I come from an international family of sorts. My mother is both Brazilian and Chinese – my father is Italian. I immigrated to America when I was young. Through this mass confusion I found myself with relatives, loved ones, spread across the world. It takes 10,000 miles to see my closest grandparents and through this journey I must cross barriers of culture, tradition, and, most importantly, language. When there are nearly eight languages sounding throughout the room of a small family reunion, I have had to learn to adapt. Through my trials and tribulations, my successes and failures with communicating with my family, I have grown to believe that love knows no bounds. Love cannot be lost in translation.
Nevertheless, it can become tangled. On a recent trip to Brazil, I met my great aunt, who indubitably thought that it would be a novel idea to speak Cantonese to me, a dialect of Chinese that I can’t even understand, let alone respond in. Through the sporadic translations made by various relatives into broken English I was able to pick out that she was glad to see me and liked my hair. But I was there for 15 minutes. I was left to wonder how much else she said about my life and hers: what stories did I miss out on, how much of my rich family history have I never heard? Still, these meetings always turn out simple and brief. We soon accepted the impossibility of our endeavor, smiled, waved, and said our goodbyes.
With my parents, it’s more complicated because they speak English but do not understand the culture, the idioms and structure behind it. Sometimes it seems the words I speak to them are empty and useless; when I try to speak any other language they urge me to be “the American girl” they’ve modeled me as. My battle with the conflicting emotions that result has been endless. However, ultimately our relationship does not lie broken. Somehow, we associate on a higher level, one that is impervious to small misunderstandings, and, occasionally, larger ones also. Our unspoken connection outlives the miscommunication. I will always turn to them: they are my shoulders to cry on, my rocks to lean on. When nothing is wrong I have learned to just smile.
I believe now that an earnest smile can speak volumes more than a strained conversation. It is a vital concept for a family stretched so far apart. I believe in the beauty of our bodies’ language; I believe in emotions and intentions we can convey with our minds. I believe in a collective acceptance, between not just family, but everyone: an unspoken common ground.
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