Tag: cousins

#MoreThanALabel

Recently, the good people at Simmons College asked me to take part in their blog carnival.

carnival-1

Well, how could I say no to anything with the word “carnival” in it? Will there be rides? Will there be virtual cotton candy? Can I get my picture taken next to the bearded lady? (Note: it is no longer socially acceptable to make fun of women with facial hair, so please mentally delete that last sentence).

In any case, it turns out that the blog carnival is part of the #MoreThanALabel campaign to shine a positive light on immigrant communities, defy labels, and combat the stigmas of being an immigrant.

Now, I am not an immigrant. I was born in New York City, which many conservatives will tell you is not part of the “real America,” but alas for them, it technically counts as the USA.

As I’ve stated many times, being born here is not an accomplishment. It is pure luck.

However, my mother is an immigrant. She came here from El Salvador in the late 1960s, and she has now been an American citizen for longer than she was a resident of her native land.

Many of my cousins are immigrants. They came here as kids and have become citizens, started careers, and raised their own children.

One of my cousins has done multiple tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan. I mean, really, how patriotic can you get?

But ultimately, it doesn’t matter how successful the immigrants in my family have been. Nor does it matter that immigrants have lower crime rates than native-born Americans. And it doesn’t even count that immigrants pay plenty of taxes and have a net positive impact on the economy.

That’s because a huge percentage of Americans are convinced that their lives suck because of all those people who were born south of Texas. And those Americans cannot be reasoned with.

So while it’s great that the #MoreThanALabel campaign is working to improve the image of immigrant communities, I’m just too cynical to contribute much of an uplifting narrative.

You see, I’m through with trying to convince xenophobes that immigrants belong in America. That is backward logic. It is the racists who represent the worst of the USA, and they always have.

And before everybody gets crazy, let me issue an obvious disclaimer: I’m not saying that everyone who has issues with immigration reform or is a conservative is a racist. Again, I’m not saying that. It would be absurd.

But the racial element is there, winding around the debate. It makes movements like #MoreThanALabel a necessity. No other group has to take such great efforts to convince a segment of the American population that they are human beings.

Still, the good news is that immigrants will persevere. Each new generation of arrivals struggles to its feet and establishes itself as part of American culture. It is an inevitable process, and it will go on and on.

So, if you need me, I’ll be hitting this blog carnival’s Tilt-a-Whirl. See you there.

 


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.


The Demented Cousins

First off, thanks to Eddy for commenting on my post “Witnesses Described Him as Brown…” He supplied one of the best, bravest, and most poignant comments that I’ve received.

Thanks also to all who have commented on “From the Motherland,” the post about my mom. Most of the comments have been via email or verbal, but it’s still good to know that certain pieces resonate.

Along those lines, I will continue with the theme of family by introducing you to the cousins.

Let me be clear that I’ve never related to the the whole concept of extended family. I don’t have distant relatives I’m forced to visit or creepy old uncles who make everyone uncomfortable or anonymous children who just show up at Thanksgiving.

Rather, I have the cousins. There are eight of us, and we were basically raised as siblings. Growing up, I thought it was normal to see your cousins at least once a week (usually more) and go to stay at their houses for days at a time and share inside jokes and get into fights about what TV show you were going to watch.

It wasn’t until I was an adult, and talked to other people about their childhoods, that I realized most Americans think of “cousin” as that weird kid they saw at funerals or the exotic older relative who bought them beer.

It wasn’t like that for us.

Perhaps this is because in Hispanic culture, valuing family is not just lip service. It is a hardcore component of life. There are good and bad aspects of this principle, which I’ll address in a future post. But regardless of its consequences, I can verify its existence and strength with Latinos.

Among the cousins, I’m the oldest, and my brother (about nine years my junior) is the youngest. That means all eight of us are within a decade of each other.

We remember being children together, piling into our parents’ cars and jostling for space. We recall being teenagers and going through goth or grunge or rave phases. And now as adults, we go out to dinner together or visit each other’s houses or do other respectable grown-up things that would have amused us to even contemplate back when we pulled each other’s hair or stole one another’s CDs.

We are not as close as we used to be, which is inevitable in even the tightest of families. But we see each other, in various combinations, when we can. And our spouses have become de facto cousins, and the children are our collective nieces and nephews (again, we don’t keep track of all the “second cousin, twice removed” jargon).

This is not to say that everything has gone smoothly for all eight of us, or that feuds haven’t erupted along the way, or that some relationships are at this point, more tangential. But for the most part, we pretty much like each other, which took me a long time to realize is a rarity in American life.

I’ll profile each of the cousins in future posts. Suffice to say, I’m grateful that in one respect, at least, we were raised old-school Hispanic style – you know, like a family.


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