I believe in family ties. I’ve always known exactly where I came from. I come from a long line of men and women whose lives were centered on la familia. This is the defining value of Latino society, yet it took me a lifetime to embrace it as my own.
Nearly a hundred years ago, my great-grandfather fled Pancho Villa and the chaos of the Mexican Revolution. He resettled in Texas, starting all over with nothing, because he wanted a better life for his family. My grandparents struggled in el barrio, but they succeeded in sending all of their seven children on to college and careers. Later, my parents moved to Southern California in search of their own brass ring of opportunity.
None of this mattered to me growing up. I was a restless middle child, and my family was the bane of my existence. When I was a kid, I yearned for a different set of relatives, maybe the Osmonds, or at least the Bradys. I was convinced that I didn’t belong with the people around me. My parents were too strict. My aunts were unbelievably bossy. And my two brothers drove me crazy.
So when I got my chance, I escaped. I left East L.A. and attended college on the east coast. After graduation, I carved out my own life in New York City. I worked at a variety of unconventional jobs. I came out as a gay man. I contemplated agnosticism. Yet even as I searched for myself, family remained my bedrock. Although I considered myself an outsider, I regularly returned to the noisy embrace of home. To Dad’s long stories. To Mom’s enchiladas. To my aunts’ unsolicited advice.
Two years ago, my great-uncle Pablo died, and my relatives convened in El Paso for his services. Despite the circumstances, the funeral was a joyous experience. I saw aunts, uncles, cousins, and other relatives who I hadn’t seen in years. Every time I turned, I bumped into another voice or face from my past – another part of my personal heritage.
At Pablo’s graveside, I surveyed my relatives around me and realized that everyone older than me had known me – literally – since the day I was born. I, in turn, had known everyone younger since the day their life began. And underneath us all, in this same cemetery, were my grandparents, my great-aunts, and my great-uncles.
After years of identifying as a loner, I felt a profound sense of connection. This was where I belonged. This was my group. It hit me that my family had always accepted me – it was only now that I was accepting them.
I believe in family ties because they have been my anchor throughout the twists and turns of life. My worldview has not been defined by religion, politics, or social trends. My belief system comes from my determined grandpa, my striving parents, my boisterous nephews. I believe in family ties, because family is forever.
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