Sunday, May 28, 2006

After All This Time

Today she came over. I'm talking about one of my long-absent cousins. As I've talked about before, I grew up with almost all of my cousins around me. We all lived in New Orleans and sometimes we even lived on the same street. They are really more like my brothers and sisters because I am just as close to them as I am to my siblings. Anyway, there were two cousins that were never amongst this constantly oscillating flow between houses.

Actually, some people might say it was three who were missing but one of them doesn't count because he's not my real cousin. It's a bit off-topic but perhaps a little interesting. My mother had lots of sisters and only one brother. Her brother had a son but he's not considered my cousin. He belongs to his mother's family. I know that might sound cold-hearted but that's just the way it is. I've seen him maybe four times in my life. He lives in Michigan with his wife and their two children. Sometimes it feels odd to have a different kinship system from most people in this country but I do feel that ours is just as valid as any other. After all, it's not like we planned to exclude my uncle's child from everything. It's just that this is what feels most natural to us. There are some difficulties though.

My relationship with my bio-dad has been rough. He always felt like it was his role to be the disciplinarian for my brothers and me but that just never worked. There is nothing in the world that he could do that would give him the right to exert the kind of control that he wanted to have over our lives. My mother says that the best thing he ever did for us was when he left her and they got a divorce. Now they can get along just fine.

My other cousins experienced the same sort of problems. I suppose their fathers were no different from the average men but even being average can present problems when the two people in the couple have very different ideas about family roles. This war of the wills has been going on in my family for as long as I can remember. My mother and all but one of her sisters are very assertive women. Unfortunately, several of the men who married into this family were downright aggressive. As you can likely understand, this led to many clashes between them all.

At some point, one of the husbands (my uncle) decided that he didn't want his wife to have anything to do with the rest of us. Unfortunately, it was the husband of my aunt who is extremely timid, probably as a result of her mental illness, so she went along with her husband's demands. I was very young when this happened, only around twelve years old. I have no idea what prompted his decision but I do know what resulted from it. Abruptly, my aunt cut off all contact with her sisters. My mother says that, at first, she thought it was just a little phase but this "episode" turned into a situation that lasted many years. Though my aunt and her two daughters lived in New Orleans, we were not able to visit or talk to them on the phone. Occasionally, some family member would try to just stop by anyway even though they weren't invited. Sometimes my uncle would come to the door and tell us that my aunt was not home or, if my aunt did come to the door, she'd hold a little conversation and promise to keep in touch. After one or two phone calls, she'd suddenly be unavailable again.

This uncle of mine is originally from Bolivia. After a few years, he decided to take my aunt and their two daughters and move back to his homeland. He would come to the USA and work for a few months and then he'd take the money back to Bolivia. In the winter of 2004, I went with my mother to try and knock on their door and ask my uncle if there were some way we could get in touch with my aunt and cousins. My uncle said that they don't have a home phone but we could e-mail them. It wasn't a satisfying answer but it was all he provided and so I tried to contact her this way. It did not work. The e-mail addresses didn't exist.

We had to get used to the fact that they were gone and we might not ever see them again. My mother is the eldest of them all and now that her parents are dead, she's pretty much the matriarch of the family. She was the most upset about us finally losing all contact with my aunt and cousins. I was pretty furious myself but I also felt that eventually my cousins would come back to the USA. It's not that the USA is some Utopia but the reality is that Bolivia does not offer as many economic opportunities as this country does.

Sure enough, I was right. In January, my cousin whom I'll call La Boliviana, came back to the USA to go to college. At first her father and mother came with her but then her father left to spend some time in Bolivia. This was the perfect opportunity for her to get in touch with us and she did. She's been working two jobs and going to school full-time so it's been hard to catch up with her other than on the phone but she does call all the time now.

Today La Boliviana came over. It was the first time I had seen her in nine years. It was a dream come true! She came over with a couple of my other cousins who have been scattered all over since Hurricane Katrina. The German fried catfish with a garlic, butter, and almond seasoning on top. C'est si bon!! We had a magnificent time. I took photos and you can see a group photo of us here, or just a picture of La Boliviana here, or if you want to look through the whole set you can do so from here. We plan on seeing each other again next weekend when my parents come to town so that my mother can finally see my cousins too. I'm happy to say that times and situations change but the love that the people in my family have for each other still remains intact.

1 comment:

Ktrion said...

Querida Tulipan,

This is a really great story, the reunification of familial outside the father's Control! I'm so happy for you and your prima!

Thanks for sharing so much of your fierce self on this blog!