I believe in family, in bonds so strong they sustain you through unbearable moments.
I once heard someone describe the roots of the trees in the Redwood Forest. She said what makes it possible for these trees to grow so enormously tall and erect is that their roots are intertwined under the earth with the roots of neighboring trees. To the human eye, each of these trees is independent of the others. In truth, it is only because of the strength created by the connectedness of their roots that any one single tree can stand at its magnificent height. Although I don’t know if this is scientifically correct, I feel the strength of a similar root system when I think of family.
With a mother who came from a family of ten, family not only meant parents and siblings, but also many tías and tíos and more than forty cousins. Sunday dinner and Christmas Eve – how did we all fit in abuelita’s house? Her home was where many piñata birthday parties and even a quinceañera and a wedding celebration took place. I treasure memories of my grandmother’s large kitchen with all of us gathered sharing our nightly simple supper of beans and cheese and fresh bread from the panadería down the street.
The concept of babysitters didn’t exist in my childhood. What was my extended Mexican family for, if not to care for the children? On evenings we’d spend in her home, my grandmother would sleep with me and my older sister on a mattress on the floor and would tell us the same simple story, over and over again, until we’d fall asleep. Only on such occasions would I see my grandmother’s false teeth out, and her three-foot-length silver braid undone from its traditional bun behind her head.
As a child, my aunts taught me to dance and reviewed my prayers for catechism. If any family member participated in an event – a dance performance or Mother’s Day pageant – dozens of family members attended. It was family that helped us make the transition to life in this country by helping us find a series of rental homes and providing my first books in English. It was family that lent us funds for the down payment on my parents’ first home, and that lent us a station wagon to drive me to an out of town law school. After the passing of my beloved abuelita on Christmas Day 1979, it became difficult to maintain a frequent relationship with the extended family. But I’ve often thought of their significance in my life; I am who I am because they nurtured, intentionally or unintentionally, the child I was.
It is my responsibility, and that of my brother and sisters, to create that sense of family for our children. My family members not only molded me, but just like the Redwoods, their roots are permanently intertwined with mine and make it possible for me, just like each individual tree, to reach for the heights of the sky.
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