Monday, October 19, 2015

Thicker Than Water

“You must remember, family is often born of blood, but it doesn't depend on blood. Nor is it exclusive of friendship. Family members can be your best friends, you know. And best friends, whether or not they are related to you, can be your family.”
Trenton Lee Stewart, The Mysterious Benedict Society

My family (Lupe) and I celebrating my book award
There are many definitions in the world of what it means to be "family." In Latin, familia refers to the "servants of a household" or the "estate, property and members of a household, including relatives and servants." In English it has come to mean something slightly different: "the collective body of persons who form one household under one head..including parents, children and servants.."(Online Etymology Dictionary) And yet, even with the more modern day English definition we must ask ourselves what "household?" The physical space we dwell in? The emotional space we allow people to occupy? Or the community and societal spaces we spend our time in? 

How do we define family and are we allowed more than one?

I have been struggling a great deal with my notion and understanding of what it means to be a family over  the last several years. Mostly because my family circle has evolved. It has grown and shrunk at the same time. While I used to see my immediate family as my parents and siblings (5 of us in total), I now consider my immediate family to be my husband ( 2 of us and 2 dogs). Both my brother and my sister are now married and have kids so I have a larger extended family that consists of 3 nieces, 2 nephews, a brother in law and a sister in law. My cousins have also had children and our family blood lines keep growing. 

Having a family and being there for your family are values that were instilled in me at a very young age. 
Some of my immediate and extended family
Family is forever I was told.

Blood is thicker than water I was told.

You have to...because they're family.

And yet, over the last several years I have come to question these "familial obligations" because although they represent a core value of what it means to live and grow up Latina, I wonder if it's something we need to start reevaluating as a culture.

This past weekend, I spent an incredible three days writing, talking, laughing and even crying with 5 other Afro-Latina writers. (That will get its own blog post next week) While driving to Galveston, where our retreat house was located, me and two of the other writers had a conversation about Latin families and if it could be possible that one of the reasons we fail to progress as a people and a race is because of this antiquated notion of "familial obligations." It is often the case that many of those who feel obligated to help their blood related family members do so simply because it's family and not because those receiving the help actually deserve it. We, especially Latina women are often very self-sacrificing. We give and give and give and get nothing in return...especially from family. It drains us, but we keep giving. We insist that family is forever. And yet, our definition of family is limited to those who share our same blood. Why?

I can say, that this has frustrated me GREATLY over the last 8 years since I was diagnosed. Why? Because my blood family has often failed me when I have been at my lowest. Because my blood family has often failed me when I have been at my highest.

I am truly a giver. I give love, attention, money, joy and even praise to and about my family. I plan parties, send gifts, condolences, good energy, prayers, FB posts, Tweets, cards etc. for their highs and their lows. I have been giving for as long as I can remember. (Was I always the nicest sister or daughter, no..but I have learned from that and changed). Have I received as much in return? From my parents, YES. From others...not so much.

My Sclero Family
Am I asking to be showered with gifts and attention? No. But is it too much to ask for equal treatment and consideration? I don't think so. There are some blood family members for whom I don't give as much to anymore, because I'm tired. At the young age of 30? Yes. I'm tired of giving my time and attention and energy to those members who have not earned it, who have failed and disappointmted me time and time again. Who never bother to call when I'm laid up in a hospital bed to IVs and beeping machines. Who can't bother to text a note of congratulations when I win a book award or invite me to dinner when I'm in town but expect me to provide hotel service when they want to travel to Galveston and spend the weekend at the beach with their families (without inviting me of course). No. I am done with THOSE family members. If they want me in their lives and they want to be treated like family, they will have to start treating me like family first.

Family, to me is not about the blood that runs through your veins. Being sick and dealing with extreme highs and lows in my energy and in my mood has shown me that it is deeper than that. It is about being there for someone when they need it most, whether that's at a joyful moment or a painful one. Family is my mother-in-law who sponge bathed me only 2 months after marrying her son because I was hospitalized for 3 days and couldn't do it myself. Family is my best friend answering her phone at 3 am, telling me why I shouldn't take a bottle of pills. 
My poetry family
Family is showing up to the hospital EVERY SINGLE TIME I've been there over night (Marina) and brining me magazines, cupcakes, and a smile. Family is texting me once a week just to say hi. Family is remembering to celebrate my succeses as much as I celebrate yours and allowing me to cry when you don't know what to say. 

Family can be made in a day and broken with a few words. Family admits when they are wrong and work to make it better. Family takes but they also give. It is not a one way street.

I have come to understand that I have many families. My Scleroderma and Lupus families who understnad what it means to be chronically ill. My friends turned into sisters and brothers family- all those that have been with me for years through the good and the bad. My Houston poetry family that encourages me to keep writing and performing. And this past weekend, I made a new family with 5 new sisters.
Afro-Latina sisters walking fiercly!
My Afro-Latina writing family will be with me forever and I hope it keeps growing. I am connected to these women not by blood (though we all share our African roots), but by something greater. Something that will reverberate after our blood has dried up and our bones have wasted away. We are connected by a shared mission and a shared experience. Our stories brought us together and our stories will keep us alive long after we are gone. I feel closer to these women than I do to some of my cousins (not all of ya'll, relax..if you're reading this you're probably not one of those cousins lol). 

We are all educated, passionate women who empowered each other and didn't bring each other down. We are all at different points in our journies as women and as writers, but we used that to help each other grow. In a matter of 72 hrs I made lifelong friendships with some pretty amazing women that were hard to say goodbye to when I dropped them off at the airport. I cannot tell you the last time I was filled with such joy in my heart for people...for people I barely knew. (I'm usually not that upset when I say goodbye to "real family") These women transformed me and made me a better person. THAT'S what family does. They raise you up and make you want to be the best version of you.
My Afro-Latina Sisters
Family isn't supposed to make you bitter and sad. Family shouldn't emaciate your soul and your spirit. Might they disappoint you from time to time? Sure, we're all human and we all make mistakes. But will you forgive each other, learn from it and become stronger together, yes. That is what REAL family does. Family, the people that fill your emotional and mental household should nurture and encourage you in the best of times and in the worst of times.

My blood family and my family family will continue to grow and shrink with each year. Those who give and take as much as I give and take will be my familia. I get to choose who I call and consider my family. And only those people who have earned a place at the table will have a chance to sit and break bread with me.

And...The one who never fails me:
Mami and Me

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