Tag: cousin

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.

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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.

 


Cousin #1

In an earlier post, I introduced my cousins. I plan to profile each one of them on this blog, not only to give you a fuller picture of Hispanic Americans (beyond my neurotic persona), but also to verify to myself that the cousins are indeed reading my posts like they claim they are.

I will profile them in birth order, and for that reason and to preserve their anonymity, I’ll just refer to them by number. Cousin #1 is the second oldest, after me, and therefore is the first up.

In brief, she is the most popular introvert the world has ever known. Cousin #1 seems to be friends with everyone in our hometown, despite the fact that she would rather chew glass than call attention to herself. How then does she build this social circle?

For starters, she has an absurd amount of faith in the concept of humanity. She makes jaded vatos, stressed single moms, and nonplussed grocery clerks feel like they are the most fascinating people to cross her path in eons. This interest cannot be faked, and indeed, it isn’t.

She came to visit me once when I was living in LA. She took a Greyhound bus in, which anyone can tell you is routinely filled with the most deranged, shrill, deluded, and unstable individuals from the lower forty-eight states who can scrape together enough cash to attempt a new start in Southern California. I told her it wasn’t a good idea to take the bus, but she insisted. When I picked her up in downtown LA (itself a hotbed of shady individuals and wild-eyed schemers) Cousin #1 hopped off the bus with a broad smile, hugged one of her fellow passengers goodbye, and told me that she had “met many friends” on the journey. I thought she was insane for even talking to the assortment of thugs, drunks, and crazies who had hitched a ride with her.

Cousin #1 plays violin, and is by far the most musically talented member of our family. In fact, as a teenager, she performed a concert with our hometown’s symphony orchestra after being identified as one of the city’s promising young musicians. In her adolescence, she could be found intently practicing Mozart, although she was just as likely to be blaring KMFDM and Ministry from her bedroom.

Cousin #1 was a social worker for years, and she often went door-to-door in poor neighborhoods, checking in on recent immigrants and third-generation welfare moms to see if their children’s basic needs were being met. She put people in touch with the right agencies or translated documents or just listened to them whisper about how America was a much harsher place than they had been led to believe. In one especially tough neighborhood, she was robbed at gunpoint in broad daylight.

She doesn’t eat in Spanish restaurants because of the conquistadors’ cruelty to the El Salvador natives. And it takes little prompting for her to show off the huge Mayan warrior eagle tattooed across her shoulders. It is an inky proclamation of Latina identity and pride that forces those who see the tattoo to consider it a living entity rather than a mere design.

Because of her chronic compassion, the harshest insult she hurls is “boo-gee,” which she applies to items that strike her as inane in their bourgeois popularity. She is often caught between her fierce desire to solve all the world’s problems at once and her drive to accommodate others.

Cousin #1 is, in many ways then, your typical Hispanic, violin-playing, tattooed social worker who effortlessly makes people happy.


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