason why I haven’t gotten to the computer for a couple of weeks now.

That’s right. I became a father recently, and the past few days have been a pleasant and perplexing miasma of joy, exhaustion, and adrenalized activity.

Soon, I will get back to writing regularly. But until then, almost all of my attention will be focused on a certain young Latino who spends most of his time wailing nonstop.

And I’m pretty damned thrilled about that.


Like a Ticking Time Bomb

Recently, I wrote that I am about to become a father. And when I say, “about to,” I mean it. The baby is due in a few days, and he can arrive literally any minute — maybe even before I finish typing this sentence… what was that?

Oh, sorry, I thought I heard my wife going into labor. Never mind. Carry on.

But you may have noticed that I used the pronoun “he” to refer to the baby. Previously, I said the baby was a girl. Well, my wife and I received the ultimate changeup when the doctors announced that they had read the original ultrasound wrong.

That’s right. They got the wrong gender. So we’re having a boy now.

The doctors must have had a good laugh about that one.

We’re happy either way, although it definitely rocked our world to have the genders switch like that.

Regardless of his XY makeup, our baby will, as I’ve written before, be part of the fast-growing multiethnic generation.

Interestingly, his arrival comes at a time when birthrates in America are declining, especially among Latinas and immigrants. Apparently, Hispanics are learning that the Pope is not the ultimate authority on what they do with their bodies, and that they can use birth control just like everybody else.

This is great news, of course, and it can only help Hispanics improve their economic standing and educational levels.

Now, I would like to analyze this issue further, but you see, I’m too jittery to spend more than seven minutes on any one task, because the baby… wait, what? Sorry, another false alarm.

Check back with me in a few days.


Not Quite Adios

With the impending arrival of my first child, I have to face an unpleasant truth: I may no longer have the time and energy to update this website as frequently as I have in the past.

I’ve been writing the Hispanic Fanatic for over four years now, and I still have no shortage of subjects that I’d like to address. That’s not because I’m so brilliant. It’s a consequence of living in a time and place where Latino culture has become both red-hot trend and the object of hatred. It’s a never-ending source of material.

But while I still intend to write as much as I can, I have to be at least somewhat realistic. I know I won’t be hyped up to analyze the latest trending topic regarding Hispanics when I’m on three hours sleep and wondering if we’re low on diapers.

Still, my promise is to update the site as often as I can, so I am positively not quitting. My posts may become more sporadic, and at times I may just link to interesting stories without comment (which I don’t like doing), and of course you may have to put up with multiple references to my presumably perfect offspring, but I’m going to keep going.

Now if you’ll excuse me, my wife and I are late for Lamaze class.


Plot Twist

My wife is pregnant.

Yes, it’s pretty great news.

Our daughter is due in January. We’ve never been parents, so by next summer, I’ll be one of those annoying first-time fathers who believes the most important thing in the world is his baby’s capacity for drool. Just wait, I’ll be blogging about it day and night. This may cut into the readership of the 19.3 million mommy bloggers out there, so I apologize in advance for usurping their authority.

But with all the hectic preparation for the child’s arrival, and careful time set aside for crippling self-doubt and solipsistic panic attacks, I’ve barely had time to ponder the political ramifications of this kid. That has to change.

To continue reading this post, please click here.


Long Distance

I recently completed the final profile of my family’s members. The anecdotes will keep coming, of course, but I won’t be focusing on a single member at this point.

I’ve written before of how Latino families tend to be close, and indeed, my cousins and I were raised more like siblings than distant relatives.

Still, I don’t know if it’s ironic, coincidental, or completely logical that people who grew up in a tight bunch are now so scattered around the Western Hemisphere.

Perhaps it’s the confidence that we will always remain in touch that has allowed us to branch out. Or maybe it’s just our immigrant roots that propel us onward.

I spoke to many of them last month, on various long-distance phone calls and/or email exchanges around Christmas. I’ve written before about how Hispanics tend to treat Christmas as a true fiesta and not a somber obligation.

Decades ago, shortly after my cousins from El Salvador came to America, we had our first mongo-huge event. What I remember most was Cousins #4 and #5, speaking to each other in fast overlapping English and Spanish. Half of their communication consisted of attempts to get their points across. The barrier would frustrate most adults, but to the girls, it was a hilarious game that never got old. Their pantomime and mangled words amused them so much that they often forgot what they were trying to say and just laughed in harmony. Their medium truly was their message.

At one of our last get-togethers, some of the cousins were holed up in a bedroom, talking about the pressures and stresses of the holidays. Of course, one by one, we all wandered into the room, until we had to stop bitching about the burdens of family because we were all pretty much crowded in there, which negated our insistence that we spent too much time together.

We see each less these days, of course. New bonds have formed over the years. For example, one of Cousin #2’s children shares my name. I presume that this connects us, although he is a toddler and doesn’t seem to recognize the significance.

When I was introduced to him, his mother referred to me as his uncle. Someone else in the family said that we were cousins, twice removed or something like that. I honestly don’t know what our precise connection is, and like him, I won’t give it a lot of thought.

It’s enough that we’re family.

El Perro

She was found in a box in Mexico.

It was an inauspicious start to life, but from that humble beginning, she has grown into a kindhearted and affectionate individual. And she has finally learned that a true lady does not defecate in the living room.

Our new dog is a mutt of multiple breeds. We know, however, that the two primary breeds in her bloodline are, of all things, Boxer and Dachshund. It’s a truly unique, and logistically weird, combination (how did her parents get together?). But it makes her a Boxhund.

I’ve written before about my fondness for the canine species. They possess all of the positive traits of humanity (love, loyalty, joy, etc) with none of our negative characteristics (bigotry, greed, jealousy, etc).

When my wife and I decided to get a rescue dog, we assumed that he or she would be a local stray, found on the streets of Los Angeles. We were surprised, therefore, when the rescue group’s coordinator revealed that our puppy was discovered shivering in a parking lot just over the border.

Evidently, when it comes to taking care of animals, nationalities and borders don’t matter — and nor should they. Volunteers and vets with the rescue organization are not concerned where a dog originated, or on which patch of land she took her first breath. They simply strive to ensure that every animal finds a good home, and my wife and I are indebted to them.

This humanitarian process doesn’t work the same way with people. In fact, it’s noticeably easier for a dog to immigrate to America than it is for a person. Of course, as a Mexican national, our dog had to endure the usual bureaucracy and red tape, but I assure all the nativists out there that she is in the country legally.

Now, one could argue that our dog is performing tricks that an American puppy would gladly do. Maybe she’s driving down the minimum wage for dogs who are able to hold their “stay” command (it’s currently half a Milkbone).

But I have no intention of returning her to Mexico. It’s good to have a fellow Hispanic in the house.

It’s funny, however. You barely notice her Latina accent.

Cousin #7

The youngest of us, he came to America when he was two. I was twelve at the time, and I was in charge of holding his hand while he walked into the country. He threw a fit at the border station for some unknown reason, and I had to drag him into America kicking and screaming, quite literally.

He is the son of Aunt #2, and as such was orphaned before he could form concrete memories of his parents. My mother adopted him, so my cousin became my brother.

As a child, he fluctuated between precocious awareness of his high intelligence and traumatizing flashbacks of the harrowing start to his life.

A week after he arrived, he ran into my room screeching in fear. “Las bombas! Las bombas!” he screamed as he grabbed me. The problem, my mother explained to me, was that he had heard a plane go over our house. He associated that sound with the imminent dropping of bombs.

Cousin #7 soon adjusted to life in America, however, and his ability to conjure adventure out of the most mundane setting quickly became apparent. On his second day of kindergarten, he came home topless. When my mother asked him what happened to his shirt, he said he didn’t know. For reasons never explained or even grasped at, he had literally lost his shirt, and it never reappeared.

On the way to midnight mass one Christmas Eve, he broke away from us and climbed the snowplowed mountain in front of the church. He was already at the top of the hill and forming snowballs when my mother caught up to him.

“Malcriado!” she said. “Come down, now!”

He had created a formidable arsenal and was sizing up potential targets when she yelled at him, and with great hesitation, he slid down the hill and left his trove of snowballs behind.

As a teenager, he developed an almost psychotic work ethic. One summer, he worked an import-export tent at my hometown’s weeks-long festival. While virtually every adolescent showed up at the festival grounds to dance to cover bands and drink until throwing up, Cousin #7 was handling merchandise and lifting boxes and making change. His calm tone and laidback smile made people trust him, and they usually bought more than they had planned. Many innocent Midwesterners left the tent with a leather wallet from Bogotá or a stuffed lizard from Tegucigalpa or a set of maracas from Caracas. He is just that charming.

Years later, he did me the favor of becoming one of the groomsmen at my wedding. But unfortunately, I haven’t seen him in years.

This is because he is the only one of the cousins to return to El Salvador. The reasons that Cousin #7 lives there are too complex and outright baffling to cover in a single post.

Suffice to say that he has married a local girl and now has an adorable son and daughter. The girl, in particular, looks just like he did as a toddler. I don’t know if she or her brother are prone to the grand schemes and misadventures of their father, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they are.

In any case, I hope to visit them soon. It will be good to see my brother again.

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