My side of the family is the traditional large numbered one. (Traditional for the generation prior to mine) My mother is one of 14 siblings (including half siblings) and my father was one of 8 (also including half siblings). My husband’s side of the family is considerably smaller in comparison. He has only two aunts to my 22 aunts and uncles so when I talk about my cousin “such and such” his eyes quickly turn glossy. It isn’t that he doesn’t care; it’s that he has only met a hand full of them and it isn’t easy to remember the rest he has only heard mentioned by name.
Last I counted I had fifty one FIRST COUSINS; it may be more and being that both my parents were of the oldest in their families, my youngest uncles (on both sides) are only four years older than me and could still add to the count at any moment.
When we were planning our wedding it was easy for my husband to come up with his half of the guest list. He invited every member of his family and still had room to invite friends. I on the other hand had to deal with not being able to invite everyone I wished could join us and what was worst, had to argue with my mother over my decisions.
It’s been over a year since our wedding and I am still dealing with the aftermath of not inviting all of the family. I did have to give in with mom and invite at least all her siblings living here in Texas (thank goodness it’s only five), but my first visit to family up north (the Chicago area) was more than awkward. I encountered comments that let me know the non-invited felt snubbed and wouldn’t soon forget.
My husband doesn’t quite understand the concept of having a large extended family. He doesn’t understand that aside from my parent’s brothers and sisters, their first cousins are also numerous and considered no different than their own siblings. So when I say “my cousin” I could be referring to either a child of my parent’s siblings OR child of my parent’s first cousins. Needless to say my family tree has a lot of branches..
In the few years my honey and I have been together we have been unable to attend the usual extended family gatherings, like traditional Quinceañeras (equivalent to sweet sixteen party but celebrated at age 15) or weddings. The latest we missed was across the border, and with the chaos going on in border towns these days at least this time we were “excused”. The others, well.. My family has a tendency to give short notice or to send all invitations to my mother’s address were they never get mentioned because they end up being buried under junk mail and my mom forgets they arrived.
Now I know these descriptions of a Mexican family could be the typical stereo type, but I want to give my reason to value my large extended family. However seldom or often I get to see them now that I am older I like to make the effort to join in family celebrations. You see, my maternal Grandmother was an orphan. Her parents both died within months of each other and she and her siblings (8 brothers and sisters) sadly ended up scattered taken in by family members, boarding schools on scholarships, apprenticeships or orphanages. Thanks to the oldest of them (Great aunt Margarita) they were never lost (track of each other) and the youngest even ended up taken in by her once she was married. That love for family, of not thinking just about the self but of those connected to us by blood has been taught to the next generation of children and grandchildren.
Those teachings of love, survival and belonging: knowing that they could have easily disappeared (lost track) in such tragedy is what makes me not want to miss the next family gathering we are invited to, because that is a happy occasion. These last couple of years we have lost four of my grandmother’s siblings and their absence is deeply felt. Funerals are not where I want to see my cousins. It is not where I want to introduce my husband to the extended family.
My honey I am sure will continue to tease me a bit about my large family (“which cousin is that?”) but he is now part of it!
In memory of those who left but who will remain in my heart (Joe, Angela, Margarita, Soledad) I celebrate my family and the bond they showed us all.